The fashion industry in China has been growing steadily with an increasing part of the population having greater purchasing power than ever before, and more interest in clothing as a form or fashion style rather than just as a need.
Now, fashion is one of China’s most lucrative industries, reaching $266 billion in 2022. Understanding and taking interest in the Chinese market is key if you want to successfully attract Chinese consumers. In this article, we will give an overview of the Chinese fashion market, as well as some tips and advice in order to market the best way possible your fashion brand in China.
Overview of the fashion market in China
At the end of 2020, China surpassed the USA in the Fashion & Apparel Market. Over the past 10 years, it has grown almost 4 times bigger, reaching $266 billion in 2022. China’s fashion market is growing at a rate of 25% per year.
On top of that, China is not only a lucrative market for brands, but it is also a promising one as according to McKinsey, Chinese consumers will account for 40% of the world’s luxury spending by 2025. With this huge potential market, brands can possibly attract more than 1 million consumers just by focusing their marketing strategies on China.
According to Statista Digital Market Outlook report data, there are three major factors contributing to this immense growth: high disposable income, fashion trends, coupled with Chinese consumers’ willingness to pay more for high-quality products.
E-commerce: contributing to China’s fashion success story
Following international brands’ success stories in China, it has become essential for them to leverage marketing strategies such as expanding into new territories (e-commerce), social media outreach, collaborations with local artists and designers, as well as more traditional methods such as advertising, have seen huge successes within the Chinese market.
As mentioned earlier, a consequent part of fashion’s democratization and popularity in China is linked to the omnipresence of e-commerce platforms. Now indispensable in Chinese people’s daily life, e-commerce platforms allow consumers to browse millions of fashion items and receive them directly at their doorstep within a few days.
The Chinese fashion market is flourishing, with rapidly increasing revenue. As there are many factors that contribute to the growth of online commerce profits, better quality products, and a shift away from brick-and-mortar stores, the online fashion industry is expected to grow in China by 285.981,4 million U.S dollars by 2025 according to the Digital Market Outlook report.
When looking at the above data, we can see that the dominant segment in terms of fashion on e-commerce platforms is apparel, followed by bags and accessories, and footwear. The apparel segment is in fact also the most promising and engaging one, as trends are always evolving, pushing people to regularly purchase.
What are the newest trends in the Chinese fashion market?
Streetwear and sportswear
Fashion is the avenue for showing one’s personality and values to the world, but few have taken this concept as seriously as China’s Gen-Z consumers. In a survey conducted in 2020 among Chinese consumers born between 1995 and after, 24.3% of respondents indicated that they prefer streetwear brands over more traditional clothes such as suits or gowns, reserved for formal occasions.
This is in fact an interesting shift in fashion choices compared to the older generations who often associated their appearance with class status rather than their fashion style preference. One of the reasons for this change is the COVID-19 pandemic, which made people stay home, so they started dressing in more comfortable clothes.
As you can see above, the trends have been the same during recent years, and are expected to last for years to come as well, even though the styles and designs will be completely remodeled by then.
In recent years, the younger generation has shown interest in streetwear brands, thanks to celebrities and KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) wearing large clothes, more decontracted and fashionable clothes.
Moreover, some TV shows have also contributed to this phenomenon, with the hip-hop trend, and the Rap of China show. People are also more open when mixing different styles together to create a new one.
Fashionable shoes are a must-have in any wardrobe, and it seems that China is no exception. The country’s fashion shoe market size reached around 90.4 billion in 2022 according to reports from the Chinese Customs Bureau of Statistics which noted how quickly these numbers have been increasing over recent years – with 60% being male consumers.
Thanks to the K-phenomenon (k-dramas and Kpop) Korean fashion is one of the most popular styles in China. The results of a recent survey show that 47% of respondents find the Korean style very fashionable, proving it to be consistently trendy and fresh.
Chinese women are becoming more manly
Women now tend to buy more suits than men do and oversized blazers sales among women have risen 140% in the last year.
Baggy and oversized clothes are among the top 10 search requests among women, and slouchy boyfriend jeans had an 830% increase in sales. This trend is the same in the West, with women experimenting with clothes and wearing more unisex pieces.
Sustainable fashion and second-hand shopping
Years of fast fashion in China had an impact on the environment, and now Chinese consumers are going away from contributing to this problem. They buy less, but they care more about the quality and sustainability of the clothes they purchase.
Some people are increasingly looking for second-hand products and there are more accounts and influencers on social media that start rising awareness about this sector.
People are looking for sustainable solutions in terms of fashion, and brands have been encouraged to follow this phenomenon, raising awareness among Chinese consumers.
The revenue in the Luxury Fashion segment amounted to US$106,850m in 2021. The market is expected to grow annually by 4.81% (CAGR 2021-2025). Therefore, as well as for the coming years, the luxury segment was one of the most popular among Chinese consumers, even though smaller luxury brands are now trying to get their piece of the cake.
Traditional Chinese clothing
Today Chinese consumers go back to their origin and culture. “Made in China” is always considered bad quality and ‘lame’, today is a source of national pride and cultural confidence. In the past years, Chinese consumers started wearing clothes from local designers, highlighting Chinese culture and traditions (like patterns from the Qing dynasty, traditional qipao dresses, etc). Called the ‘Guochao‘ trend, the return to origin is one of the hottest trends in China’s fashion sector today.
Chinese designers are getting more recognition and there are more and more of them appearing on the stage of Shanghai fashion week as well as on top fashion magazine covers. They offer traditional clothing with a modern twist, that appeals to younger Chinese consumers.
What are the top fashion brands in China?
Those who now have the opportunity to benefit from China’s economic recovery and rapid growth were in the market since the 90s, developing a sizable local operation with innovative strategies tailored to Chinese consumers.
Top brands — such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Prada, Hermès, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Fendi, Armani, and Nike―take over prime locations at shopping malls or e-commerce sites like Tmall, JD.com, Secoo, WeChat mini-programs. On the other hand, many smaller companies occupy modern-style markets that cater specifically to youth shoppers seeking affordable clothing.
But overall, we can see that 70% of top fashion retailers in China are now Chinese companies, according to China Chain Store & Franchise Association (CCSFA), and over 12% of them have a market capitalization of over $1 billion. Famous domestic brands include Adrian Cheng’s Chow Tai Fook, one of China’s oldest jewelry brands, Lao Feng Xiang, Amer Sports’ owner Anta, Fosun’s Yuyuan Jewelry, and Fashion Group Chow Sang Sang, Chinese sports brand Li-Ning, Foshan Saturday Shoes, etc.
How to sell clothes to Chinese consumers?
Despite being lucrative, China’s apparel market is very tricky when it comes to marketing. The main reason here is that Chinese people are now the ones who make decisions on their own rather than just following the trend. So the strategies should focus not only on what might attract them but also consider everything that might cause the adverse effect.
Beware of causing a scandal
You have to know that every single marketing campaign will be a challenge. There are many foreign clothing brands in China that used to do really well in this market and then failed completely because of one disappointing campaign. For example, these brands (which are extremely popular in China) have made a flop because of scandals:
- 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 considering Hong Kong as a separate country
- Dolce & Gabbana with its advertising campaign and even more outrageous reaction to the Chinese protest
Understand the shopping behaviors of your target audience
When targeting Chinese consumers, you have to keep in mind their prerequisites and main criteria of selecting products to buy.
For example, as we can see from the above chart, the first thing consumers will focus on is the appearance and design of your fashion products. Then, word-of-mouth is also extremely important in China, as Chinese consumers will mostly rely on their friend’s recommendations than on ads for example.
You can also notice that Chinese consumers are much more cautious about the environment, trying to change their daily consumption and purchasing more sustainable products. Thus, a leverage point could be to take a strong position on social and environmental issues, as this is very much demanded by the younger generation.
The Chinese audience is very easy to lose, be careful not to disappoint them
Chinese people can be very patriotic and sensitive at the same time, so do not imply any political point of view when promoting your products (as we have seen earlier with some famous scandals). Don’t underestimate domestic brands as they benefit from localized strategies, and now also from the new trend.
They have a lot of brands to choose from, so if you are not innovative or trendy enough, they won’t even look at your products. The market is huge, your brand will be one among thousands, try to be creative and plan your marketing strategy in advance according to their needs and expectations.
So what are the most sensitive topics now that can hinder a fashion brand from reaping the rewards in China?
- Chinese culture peculiarities
- Chinese living standards
- Chinese habits as well as fashion trends
- China-USA trade conflict
- Any subjects related to Hongkong, Macau, or Taiwan being independent of China
What can be done to avoid these mistakes?
- Checking the political news and being aware of the current situation
- Doing market research is essential!
- Getting a cultural insight (there is a number of superstitions in China and character-related misunderstandings that a foreign brand can flip over). So you should work with native Chinese to know what you should or should not do in China, as well as correct you (to avoid any misunderstanding in terms of meaning).
- Getting a local expert to make amendments to your strategies
How to get started and sell your fashion products in China?
Once you know all that, you can start to market your fashion brand in China. However, even that is not plain sailing and should be well structured and done with great precision.
You need to start with a branding strategy so that people start recognizing your brand and its products. Focus on your visibility, e-reputation, and brand awareness. To do so, you have to be visible on the most used websites and apps in China: Baidu, Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, as well as e-commerce platforms, etc.
Betting on digital to get into China’s fashion market
The importance of having an online presence has never been greater with the rise in e-commerce. Brands such as Uniqlo and Guerlain have made a strategic shift to focus on their digital marketing, knowing that is their leading market.
As we can see from McKinsey State of Fashion 2021, the biggest opportunity for fashion brands is digital. Foreign brands that want to enter and target the Chinese market should heavily rely on digital tools: not only it is easier and faster (if you know how to do it), but it is also much more efficient, attracting a lot more people.
Website in Mandarin Chinese: a must-have for credibility
Creating your own website in Mandarin Chinese is the best way to establish and sell as well as build long-term brand recognition. This option can be very beneficial for those looking at selling clothes over the internet because it builds up their credibility, especially in China where many customers are searching online!
Create an online presence on Chinese social media platforms
As mentioned all along in this article, being visible online is key if you want to target Chinese consumers. Therefore, having just a Chinese website is not sufficient: you will need to create professional accounts on the most popular social media in China as well.
WeChat (微信): China’s leading social app
With more than 1.2 billion monthly active users, WeChat is the most popular app in China. Even though it was at first a messaging app, the app released under the giant Tencent in 2011 quickly became a vast ecosystem of services. Nowadays, WeChat is a must-have for every citizen and business as it became a new player in the e-commerce industry.
With WeChat, you can post articles about the latest fashion trends to keep your customer’s wardrobes up-to-date. You are also able to share posts and run mini-programs that allow customers to have a more interactive shopping experience by seeing what they’re missing in their closets or adding some new items to them.
It is no surprise then, that brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada, or Gucci use this app as an essential marketing tool for connecting with shoppers on such a personalized level.
One key point is creating an Official Account as soon as possible – if not sooner than later – which can be quite daunting at first glance because there are many steps involved with setting one up correctly. But luckily, our team has all sorts of tricks up its sleeve so no need to fret over making frequent mistakes during setup anymore! Not only will we make sure that every step is accounted for, but we will also make sure to help you manage your account.
Weibo (微博): one of China’s most popular and powerful social media
Launched in 2009 by the Chinese technology company Sina Corporation (新浪), Weibo (微博) is one of the biggest social media platforms in China. As its name indicates (“micro-blog”), Weibo provides micro-blogging services and is often compared to Twitter. However, it has evolved into a microblogging hybrid with Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, and YouTube over the years.
Almost all the fashion brands in China have a Weibo account on which they can share content with their followers, as well as promote their brand and new collection.
Weibo will give you access to a huge Chinese audience and give you more prospects for marketing. This step is very important for creating an image that you want to have, how you want them to remember you, and 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 Chinese consumers can find you and think it is worth it.
Xiaohongshu (小红书): the Chinese Instagram
Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book, is one of the trendiest platforms of last years and is often compared to Instagram in terms of content and audience. It’s mostly focused on user-generated content, where people (mostly young women), share their tips and reviews of products and services.
It’s a great platform for building a brand and gaining a good reputation and word-of-mouth marketing, especially for fashion and beauty brands. Xiaohongshu is also the most popular platform when it comes to influencer marketing, and those influencers can help you build a name for yourself in just one day if you’re lucky.
Douyin: Short videos to promote your brand and display your products
Douyin has only a few-year history and is already one of the most popular platforms 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 Chinese people to relieve their stress. Short videos are perfect for that and can be browsed through anywhere. 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.
Collaborate with Chinese influencers
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 (Key Opinion Leader) to keep pace with the changes.
Some of the influencers might have a very narrow specialization which gives a chance for better targeting. Some influencers have a very tight connection with their followers so they will only recommend something good to their fans, to get consumers’ trust. The general rule here is that a good influencer will harmonize with your brand and make it more “appealing” to the customer.
Influencers are present on all platforms. They have a lot of followers on WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, Little Red Book, etc. Thus, they can have a huge impact on your sales as well as on ROI. Partnering with KOLs is crucial in China, but choosing the ones who will be able to share your brand’s story with viewers is the most important point. If you are looking for KOLs, do not hesitate to contact us and we will help you.
Enter the Chinese e-commerce world
As mentioned earlier, e-commerce is the way to go if you want to market your fashion brand in China. In 2017, China’s e-commerce revenue came in at 299 billion U.S. dollars across five lucrative segments – up from the 138 billion recorded in 2009 when it was just one segment (online retail).
With the increasing digitization of Chinese society and the internet penetration coupled with GDP growth, these numbers are only expected to increase exponentially until 2025.
Moreover, as we can see from the above graphic from Statista, the most lucrative market in terms of revenue is the fashion industry, which is expected to account for 420.6 billion US dollars by 2025.
Now as the current health crisis in China will boost digitalization, consumers are not going to stop buying luxury goods. In fact, for high-end retailers like Richemont and Burberry, China represents more than 40% of their sales, so it is crucial for them not to lose this market. To do so, they decided to team up with Tmall, which has become one of the most popular sites for these fashion lovers thanks to its wide variety of products from fashion brands.
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 goods directly without a Chinese business license. However, it is an expensive way to sell apparel in China.
- You have to apply in advance so that they check your reputation and how well-known you are (that’s why working on your reputation is crucial)
- After paying the deposit, you will be able to 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 a wider audience.
Do you want to enter the Chinese fashion market? Contact us and we will help you achieve your goals!
The Chinese fashion market is one of the most promising in terms of opportunities, both for smaller companies like startups, but also for larger international brands. However to succeed you will need to do a lot of research beforehand as well as be prepared to complete the application process before selling your goods on e-commerce platforms which can be difficult and time-consuming.
That’s why working with specialists who have experience navigating this potentially daunting task could make all the difference between success and failure.
Working with an agency that has both western and Chinese points of view like Gentlemen Marketing Agency can help you overcome the pitfalls of the Chinese market. Our agency has accompanied many companies entering the Chinese market through Tmall, JD.com, Kaola, Vip.com, Taobao, Pinduoduo, Xiaohongshu, etc.
Proud of the success of the companies that have contacted us, our experts are ready to help any company willing to do business in China. So, if you are interested in doing business in China, do not hesitate to contact us and we will reply within 24 hours.