- 74 per cent of affluent Chinese consumers aware of at least one Chinese designer, according to report by Ruder Finn Group and CSG
- Chinese companies have been investing in R&D, quality control with the aim of shaking off the image of being ‘cheap’, says designer
Chinese tourists at a luxury goods store in Hong Kong. While it is too early for local designers to be considered as rivals to established global fashion houses, there are more opportunities for Chinese brands in the current market, says designer Wilson Li. Photo: Dickson Lee
Affluent Chinese consumers have for years shown a preference for global, well-known brands and labels. But with growing sophistication in tastes and a penchant for unique styles, the well-heeled are now increasingly gravitating towards high-end Chinese designers.
“While global forces will continue to impact China’s luxury market, domestically there’s this whole new wave [of Chinese designers] that is coming through and is transforming the market,” said Simon Tye, executive director of Hong Kong-based market research company Consumer Search Group (CSG).
In a report released last month along with US and China-based public relations company Ruder Finn Group, CSG found that 74 per cent of affluent Chinese consumers are aware of at least one Chinese designer, and 45 per cent intend to buy more Chinese designs over the next 12 months.
According to report, titled “The 2019 China Luxury Forecast”, a shift in purchasing attitude from buying to “show-off to outsiders” to a “reflection of personal taste” is evident in 76 per cent of Chinese consumers. These respondents said they buy luxury items that reflect personal taste, up by about 30 per cent since 2012, according to the report.
According to Mintel China, another market research company, niche luxury brands are particularly popular among women between the ages of 20 and 24, who are single and have a postgraduate or higher degree.
Karen Zhang, 24, a banking professional from Beijing, said: “I still like my Gucci and Dior bags, but nowadays I like to explore luxury brands that have interesting stories and doesn’t shout extravagance. I also like to buy products by Chinese brands that have a unique twist.”
The growing interest in Chinese designers is illustrated by a fivefold increase in the number of such brands featured by Hong Kong-headquartered luxury goods store chain Lane Crawford in recent years, according to strategy consultancy OC&C. Comme Moi, a brand founded by Chinese model Lu Yan, is among the fastest growing brands in Lane Crawford stores in China.
JNBY, regarded as the most commercially successful Chinese designer brand, has more than 1,500 stores worldwide. Angel Chen, known for her colourful approach to fashion and fusion of eastern and western aesthetics, is stocked internationally by 30 retailers, including Lane Crawford, Luisa Via Roma, H. Lorenzo and Dong Liang. She is part of the “new wave” making an impact locally and globally, according to CSG.
Unlike traditional brands, which spend on large-scale marketing and advertising campaigns, these new brands rely more on their unique designs and the power of celebrities and “key opinion leaders” for publicity.
“For instance, Chictopia, founded by a local designer, Christine Lau, offers innovative and high-quality products with a clear story theme for each season,” said Veronica Wang, associate partner at OC&C. “The brand is followed by a group of top local celebrities, such as Fan Bingbing and Angelababy, which helps to establish awareness among the young generation.”
The brand launched an official website in 2016, which provides an online sales channel and allows for the sharing of the brand’s latest collections through WeChat.
Wilson Li, 28, a Chinese designer, said: “This is a very interesting time [for Chinese designers] right now. Around 20 years ago, Chinese clothing companies produced items that were extremely cheap, and they didn’t care much about quality. But this isn’t the case anymore.”
Li said the US-China trade war was pushing the market to improve its offering: “The only way for Chinese designers and companies to break out is to improve their standards.”
Li, founder and head designer at Wilson PK, is known for his innovative fabrics and creative knitwear. He said a growing number of Chinese companies had been investing more in research and development as well as quality control over the past 10 years, with the aim of shaking off the image being of “cheap”.
His brand, which has been around for five years, can count celebrities such as American singer Lady Gaga and British musician Lianne la Havas as its fans.
“For custom fashion pieces, which are priced between US$960-US$3,830, we usually reach our target consumers through our online look book and stylists,” said Li. “Mass market customers can shop the ready-to-wear collection on our website, with prices starting from US$50.”
Li, a fashion design graduate of Central Saint Martins Art and Design College, added: “Nowadays, Chinese consumers don’t just want luxury, they want the stories that come with it.”
Industry experts say it is important for niche luxury brands to maintain a sense of exclusivity and rarity through storytelling. Scarlett Zhao, associate research analyst at Mintel China, said: “Niche brand lovers tend to be better informed and are willing to pay more for a brand’s unique meaning.”
According to these experts, the biggest competitive edge Chinese designers have is their understanding of local preferences. And according to Wilson PK’s LI, while it is too early for local designers to be considered as rivals to established global fashion houses, there are more opportunities for Chinese brands in the current market.
“Let’s be honest, calling it a competition would be too difficult. But as a Chinese designer, I definitely want to liberate my own culture,” he said.