Nostalgia Brands Make a Comeback in China

on September 7 2010 | in Retail Trends | by | with No Comments

As the Chinese luxury market pulls ahead, primarily engined by foreign brands, we are also seeing a re-emergence of “time honored” famous Chinese brands, a trend we expect to see more of.

These ARE your grandma’s favorite products such as her Xiefuchun duck-egg face powder and Baiqueling hand lotion.

Now they are making a comeback with a brand new shopping mall in Shanghai exclusively dedicated to nostalgia goods. The status symbols of the bygone era of the 1920s and 1930s (and even into the 1970s and 1980s) were famous Chinese brands, many well over 100 years old, such as Xiefuchun cosmetics and Wangxingjie hand-held fans.

The Zhonghua Laozihao Shangcheng (Time-Honored Chinese Brand Shopping Mall) in Pudong features more than 100 famous brands of consumer goods ranging from cosmetics, appliances, bicycles, watches, food, clothing and fans.

While many of these “laozihao” (time-honored brands) were quality brands, they lost their luster over the years as new brands arrived on the scene powered by enormous marketing initiatives. Now some are regaining popularity among younger consumers who want to retain valuable elements of Chinese culture. Those companies making a comeback are using their traditional techniques while delivering an updated, more fashionable-looking product.

Xiefuchun Cosmetics

Opened in 1830, it was the first cosmetics company in China from Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province and famous for three products – “duck-egg” (shaped like little eggs) powder, scented hair oil and scented bars. These colorful “eggs” were threaded on strings that contained eggs for beauty essentials like lipstick, blush, and foundation. Women sometimes wore bracelets of colorful eggs, so they could fix their makeup anywhere.

Favored by the royal families of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), Xiefuchun received the silver award for products in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915 (Moutai spirits won gold). “We used to be the No. 1 company in the field before the 1990s,” says Chen Gang, chairman of the trade union of Xiefuchun Cosmetic Co. “But we lost the market quickly with the invasion of cosmetics from overseas.”

To compete, the company is introducing new ingredients. For example, Xiefuchun is developing lamb placenta products, a popular anti-aging treatment.

Changzhou Hair Combs

First made 1,600 years ago, these combs were famous for its fine handmade craftsmanship. Selecting fine boxwood, carving every tooth of the comb in the same sword shape, and adding delicate decoration by experienced craftsmen were hallmarks of its production.  “Assembly lines are more efficient but they can never compete with handmade crafts in delicacy,” says Jin Songqun, chairman of the Changzhou Comb Co.

A traditional comb requires 28 steps to make and the double-edged comb requires 73. While the basic steps can be done by machines, the rest of the double-edged comb is finished by hand. It takes about half a year to process materials for a set of combs and another 10 to 15 days for the actual work. So producing these combs is an expensive endeavor.

Wangxingji Handheld Fans

The 135-year-old Wangxingji handheld fans require over 80 separate steps to complete. The delicate processing is its trademark. The company sees itself as selling works of art rather than simply fans, indicating that “only art works can survive and grow; simple works will quickly be replaced. Some of the low-end Wangxingji fans with simpler structures can be copied quickly and sold on the streets, but the high-end fans require so much work that there can be no knock-offs.”

Nostalgia alone will not sustain these brands. They are updating  — adding modern ingredients, online shops and other venues. Yet the greatest hurdle for these brands is the lack of craftsmen as many workers are reaching retirement age and new apprentices are hard to find.


[shanghai daily]
photo credits: xiefuchun,

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