China Fashion&Apparel Market
It is predicted that by the end of 2019 China will surpass the USA in the capacity of Fashion & Apparel Market. Over the past 10 years it has grown almost 4 times bigger. China’s fashion market is growing at the rate of 25% per year, and in 2019 it is about to reach 121 billion USD in total annual sales. That is 1 billion USD more than that of the USA, with the USA fashion growth rate stuck at 3% per year.
There are many reasons that contribute to the power of Chinese consumption in the field of fashion:
- Relatively low material, transportation and labor costs make the clothes affordable;
- Presence of low-cost and high-cost merchants on the market;
- RMB being a strong currency;
- Of course, the population is huge here – it has an endless capacity as clothes comprise one of the basic human needs anyway.
China apparel market is a huge market of big opportunities for very diverse brands. Why? It is just because there are two large groups of apparel brands that can satisfy the needs of any social group in China, these are:
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- Brands of the mass market (like Uniqlo for the domestic ones or Zara for the foreign ones; they provide fashionable but inexpensive clothes and can satisfy a young consumer, mostly);
- High-grade clothing brands (they serve to the high income consumers who prefer high quality luxurious goods and can afford it).
So, considering the volume of fashion market in China, its growth, its capacity and also the position of foreign brands here, it should be admitted that there is no other apparel market on Earth that is as valuable as this one.
China is a tricky market for fashion…
However, Chinese apparel market is a very tricky market when it comes to marketing. The main reason here is that Chinese people are now the ones who make decisions on their own. So the strategies should focus not only on what might attract them but also consider everything that might cause an adverse effect.
Every single marketing campaign is a challenge. There are many foreign clothing brands in China who used to do really well on this market and then failed completely because of one fault. Let’s think how many brands we have heard of within 2018-2019 mentioning their marketing experiences in China with an unhappy ending?
- Balenciaga for a scuffle with a Chinese shopper;
- Versace, Coach and Givenchy for designing T-Shirts with implications of Taiwan, Macau and HK being independent states;
- Swarovski for implying HongKong is a separate country;
- And, of course, Dolce&Gabbana with its gross advertising campaign and even more outrageous reaction to the Chinese protest.
That is to say, Chinese audience is very easy to lose now. Here are the main reasons:
- They are very patriotic and sensitive at the same time;
- They are proud in the way that they would reject something they like rather than accept any kind of assault;
- They have a lot of options to choose from so they don’t need to sacrifice their own dignity;
- Young generation is now progressive and well-informed – they will not accept anyone patronizing towards them;
- Again, the market is huge but it is a unit, so it is easy to lose all at a time.
That’s why I am writing this article now and trying to show the Chinese fashion market from various angles and provide concrete marketing strategies suitable only for this market.
So what are the most sensitive topics now that can hinder a fashion brand from reap the rewards in China?
- Chinese culture peculiarities;
- Chinese living standards;
- Chinese habits being right or wrong;
(all in all, I would add here that we, the expats, are doing best and feeling most comfortable in China if and only if we love and respect it)
- China-USA trade conflict;
- Any chances of Hongkong, Macau or Taiwan being independent from China.
These things are largely affecting ANY business industry including Fashion & Apparel.
What can be done to avoid these mistakes?
- Checking the political news and being aware of the current situation;
- Getting a cultural insight (there is a deluge of superstitions in China and character-related misunderstandings that a foreign brand can flip over);
- Getting a local expert to make amendments on your strategies.
Competition Between Domestic and Foreign Brands
When it comes to the competition between the domestic clothing brands and the foreign ones, a distinct line can be drawn here:
- Domestic brands mostly target the mass market and lower income consumers;
- Foreign brands mostly focus on high-income population.
This is why most of the high-end apparel brands in China are the ones that come from the USA, Italy, France, Japan, Germany, etc. Foreign brands are tightly associated with quality. And this is why foreign brands are very likely to sell big once they manage to stand firmly on the ground in China. Later I will get back to the strategies of how to do it.
What is also true is that foreign high-end brands have managed to take over the best shopping malls in 1st tier and 2nd tier cities in China and let the local brands gradually move to less developed area to boost clothing sales amongst lower income society.
Fashion Trends in China
Let’s check the fashion trends given out this year by Taobao – a Chinese C2C platform where more than 600 million Chinese mainly from 1st and 2nd tier citizens purchase their clothes and accessories.
- Chinese women are becoming more manly:
- Women now tend to buy more suits then men do;
- Oversized blazers sales among women have risen 139%;
- Baggy clothes are among top 10 search requests among women;
- Slouchy boyfriend jeans had an 830% increase in sales;
- For crew socks sales it was 489% up.
- Chinese men are becoming more trend-oriented:
- The key word for male search requests is “trendy”;
- Other popular requests mention laces, see-through clothes, earrings, flower print, etc.
There’s another trend forecast for 2020 made by Tmall Trade Center – a forecasting mechanism of the most popular B2C platform in China. According to it, Chinese fashion trends would include the following motives:
- Tech Forward;
Let’s take a closer look of which message each of them conveys.
Your marketing strategy in China, now
Once you know all that, you can start to market your fashion brand in China. However, even that is not a plain sailing and should be well structured and done with great precision. Let’s see the strategy of pulling your brand into the Chinese market in greater details. First, you have to start with introducing who you are.
How to introduce yourself to Chinese consumers?
Generally speaking, this stage is something you need to do as a preparation. We recommend to do it because the Chinese need to know what they are buying. So once they search for a suit, for instance, and find out that your brand is selling suits, they will ask a question “Who are you?” and your answer should be at hand, and it should be very detailed.
You can let them have the answer through your Website of through your official accounts in WeChat or Weibo. Let’s see how it works.
Website is your informative business card. You can integrate your existing website or make the new one for the Chinese market. The following points should be considered:
WeChat is now the most popular social platform. It has over 500 million users all over the country. Here it is advisable to design a nice e-brochure. This would be your introductory detailed leaflet that you can sedn out any time you get a new follower.
WeChat will also provide you with the tools to update your content regularly and send newsletters.
Weibo is local microblogging platform. It will give you access to a huge Chinese audience and give more prospects on marketing.
This step is very important for creating an image that you want to have, how you want them to remember you, to show your fashion brand’s specific traits.
However, this is just a preparatory task. Your website or official accounts on Wechat and Weibo will be of use only if the Chinese consumers can find you and think it is worth their time. Let’s see what’s the next stage.
How to become interesting for them?
Chinese people might get interested in checking your website, WeChat, Weibo only if you are visible and have a good reputation. Why?
When Chinese people want to buy clothes brands, they search on the internet and they want to find something they are somehow sure is good. This is very important.
There are a lot of fakes in China, a lot of scams, poor quality apparel, etc. You might be well known in your country or elsewhere for not being that kind of brand, but unfortunately China is still very limited in its knowledge of the outer world as long as a few decades are not enough to know everything around. Plus they are focused on their internal staff so they will only get to know you when you are already here. You might think it is impossible because if they go on Google at least once they can’t avoid getting that information. However, the overwhelming majority of them have never even heard of Google.
Apart from that, you have to make sure you can be viewed only in positive way to earn their trust. It is about reputation that you get from a third party. For the Chinese it is crucial to have someone to say you are good indeed so that they don’t have to risk. They don’t like any kind of risk, exploration, checks – they want to know for sure.
So, first you have to be easily spotted here. There’s a way to do it:
Reviews and comments will help you to create beautiful stories about your brand. Chinese people like it. And they be interested in buying it.
At this stage you can open your store on e-commerce platforms
Just to say it, the way of conquering Chinese hearts is not completed yet, but it is a good idea to take care of e-commerce now. There are many options for a fashion brand in the digital world in China.
Alibaba Group: Taobao, Tmall or Tmall Global?
A lot of Chinese are shopping on Taobao, however Taobao is only for small brands and individuals, more amateur and less professional. Generally speaking it is a C2C platform.
For you as a highly reputed apparel brand it is advisable to penetrate Tmall and Tmall Global for bigger sales in the future.
Tmall Global is an easier option because it is specifically designed for foreign brands to sell their clothes directly. However, it is a costlier way to sell apparel in China. Tmall is cheaper as it was initially launched for local brands:
- You have to apply In advance so that they check your reputation and how well-known you are (see? Working on your reputation was a good idea);
- After you pay the deposit you can work on your store design and management and open it to the public;
- When you start getting potential clients, you can communicate with them directly through the platform;
- Then, you can start to attract more traffic. Next stage of your marketing strategy will mention the ways.
Remember you have already had your official account on WeChat with e-brochure, informative content. It is time to open a store here too. You can use it both for promotional activities and for sales. That’s why it was important to take care of it in advance and generate some audience. Otherwise, there would be no one to buy anything from it now.
WeChat also offers to run your store on the basis of a Mini app. Mini app is a different application which is integrated with Wechat – customers can buy clothes through other stores that you have without leaving the WeChat interface.
Discounted Sales Platforms
There are two platforms for you to open stores and sell your clothes at discounted prices:
They engage fashion addicts and make a community for them, informing them of the sales and letting them to enjoy online shopping even more. What they both require is:
- Good awareness (part of your branding strategy);
- Easiness to be sold;
- Deals and promotions.
They can be used as additional methods to sell but not to good for marketing.
What will create a mania for your clothes in store?
After you got your stores you still have to proceed with expanding your reputation and do branding. First, you have already got your image – this means that people think good of you speak good of you. However, this thought should now be popularized – there should be as many people speaking good about you as possible.
How to do it? Raising the awareness.
Influencers will help you with that. This is an expensive service in China but you can later reap the rewards of your investment. There are many good influencers for apparel marketing in China. Some of them have smaller audiences, and of them are KOLs – key opinion leaders with huge audiences and ultranational respect, most of them are celebrities.
Why influencers are so important?
China is really experiencing a very fast growth. Fashion trends are changing very fast here and it is important to stay in tune, to have some guidance at a proper point in time. So it is very convenient to follow a KOL to keep pace with the changes.
Some of the influencers might have a very narrow specialization which gives a chance for better targeting. For sure, Fashionista-influencer is the best choice.
Some of the influencers have a very tight connection with their followers so they will only recommend something good to their fans, and makes followers get more trust for the influencer and follow their advice.
The general rule here is that a good influencer creates a good association with your brand and makes it more “tasty” for the customer.
How do they do it?
Influencers are present on all platforms. They have a lot of followers on WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Little Red Book, etc.
Douyin has only a few-year history and it is already the most popular platform in China with over 500 million active users every single day.
Douyin is an app with short videos on various topics. It is a very good way for the Chinese people to relieve their stress. In the 1st and 2nd tier cities life is forensic so they only have a lot of short abstracts of time to relax. Short videos are perfect for that and can be browsed through anywhere.
So, the right content they stumble upon on their influencers page is the right way to have an impact on them.
What is also interesting is that now Douyin offers a chance to open a store. So an influencer can redirect your potential customer straight to your store.
Little Red Book
Little Red Book is kind of Instagram. It is getting more and more popular in China, especially, among women. This app is taking a great market share in Fashion industry. So it is a really good place to work on a more attractive image using influencers and enhance consumers’ awareness.
Now you can also use the app to sell your apparel.
After that all, we can say a big investment in your marketing strategy will definitely give you big sales.
This is not the end
You can go further than that with distributors. A few important things to know about clothing distributors:
- Distributors are attracted by big fashion brands with good reputation on the Chinese market;
- Distributors want to sell a lot if the brand is well-known;
- Distributors can give you more access to regional markets.
So now you know the secrets
Contact us for our case studies as we have already done that. We can give you an individual solution for your fashion brand and help you to avoid shattering mistakes. Welcome to our office for a coffee.