China is well-known for its longstanding love for iconic products from Western mega brands and its strong grey market. However, China has recently entered a new phase of maturity in which niche and streetwear brands are gaining cult followings. Streetwear brands are making their way onto the high streets as well as Weibo feeds thanks to notable luxury brand collaborations and the enormous success of reality TV programs. They mimic their Key Opinion Leader (KOL) icons and dare to wear laid-back outfits by lesser-known brands in their daily lives.
People from China have discovered a new form of expression in streetwear that is anti-establishment.
China is now the envy of many Western brands. This is a result of its impressive fashion industry statistics, including its $33 billion market for sportswear. China, conscious of the soft power inherent in its own fashion scene, is encouraging domestic consumption and putting its energy into conquering other parts of the globe with brands such as Anta or Li-ning.
China’s streetwear brands are in the limelight: Hype in China
Shangguan Zhe is an excellent example of the power of this movement in China today. Zhe’s appeal lies in his ability to combine “high-fashion credentials with a feeling in touch the ever-evolving Chinese underground,” says Radii, a Chinese magazine founded in part by Brian Wong, Alibaba’s former Vice President.
The silhouette shift to streetwear brands in China has been more rapid than in the West due to the lack of gender-specific “fashion codes” in China. Jillian Xin (Lane Crawford senior buyer) noted that “Streetwear used to be limited to sportswear. But I think there has been more experimentation and blurring boundaries lately, mixing high/low/old/new, girl/boy.”
Taobao China’s largest market, observed that women are attracted to neutral, masculine pieces of fashion, while men are moving toward genderfluid items.
Strategy& Hypebeast are cited by PwC consulting firm. Their 2019 Streetwear Impact Report revealed that respondents from Asia reported spending five times as much on streetwear than they did on other clothing. Non-Chinese brands too are benefiting from the Chinese streetwear movement. American brand Alpha Industries announced a new collaboration with Hong Kong retail concept I.T. in Fall 2020.
Tmall, China’s largest B2C ecommerce platform, saw streetwear sales grow 60 percent faster than other clothing categories. According to the Chinese e-tailer, sneakers and hoodies are the most popular streetwear items.
Chinese rap has been an underground music genre for a long time, defying authority. Skateboard-based streetwear brands have had a strong influence on social media since 2010. According to the 2019 Streetwear Impact Report respondents revealed that their biggest sources of streetwear inspiration came from social media and the streets.
China’s television talent shows are exploding, pushing the boundaries of hip-hop culture and fashion. Youku, China’s video hosting service, broadcast its third season of the critically acclaimed competition show “Street Dance of China”.
The show is popular with Gen Z-ers and millennials in China, mainly because it combines streetwear and rap. The most recent season was launched this Fall and features many Chinese celebrities including rapper Jackson Wang and Wang Yibo.
The China streetwear brand frenzy is almost indicative of the significant influence of Korean pop (Kolkata) in the region. This blockbuster genre, which fuses pop, R&B, and hip-hop, is almost emblematic.
The talent show was adapted from “Show Me The Money”, a Korean version of the show. It crowned young rap stars, including Lexie Liu and VAVA. The show highlighted the low-key Western streetwear brands such as Virgil Abloh’s Off-white and Stussy, but also Japanese wunderkind A bathing Ape (BAPE) through the contestants’ outfit choices.
Similar to the previous show, and despite the misspelling “superme”, the show helped cement Supreme’s fame as a “NYC cult skating brand” thanks to the “Kris Wu Effect”. Kris Wu, a Chinese celebrity and jury member was especially praised for his style.
Kris Wu, a fellow rapper, made waves online this month after reuniting with Luhan, a popular competition show Rap of China. They had met six years ago on the show and have since achieved both music and fashion fame.
Streetwear brands: China’s KOLS is a hot topic for engaging millennials via social media
Social media is more popular in China than the US. Chinese celebrities are a big deal, and they admire American and Korean stars as much as the Chinese.
AT Kearney, a consulting firm, noticed that China’s social media users were more open to brand recommendations from celebrities (78%), and influencers (63%), than any other country.
A recent study by Goldman Sachs found that China’s population of nearly 415 million is 31% composed of digitally-savvy and open-minded millennials.
They are used to wearing western brands and traveling internationally.
Weibo, Wechat Official Accounts, as well as TikTok are the most used channels for the latest fashion trends.
Wechat is China’s most popular mobile app, with an 83% penetration rate among all smartphone users. It has 92 million daily users who use it at least 10 times per day. 38 billion messages are sent each day.
This conservative market is brand-driven and all about the latest trend. Weibo is a micro-blogging platform that specializes in entertainment. It also shows which celebrities have worn it. For a sense belonging, Millennials will likely adopt a certain style.
China’s influential celebrities like Liang Tao and Li Jiaqi are known as KOLS (Key Opinion Leaders). This category includes bloggers, artists, and vloggers who have developed expertise in a particular topic and built long-lasting relationships with their audiences.
They promote foreign brands and encourage streetwear brand mania in China.
This trend is primarily driven by men but has found streetwear experts in women like Yang Mi, actress, and former contestants on hip-hop talent shows such as VAVA and Lexie Liu.
Brands who want to capitalize on street culture trends should choose their local ambassador from KOLS.
VAVA is the new face of Kappa. Lexie Liu worked with Levi’s and Puma. These people invite their audience break the rules and embrace streetwear.
A new pride: Redefining streetwear “made in China”
The Chinese population is recovering its self-confidence, thanks to the growing Chinese economy. Homegrown streetwear is now thriving.
Chinese streetwear brands such as Li-ning have mastered the art of creating an authentic identity and selling a “spirit”. This has led to the rise of new brands that combine contemporary youth culture with ancient Chinese elements. For their collections, local designers often draw inspiration from the aesthetics of Imperial China or Taoism.
Shanghai Fashion Week saw Li-Ning continue to show his streetwear skills with a SS22 collection that featured chunky, colourful sneakers. This is in keeping with the global streetwear trend. This collection is a testament to the designer’s journey. The brand today is a symbol of Chinese pride, which Li-Ning effectively conveys through the prism of Chinese sportwear.
Mukzin, another Chinese brand of sportswear, also made a splash at SS22 Shanghai Fashion Week. Their new Jia Long collection, which means “women’s hair accessories” according to Tibetan culture, was equally popular. Zac Zhao, a popular Weibo blogger and stylist wrote that “[The collection] made the ethnic culture relevant to fashion,” referring to the larger trend of combining modern streetwear with traditional Chinese elements.
China is a country that strongly supports street culture. This is why Chinese and foreign brands are able to adapt to market trends using Heuritech’s artificial Intelligence solution. It allows brands to thrive in highly competitive environments like China and avoid stereotypical product offerings by understanding Chinese consumers and how they shop.