We’re all too familiar with the steel and stone curvature of Zaha Hadid’s Dongdaemun Plaza where the heeled soles of some of the biggest names in fashion have posed, preened and paraded against. The k-pop effect has flooded into the global fashion scene from what the Western world all thought was a one-off Gangnam-style fad but the integration of Korean products doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Seoul has ousted Tokyo as Asia’s fashion hub, and for the past few seasons, Seoul Fashion Week has enjoyed as much global attention as its Western counterparts. It’s a case worth studying for years to come, its unpredictable success rocking international waters. And like all success stories, is it possible to apply South Korea’s formula to Asia’s other fashion capitals?
With Guangzhou and Chongqing growing rapidly in apparel sales, can China – the world’s undisputed apparel export champion of the world – truly beat Seoul as the fashion kingpin of Asia? With Fortune Character Institute reporting luxury-spending racking up a whopping 9 percent year on year(1), Chinese consumers are making a clear impact on industry growth. But despite its size in sales, Chinese fashion designers have yet to make uncharted waves in the region, let alone on a global market. Is it possible for China to have a C-pop moment and rival its Northern neighbours?
It’s a slow transition and according to Dr. Tina Zhou of Fortune Character Institute “39% of wealthy Chinese think the logo is no longer the priority, niche high-end brands as well as bespoke products, as a result, are becoming new drivers of luxury consumption” (2). In short, the Chinese consumer is rejecting the older generation’s love of Burberry check and heavily monogrammed LV purses.
“39% of wealthy Chinese think the logo is no longer the priority, niche high-end brands as well as bespoke products, as a result, are becoming new drivers of luxury consumption”
Yet their desire for new product offerings isn’t a direct trade-off for their own market. This new wealth is being spent in foreign markets as a result of Beijing’s anti-corruption campaign, foreign exchange rates, disparity in price differences and cooling economic growth. In uencing their spending behavior, Chinese consumers still haven’t shifted their shopping habits to the mainland, which in turn have not only impacted international luxury brands but China’s own brands. McKinsey reported that by 2020, 75% of sales in the luxury sector would be made from Chinese consumers, yet more than half of that will be spent outside of China(3).
And let’s not forget the reaction that “Made in China” still gets. There is a lot to be said about this stigma. First with China’s reputation of being renowned as a world factory, its ties to poor quality products to its mass production of knock-off goods. Strife with controversy, Chinese made products have been internationally reproached, from food products to technology and in everyday products that even locals themselves prefer to bulk purchase on vacation – picture Chinese tourists wheeling large suitcases, wallets at the ready. And for every case made public, there are hundreds being covered by state censorship.
According to Michael Diliberto, General Manager of Lynx Displays China, China’s poor quality is a result of their disposition, “it is assumed that if you want quality, then you buy the best one; otherwise just buy the cheap one, so manufacturers are not rewarded for making incrementally better products” (4). In the case of ‘Made in China’ it takes the nation itself to change its own perception of locally made products before the foreign markets can do away with its negative connotations.
“it is assumed that if you want quality, then you buy the best one; otherwise just buy the cheap one, so manufacturers are not rewarded for making incrementally better products”
Having worked at an entrepreneurial fashion business trying to sell Chinese designs to the UK market, I’ve experienced first hand the stigma of a ‘Made in China’ label. Products that were posted would have to be labeled with tags such as ‘studio made’ or ‘hand made’, to countervail its country of origin.
China’s market as prosperous and impactful as it may be still has a long way to go in order to move away from its manufacturing roots. To create a ‘K-pop’ effect on the local and global fashion industry not only involves reversing its stigma on an international level but also on a local scale. Once locals start embracing China’s own designs and heralding them for their grade-A quality, the rest of the world will follow suit.
(1)Horton, C. April 5 2016. ‘When It Comes to Luxury, China Still Leads’. New York Times
(2) Horton, C. April 5 2016. ‘When It Comes to Luxury, China Still Leads’. New York Times
(3) 2014. ‘Succeeding in Tomorrow’s Global Fashion Market’. McKinsey&Company
(4) Volodzko, D. July 16 2015. ‘How ‘Made in China’ Became a Stigma’.The Diplomat