In the past five years, fashion has billowed across China’s first tier cities; it has become the face of a complex(ion) makeover. The Curious Cathy within wonders… What’s trending in the nation’s lower tiers?
Diana Vreeland said it before, and we’ll say it again, “One can see everything through fashion; the coming of a war, the rise or downfall of an economy, the day-to-day life. Everything.”
With the accessibility and convenience of mobile and social commerce, fashion has become pervasive across Chinese cities. We spy with the Temper eye a trending revision of style as dictated by the traditional print layout because today, clothes can be seen, shared, and shopped across social media. The question brews…
As we can see everything, what does China’s lower tier style scene tell us, from trendy to socio-politico tranches?
In the Trenches
Looking back on the history of fashion development, we can find that fashion has long been inseparable from politics, economy, culture, and public life. The design of fashion comes from life, culture, even war, and changes with political history. Classic example would be that of Burberry’s iconic trench coat, which originated from the WWI trenches to keep at bay wind and rain.
According to a 2004 survey released by Taubman Center, a large U.S. retail group, 63 percent of Americans then believed skirts with the hemline raised above the knee should be topping the popularity charts of the day, a sign that the economic situation in the U.S. was on the up (if only they knew); 30 percent of Americans were cautiously optimistic about the U.S. economy of the day, and figured the in-crowd skirt length should fall right below the knee.
Only seven percent of the Johns and Janes Doe back then, aka forecasters of The Big Short, thought long skirts dropping down all the way to the ankles would be crowned that year’s It girl.
There are many theories and examples about the interaction between economy and fashion. For China, now is the time of the 21st century born middle-class expanding its girth through the rise of individualism. The nation’s youth culture, too, has developed the tastebuds for exploring the more (capricious) creative side of the palate. Both segments combined in fact make for the perfect reflection of China’s consumer compass across the urban landscape, first to lower tier.
Temper tries to sketch the lower skyline. “Tries,” mind you.
Give ‘Em What They Never Knew They Wanted
Under the impact of China’s current information flow and traffic, the speed and content gap between cities to obtain fashion information is getting smaller and smaller. The post-80s, post-90s, and Gen Zs (those born between 1995 and 2012) are all still “young,” but have different professional identities. They are at different stages of life and therefore have naturally different fashion orientations.
Senior strategist Dragon Zhang of Shanghai-based TOMORROW creative agency adds, “Fashion consumers among the post-80s and -90s have already entered the workplace, so they generally prefer a more sophisticated fashion dress and focus on skin care.” This collective proved the forerunners of the China Fashion scene and first experienced fashion when minimalism was at its height of popularity, one decade ago. That explains.
Fashion consumers of Gen Z stem from a generation of social media and selfie idolatry, the one vice we vain ones have all succumbed to, generally preferring street fashion and the accompanying limited-edition cross-body bag slash superfluities. “Their sense of fashion is influenced by what they experience via music, videos, and content across social media channels and from influencers or peers that they identify with,” the expert at hand chimes in.
With the diversification of social platforms, the differences of user groups attracted by different platforms are more and more distinct. “The social media that post-80s and -90s mainly focus on are still WeChat, Weibo and QQ. The post-95s, however, prefer more diversified social platforms, such as livestreaming and video platforms,” Zhang goes on to say.
These guys have upped the information acquisition game and accelerated their capability to develop more access channels and mine in-depth information. “In sum,” she concludes the wicked wisdom, “they collect suggestions and evaluation information from KOLs’ recommendations and testing content on social media to find trustworthy products.”
Trending in Tier Town
We can feel the burning questions breathing down our swan-like necks. What lower tier cities are we talking about? Is there any brand awareness? Is there any self-awareness? Is there a sixth sense, i.e. style? As we, yep Temper too, are rather clueless on these matters, we ordered a pitcher of savviness aka Lisa Pak of outlet shopping megadome Florentia Village — expected to open its seventh location in Chongqing come early 2021. FYI.
Pak gives it to us straight, “Given the pace of China’s growth, lower tier cities do not exist anymore. [Replace “lower tier” with “poor people” – “extremely poor people,” silly us — and you will spy with your eye another 2020 trending Party line.] Instead, we like to talk about ‘first tier’ and ‘new first’ tier instead. The list of these cities is changing year on year through economic and subsequent urban development, and the fashion scenery there, too, sways along. The new first tier modish momentum is an extraordinarily complex topic that includes commercial charm, economic value and the residents’ lifestyle gusto.”
From the perspective of market and investment, the development potential of these “new first tier” – we’ll just roll with this for now — cities cannot and must not be underrated. We’re talking, so start Googling, Chongqing （重庆）, Foshan （佛山）, Wuhan （武汉）– no Google needed for the latter, we assume. And Chengdu （成都）. From the perspective of panache and pizzazz, each of these fast-growing new first tier cities possesses its own culture.
Pak chimes in, “Fashion is a type of self-care, which everyone sees and interprets differently. Regardless if it is in the first tier or the new first tier, everyone and anyone can have a heart for beauty. Even though the information obtained today is more and more synchronized, each city still has its own characteristics, styles, and hypes. Fashion is a business combining culture and resources.”
They Adore Artifice. They Always Have.
On the hand, while there are brands that choose not to open stores, let alone flagship mainstays, in lower tier — yep, switching it up — cities due to their lower economic levels of income and consumption in comparison to those of the first tier metropolises, outlet malls are a hit in the emerging hubs. Outlets attract a wider consumer base due to their incredibly attractive price tags. In many cases, the customers purchasing label-wear during their day out at the outlet are in fact having their first experiences buying (luxury and designer) brands. This has been traditionally the case for the outlet industry across the more developed markets such as those of the U.S. and Europe. #TemperTeachings
Recognizable luxury legends such as Gucci, Prada and that have a long history in fashion, are still extremely popular with the new first tier clientele and usually perform very well across Chinese outlets. However, with the Gen Z customer storming in, brands that combine comfort, function, and style are soaring in popularity. And sneakers reign Supreme.
“Aside from the new first tier locations, we are also willing to bring our fashion and brand outlet resources into more inner-Chinese cities,” Pak concludes, “We obviously look at those where we can spot the potential for growth, and the likelihood to drive regional economic development through the retail and fashion industries.”
Just Getting the Party Started?
As of now, it remains somewhat trying to pinpoint the presence of a “general” or “specific” urban tier culture. With their own specific styles or hypes now sprouting and slowly unfolding, Temper therefore zooms in on the question it deems most relevant in this context…
What is the next superhot, hip and happening Chinese city to enter the bigger China Fashion scene — joining the ranks of Shanghai and Beijing?
Chengdu Street Snap (a street photography project of staged snap shots scorching Chinese social media) is one example of a continually active and obvious expression of “self-fashion.” The suave city’s fashion foundations are some of the highest quality in the west of China. Due to its gigantic market and solid sales track record, Chengdu has currently become the first choice for foreign brands to enter the western Chinese market — after Shanghai and Beijing, as you do.
“Chengdu has been in the spotlight for many brands and retailers,” Pak elaborates, “Chengdu Creative Design Week, for example, gave us a glimpse of the allure and temper of this city. In addition to the booming fashion brands and overall industry, the city also has the vision of evolving into an international consumption center, covering culture, innovation, inclusiveness, and attraction.”
Authority-endorsed lingo aside, Chengdu is probs best known across the West for giving birth to China’s ever-burgeoning hip-hop ethos, merging music, sneakers, ghetto gold, and general too cool for school levels. And fashion. The latter label has long been etched in the context of Chengdu’s urban (r)evolution. The city’s Gen Z, especially, worships overall gorgeousness, and is more than willing to spend the big buckaroos on style, all accoutrements included. All in all, these kids boast some serious spending power.
Admittedly, the Chinese government does loudly and strongly support the business of fashion in Chengdu, and for that sole reason many a brand regards the city as a humming hub for commercial investment. Interesting. Temper, too, failed to recognize the focus on fashion from the brothers higher up. Perhaps this could also explain a few “cotton pickings” in the far west of the Middle Kingdom – get your Google on. Who would’ve guessed…
All of it just for the love of the Party hemlines.
One can indeed Xi everything through fashion.