Older models are gold as labels woo silver spenders in China

Chinese model Ma Yinhong, 56, who made her debut two years ago, is among a growing number of older models sought after by Chinese and international labels trying to court China's growing market of older Chinese who are spending more on themselves.
Chinese model Ma Yinhong, 56, who made her debut two years ago, is among a growing number of older models sought after by Chinese and international labels trying to court China's growing market of older Chinese who are spending more on themselves.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SHANGHAI • Wearing a bright floral ensemble with her short hair dyed blonde, Chinese model Ma Yinhong struts a Shanghai catwalk with a style and swagger that belie her 56 years.

She made her modelling debut just two years ago and is already in demand, working for leading fashion brands such as Dolce & Gabbana.

Ms Ma is one of a growing number of older models sought after by Chinese and international labels trying to court the country's growing faction of "silver spenders".

She seems to embody this target market of older Chinese who are spending more on themselves.

"I never go out without dressing up and getting made up. I never let myself look like an old granny," said Ms Ma at a recent show for Uooyaa, which used younger Chinese and foreign models, as well as seniors.

Once confined largely to life insurance and healthcare ads, today's glamorous Chinese seniors are in demand for high fashion.

By 2050, one in three people in China, or 487 million people, will be over the age of 60 - more than the population of the United States - according to the official Xinhua news agency. This greying population, combined with rising incomes and living standards, has led to a forecast of an explosion in consumption by China's seniors in coming years.

Once expected to selflessly stay home and mind the grandchildren, elderly Chinese, particularly women, have become a coveted market for products such as clothing, fashion accessories, cosmetics and travel, according to consumer research firm Mintel.

Ms Michelle Chien, a modelling agent with ESEE Model Management, one of Shanghai's largest agencies, said that the market for senior models in China is not huge yet, but it is growing.

This echoes a trend now well established in Western markets, where brands have been keen to tap the pockets of the affluent baby boomer generation. In the past five years, catwalks globally have seen greater age diversity and models such as Jacky O'Shaughnessy, Jan de Villeneuve, and billionaire Elon Musk's mother Maye Musk, making names for themselves as fashion stars in their 60s and 70s.

In her youth, Ms Ma had hoped for a career in fashion design. She moved to Japan to study in the 1980s but did not graduate as she could not afford the fashion fees.

But she did not start modelling until getting her first gig two years ago after sending her photo to a Shanghai fashion house.

Despite fashion brands embracing the grey hair and wrinkles that come with older models, Ms Ma said it is still important to stay stylish and in shape.

She gets her hair done every three weeks, and stays fit with daily breathing exercises and regular workouts at the gym.

"Keeping in good health keeps me on the catwalk. There is no age limit in fashion, so hopefully my dream can continue," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2019, with the headline 'Older models are gold as labels woo silver spenders in China'. Print Edition | Subscribe