Chinese youth lap up China labels

Made-in-China fashion brands are successfully updating themselves and winning over trendy young consumers

Peace Bird Fashion scores a hit with its Pepsi-themed (above) clothing collection, which is clued into youth culture and social media trends.
Peace Bird Fashion scores a hit with its Pepsi-themed (above) clothing collection, which is clued into youth culture and social media trends. PHOTOS: PEACE BIRD/WEIBO

BEIJING • Young Chinese consumers are starting to embrace domestic designers instead of global brands.

A summer survey by OC&C Strategy Consultants has revealed a new trend in shopping habits as the “Made in China” label takes on a whole new meaning in the clothing industry.

In a poll of more than 2,500 Chinese shoppers, only 10 per cent expressed a “dislike” of local designs, which was less than half the number in 2015.

Up to 46 per cent said they “liked” Chinese brands, which was more than double the number two years ago.

“Supporters of local labels are mostly younger consumers” aged between 16 and 44, said Ms Wang Chong, an associate partner of OC&C. “Up to 40 per cent of those interviewed, who went for Chinese domestic clothing brands, came from a lower-income bracket for their age.”

But that was only part of the picture, said Ms Wang, who pointed out that young shoppers are demonstrating an unprecedented “desire” to express their identity through fashion.

About 39 per cent of the same group polled preferred Chinese brands because they had strong cultural elements. Another 26 per cent found the styles compelling.

“This has translated into salient demands for products, as well as producing a retail experience that resonates on an emotional level,” Ms Wang said.

It is also great news for companies such as Peace Bird Fashion.

In a bid to move with the times, the company has transformed itself from a mid-market manufacturer of men’s clothing into a vibrant label.

Celebrities such as Victoria’s Secret model Sui He and fashion blogger Han Huohuo have worn Peace Bird for commercial shoots.

The company is based in the coastal city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province and was set up 22 years ago. Its remodelling began in 2014, when it rolled out crossover collections with well-known entertainment and consumer brands.

This was a brave move at the time as most Chinese companies were busy grappling with the problems of upgrading designs and clearing old stock.

Peace Bird’s ranges proved a hit with shoppers. It has launched Pepsi-themed and emoji-themed collections, among others, all of them related to youth culture and social media trends.

“We didn’t launch a marketing campaign at a specific time to make the brand look younger,” said Mr Zou Qian, who is the director of image planning at Peace Bird.

“We just responded quickly when we noticed some changes in the market when talking to consumers.”

The company has worked with French fashion consulting firm MLC to provide training for its teams of designers. It employs 535 designers, most of whom are in their late 20s.

Last year, the group invested 81.8 million yuan (S$16.9 million) in research and development, an increase of 27.9 per cent compared with 2015.

The company’s sub-brand, Led’In, now has 687 outlets across China and targets young women. It rolled out a Smurfs collection last year.

During a special promotion in May last year, Led’In sold more than 20,000 items in one day, with sales revenue topping 8.39 million yuan.

The annual turnover of Peace Bird, which has 4,145 stores, exceeded 20 billion yuan last year.

“The things that younger consumers love will be our focus in the future,” Mr Zou said. “The target is to work like a representative of the younger generation.”

As Ms Wang of OC&C noted, young Chinese, especially those born in the 1990s, have different tastes in designs, materials and what they want to convey through fashion. “They are willing to pay a premium for the added value of the clothes,” she said.

This has resulted in niche brands, such as JNBY. The label is based in Hangzhou in Zhejiang province and was founded in 1994. Its designs are modern and clever.

Mr Frank Zhu, chief financial officer of JNBY, said that its customers are mostly aged between 25 and 35. Its clientele has increased steadily in the past four years. By the end of last year, it had 1,498 stores in China, as well as outlets in Japan, South Korea and Israel.

“We would like to attract more young consumers to become frequent buyers of our clothes,” he said. “Although some young people will follow their idols’ style, some of them prefer clothes that are different and explore personality.

“We have seen that this group is expanding. This has become one of the major incentives for us to come out with more designs.”


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2017, with the headline 'Chinese youth lap up China labels'. Subscribe