“We love European and American style,” says Yung Chunxue, a 22-year-old university student. “They’re fashionable… we see their clothing advertised on TV and in the movies.”
This is the attitude that rising Chinese fashion retailers are up against as they seek to establish themselves in a market filled with well-known Western competition; these home-grown companies, however, are nothing if not enthusiastic about their place in the Chinese market.
“More and more people are starting to notice that China can produce our own fashion brands,” says Liesl Li, spokeswoman for Chinese fashion brand Meters/bonwe. “For a long time, ‘Made in China’ represented cheap and low-quality products, but in recent years, ‘Made in China’ is beginning to represent a good ratio of quality and price.”
Meters/bonwe recorded 7.5 billion yuan in Chinese sales last year, and it is not the only native fashion brand working to win back customers from Western companies.
“That sector of the market [Chinese fashion retailers] is among the fastest growing,” said China analyst Paul French of the Access Asia retail consultancy.
Analysts like French note that “fast fashion” (the clothing industry for those who can’t afford high-ticket luxury brands) is one of the Chinese markets with the most potential, as a rising Chinese middle class now has the ability to buy what they want—not only the things they need. This ability to participate in “emotional consumption” instead of practical consumption is allowing Chinese brands to take off.
Besides Meters/bonwe, rising native brands include JNBY, Ochirly, and men’s wear brand Youngor. These companies base both design and production in China. And although these brands are beginning to make their name, critics are waiting to see better brand development before endorsing them wholesale.
Wang Gao, a marketing professor at the China Europe International Business School, comments: “The question is whether they can really build their theme—a consumer style that can attract Chinese consumers. It’s not going to depend on one design or one set of clothes. It’s got to be a whole brand… It seems they’re not there yet.”
Just because they’re “not there yet,” however, doesn’t mean distinguishing styles will never come. JNBY, for one, is working hard toward identifying itself.
“Before 1994, [JNBY] was a regular clothing shop, selling products bought from clothes markets,” said JBNY spokesman Zhang Bin. “But the owner gradually grew dissatisfied because the clothes weren’t expressing his design ideas. So we started to sell self-designed and self-produced clothing, and some young designers started joining us. They are still working in JNBY as our core staff.”
photo credit: jbny