Today, we’re heading to fashion brands thriving in China. With a forecasted annual revenue of $265 billion USD for the fashion category in China, all brands want to have a piece of this (big) cake. We decided to release a specific guide to help fashion and apparel brands get the best marketing and retail strategies.
Your success in China starts now.
Let’s dive in.
Overview of the Fashion Market in China
In 2023, China will be one of the leading markets for fashion. The revenue in the fashion market is projected to reach $265 billion USD, which means that most global revenue is generated in China. According to the latest survey from Statista, the annual growth CAGR of the market should account for 8.51% until 2027, resulting in a projected market revenue of $368 billion USD.
The annual revenue, growth rate, and penetration rate are impressive for all Chinese and Western brands. We’re only at the start of the revenue expansion. The average revenue per user (ARPU) will also increase to $372 USD, increasing the willingness of fashion brands to enter the Chinese market.
China is Leading Online Fashion Sales
Compared with other countries, the majority of fashion sales are made online. Online marketplaces and platforms were already strong in China. However, Covid and repeated lockdowns in the Middle Kingdom increased the amount of fashion purchases made on e-commerce platforms. The development of Tmall, JingDong, and the social commerce buyer era reinforced the role of online platforms in the fashion consumer journey.
Already in 2021, online fashion sales in China were higher than the online fashion sales in Europe and USA combined. Hence, Chinese brands always unlock their e-commerce sales first. For international brands, the go-to tactic is always to bet on e-commerce.
Western Brands Bet on E-Commerce
E-commerce platforms have become an essential tool for Western fashion brands. According to the data company from Statista, E-commerce DB, “the online share of the fashion retail market is 41.4% and will increase by an average of 8.2% to 56.7% by 2027“. All Chinese fashion consumers are used to browse offline and purchase online, or vice versa. This is mainly due to the success of platforms like Tmall releasing the Tmall Luxury Pavilion with a more efficient consumer experience for luxury clientele.
It is clear that fashion in China is a leading category nowadays. Most international fashion brands in China opened a Tmall or JingDong store in 2021 and 2022. They confirmed that e-commerce was the “major point” of their market entry or business development strategy in China.
But first, let’s see the trends that propel fashion in China.
Newest Trends for Fashion Brands in China
The fashion trends in China have a direct influence on the sales of brands. No matter their regular assortment, the structural trends, and niche consumer trends have an impressive impact on the conversion of local consumers.
Sportswear with Golf and Tennis Outfits
Sportswear has always been a leading category in China. Local consumers always dress with sportswear items including jackets, pants, caps, and shoes to go to work or chill during weekends. This is the mainstream style in China. When we talk about a mainstream style, there are always, sub-trends that influence the market and sales. And this year, it’s all about tennis and golf.
In the last 2 months, we received 34 requests from our retailers and distributors regarding apparel brands with a “golf” or “tennis” positioning. This style is purchased by golf players and tennis players, but also by fashion consumers who appreciate this aesthetic. If you are an apparel brand offering golf-inspired or tennis-inspired items, contact us to get in touch with our retailers and distributors.
Cocooning and Cleanfit Fashion
Chinese consumers are moving from the “large logo” trend to the cleanfit, minimalistic, and cocooning trend. The objective is not to be stylish but to be comfortable and elegant. For Chinese men and women, this fashion style is the go-to style as UGC posts are multiplying on social media like Weibo and Xiaohngshu.
The hashtag “cleanfit” amassed 87 million views on Xiaohongshu and 2 million views on Weibo. The sense of simplicity driven by the cleanfit trend is appealing to all generations. With the AW season around the corner, fashion brands are betting on the “cocooning” trend becoming more and more viral online among Millennials and Gen Z. The luxury brand Loro Piana is playing on this hashtag for its marketing and communication, increasing its loungewear sales.
Genderless and Gender-Fluid Apparel
The line between masculine and feminine is getting blurry for fashion in China. Younger generations, including Gen Z, are favoring genderless and gender-fluid styles with brands mixing pieces from men’s and women’s closets. They also give more praise to Chinese celebrities with a genderless or androgynous style.
Fashion designers like Givenchy, Saint Laurent, and Ludovic de Saint Sernin are reinventing menswear. In China, the brand ambassador of Chanel is a man, represented by Wang Yibo. This is the best example of how the fluidity is expressed in China. For Chinese consumers, Wang Yibo was the man who “incarnated Chanel (人间香奈儿)”. Fashion brands who manage this art are the most successful in the local market.
Luxury Designers and Niche Fashion
Last but not least, niche brands are the super stars in China. Local consumers are the major consumption force for luxury. According to McKinsey, Chinese consumers should account for 40% of global luxury consumption by 2025. But far from the big labels, Chinese consumers are searching for differentiation and unicity. For this, niche brands and designer brands are matching all their criteria. From Brandy Melville to Anya Hindmarch, we covered this topic in an interview for the China Project.
If you want to go deeper in the fashion and consumer trends, you can read our dedicated guide “Top Guide for Fashion Trends in China in 2023“. You will find all the leading styles in China for your product creation and communication.
Let’s move to our next chapter.
What are the Top Fashion Brands in China?
This is the question I receive the most often: what are the top fashion brands in China? This list includes Louis Vuitton, Uniqo, COS, and even Balenciaga. The main challenge is not in terms of notoriety or purchase, but much more in terms of price positioning. You’ll see that luxury brands and affordable brands are mixing together.
International Fashion Brands in China
The majority of international fashion brands from the luxury segment entered the market in the 1990s. The Chinese market was a blue ocean at that time, contributing to their rapid expansion and strong notoriety. Today, more and more fashion brands including small brands are entering the market, changing the ranking of preferences for Chinese fashion consumers.
What are the top international brands in China?
- Louis Vuitton
- Loro Piana
- Alexander McQueen
- Brandy Melville
Chinese Brands Driven by Guochao
The creativity and delicacy of Chinese fashion brands is often forgotten by Western company. In China, local Chinese brands account for 70% of fashion purchases. It means that the main competition of international brands are not always other international brands, but also homegrown brands who master the Chinese culture and heritage.
What are the top Chinese fashion brands in China?
- Feng Chen Wang
- Shiatzy Chen
- Shang Xia
- Shanghai Tang
Now that you have a better vision of the Chinese fashion market, let’s talk about strategy.
We’ll share our top marketing and retail strategies for fashion in China.
How to Market and Sell Your Fashion Brand in China?
The Chinese market is a promising market for fashion brands – but it doesn’t mean it is easy. The majority of fashion brands, whether large groups or independent designers, always fight to succeed in the Chinese market. With the right strategies, you can develop your brand faster and better.
To do so, you need to work on your brand awareness (Chinese website, Xiaohongshu, Weibo, WeChat), your brand sentiment (press, influencers, celebrities), and sales channels (e-commerce, distribution, retail). Let’s go!
Building an Online Presence with Chinese Channels
With the rise of e-commerce, having an online presence is mandatory. For fashion in China, the key is always to be visible online. The more you are visible, the more people will talk about you, and the more you will become desirable for retailers and consumers. This is the halo effect you want to create when you develop on the Chinese market.
For this, you have 2 options that can be combined together:
- Chinese Website
- Chinese Social Media
Get a Chinese Website to Increase Consumer Confidence
This is a must-have for your credibility in China. Indeed, only 30 to 40 million people speak English in China, which is only 3% of the total population. It means that even if your website is accessible in China, they may not be able to understand it and will leave the page. Some Western brands reach a bounce rate of 99% in China due to the absence of Chinese translation.
No matter the size of your brand, your first step into the market must be to translate your website into Chinese. It doesn’t mean that you have to change your design or re-create a whole new website. A Chinese translation with Baidu keyword optimization is sufficient to leverage this tool in China.
Start on Fashion Chinese Social Media
The next step to build your brand awareness in China is to open your official accounts. Because of the “Great Firewall”, social media like Instagram and Facebook are not available in China. It means that, no matter your brand notoriety on Instagram, people may not know you in China. And worst, they may know you but cannot interact with your brand. Opening local social networks is the key to increasing brand awareness and consumer stickiness.
Xiaohongshu: The Leading App for Fashion and Lifestyle
Xiaohonhshu (or Little Red Book in English) is the leading social media for fashion in China. Chinese consumers spend a lot of time every day, browsing to find the latest trends, brands, and fashion tips. For instance, the hashtag “OOTD” reached 22 billion views on Xiaohongshu so far with tons of UGC and PGC posted every day. With 200 million active users, Xiaohongshu has become a must-have for fashion brands in China.
The best strategy is to set up an official account for your brand to get the red check. It will become your official channel in the Chinese market. Then, you can keep your content or create China-only designs with local photographers or designers. After this, the main point will be to post all content with good Chinese copywriting including viral hashtags and topics, while answering all comments and private messages in China.
The majority of fashion brands in China partner with local agencies (like us!) for this.
Weibo: The Social Network for Celebrities and Trends
Weibo (微博) is often compared to Twitter and Facebook. Its Chinese name means “micro-blog” as it mainly offers micro-blogging services with regular users, bloggers, and celebrities sharing their latest news. With 593 monthly active users, Weibo is one of the most used social media apps in China. It’s often used by fashion brands to reach a wider audience and increase brand visibility in China.
We recommend opening a Weibo official account when you want to gain exposure or drive sales to your e-commerce store. Indeed, Taobao (Tmall’s owner) and Weibo have a direct partnership. It means that when you post on Weibo, you can embed a direct link to your Tmall store and product page to drive direct traffic and increase conversion rate. In the meantime, we use Weibo to leverage influencers and celebrities’ campaigns.
WeChat: The Most Used Social Media in China
WeChat is the most used social media in China. With 1.6 billion active users, it is part of the Chinese daily life. Whether it is to send messages, call friends, organize business meetings, order food, book plane tickets, or order a taxi – you can do everything on WeChat. This is the super app that Elon Musk is planning to do with Twitter that became X. And this is used by fashion brands to maximize their brand image.
The best strategy is to use WeChat for B2B and B2C. Since the majority of distribution deals are made on WeChat and not via email, you can use WeChat to increase final consumers’ interest and retailers’ interest. For this, you can create a digital brochure, H5 catalogue, and wholesale mini-program. This is an “all-in-one” app, and you can create pretty much everything when you have a local partner with the technical skills.
Douyin: The Interactive Experience with Chinese Consumers
Douyin is the Chinese version of TikTok. Today, Douyin is reaching 743 million monthly active users, becoming one of the leading social media in China. It is used by fashion brands to enhance the interaction level with their local fans. They implement creative videos and local contests to gather more and more Chinese netizens around their brand.
You need to start by creating an official account on Douyin. This is not an easy task as your brand will go through an audit and you will require a local partner to have the right to create an account on Douyin. Once it’s done, you can post creative videos (like the ones you share on TikTok) or create exclusive China-style videos.
We have an official partnership with ByteDance and Douyin, contact us if you have any questions.
Collaborating with Chinese Influencers (KOC & KOL)
Influencers are often used by fashion brands to keep up with recent trends and target new consumer groups. The majority of fashion brands think that having an official social media is enough. However Chinese consumers always need to see how your products will look on Chinese faces and bodies. It means that they need to see Chinese people wearing it first.
And for this, collaborating with influencers is the most cost-effective strategy.
We always recommend fashion brands to work with KOC in China. A Key Opinion Consumer (KOC) is a small influencer with 10,000 to 30,000 followers but with a strong engagement rate. They are often less expensive and bring a higher conversion. Chinese consumers appreciate their organic pictures and transparent feedback when they try your brand. They feel the content is more natural and are more tempted to purchase.
Get access to our KOC pool of content creators with ECHO.
Getting Featured by Chinese Celebrities
This is the best strategy for a quick and efficient market entry. Chinese consumers are influenced by their favorite celebrities – what they wear, what they eat, and where they go. The most successful fashion brands in China are the ones that had (at least) 1 collaboration with a Chinese celebrity.
And celebrities endorsement can have different forms in China:
- Wearing your fashion item in a TV series or TV show
- Wearing your fashion item at the airport or on the street
- Wearing your fashion item at an event or a gala dinner
For this, you need to have a strong network. When you want to work with Chinese celebrities, you actually need to work with their stylists or their agents. They will review your brand and make the decision whether they want to wear it or not. If it’s a yes, you can have a collaboration fee depending on your relationship with the celebrity. This is why we intervene, to enable small fashion brands and independent designers to be endorsed by renowned Chinese celebrities.
Once you have some brand awareness, you can move to the sales part.
Unlock your Sales Online with E-Commerce
In China, the majority of fashion retail sales are made online. As we mentioned, the online share of fashion sales should reach 56.7% by 2027. It means that you can’t have a positive development in China without an e-commerce store. For this, you have several choices.
Tmall: The Leading Marketplace for Luxury and Fashion
Tmall is the e-commerce platform owned by Alibaba Group. It is more professional than Taobao with all fashion brands building their official flagship store on Tmall. The main challenge for fashion brands is to navigate between Tmall, Tmall Global, and Tmall Luxury Pavilion.
If you are a reputed fashion brand you can decide based on the following criteria:
- Tmall: This is the best option for fashion brands (more traffic and store visibility) but you will need a Chinese entity and a Chinese business license to setup a Tmall store
- Tmall Global: This is the best option for middle fashion brands and starting brands that don’t want to setup a business entity in China (you benefit from the cross-border logistics and warehouse system)
- Tmall Luxury Pavilion: This is the best option for luxury apparel brands since it proposed a unique consumer experience with online activations and exclusive access for high-spenders only
In any case, it is recommended to work with a TP (Tmall Partner) to setup and manage your flagship store on Tmall. Otherwise, you can work with a distributor to open and run your Tmall store. With a TP, your brand covers the operational cost while with a distributor he will cover this part.
RED Store: The Buyer Social Commerce Era
Another option is to set up a RED store on the social media Little Red Book. Yes, the social media we saw earlier (Xiaohongshu) is not only a social network but also an e-commerce app. They leverage the buyer social era by combining brand pictures, consumer feedback, and direct purchases.
If you are a small or medium fashion brand, this is the go-to e-commerce platform for you. The consumer experience is very good and the logistics and setup fees are much cheaper than on Tmall. Also, it is where distributors and retailers spend most of their time. They have more interest in selling a Western brand that has a RED store than one that doesn’t. Why? Because they see the direct application of your product pages and collections online.
We are RED official partners and we have the license to open RED stores for fashion brands, contact us!
WeChat Store: The Premium Channel for Fashion Brands
A WeChat store is an excellent solution for fashion brands in the premium and luxury sectors. It enables fashion brands to manage 100% of their brand image with a customized store. You can create a store, a loyalty program, a store location tool, a wholesale backend, and many more. The list is infinite because WeChat is based on a H5 and development program (like WordPress) where you can create everything.
We recommend brands to set up a WeChat store when they have sufficient brand awareness in China. It is mandatory to have a Chinese business license and a warehouse in China to maximize consumer satisfaction. In any case, you can still create wholesale programs for distributors and consumer loyalty programs for your clients.
When you have such e-commerce channels, you generate trust among offline and online retailers.
Maximize your Local Success with Distribution
The final touch to a successful market entry for fashion in China is to get a strong distribution. Here, we talk about having online and offline sales with retailers, department stores, and concept stores.
Gaining Value with Premium Department Stores
If you are a reputed fashion brand, you will need to work with department stores. Chinese consumers have a smooth O2O consumer journey and always prefer to touch and feel a product before purchasing it. Even if they purchase it online. Having your brand sold in a Chinese department store is also a great way to get noticed and increase your brand visibility. When we talk about department stores, we talk about these kinds of premium malls:
We recommend fashion brands partner with SKP, K11, and Lane Crawford for private department stores. For instance, in Shenzhen, you must be in the Mixc if you want to raise consumer interest. In the meantime, you can also collaborate with public department stores that will offer you a premium positioning and strong sales.
Working with Concept Stores and Independent Retailers
Having a door in a department store is great, but it’s often located in Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen. What about the other cities? How Chinese consumers who don’t live in these cities can touch and feel your brand? To solve this issue, we suggest selling to concept stores and independent retailers in Tier 2 to Tier 4 cities.
If you have a Chinese social media like Xiaohongshu, Weibo, or Douyin it will be a great way to identify where your fans are located. If you see that the majority of your followers are in Chongqing, it may be interesting to sell to a store in Chongqing. And, on the other side, when you join a multi-brand store in another city, you can implement a marketing and advertising campaign to bring footfall to your new door.
This is how you make the most out of the Chinese market, step by step.
How to Enter the Chinese Market Now?
It’s never too late to enter the Chinese market with the right strategy and marketing. The biggest mistake would be not to try. Or to trust the first importer or distributor who will ask for exclusivity. If you want to enter the Chinese market with a good and efficient action plan, the best you can do is to find a reliable local partner with a strong network.
Last week, I had 15 meetings with brands. Among them, 50% already had a past partnership with a local distributor or TP which gave them exclusivity thinking they could manage their marketing and sales. In China, you trust a marketing agency for your brand marketing and you multiply your business opportunities with a network of TP, distributors, department stores, and retailers. And this is what we do at Reverse Group.
We work with leading fashion brands and small independent designers to maximize their success in China. We build their brand awareness, maximize their brand reputation, and introduce them to our network of stores. Contact us to get access to this secret recipe and get your brand launched in China today.