China’s XUELI womenswear brand teamed up with 11 artists, illustrators and independent designers to bring China Fashion power to the stage, showcasing the understanding of new guochao trends among the pioneers of China’s New Youth.
国家 [guójiā| “nation”] + 潮流 [cháoliú| “trend”] = 国潮 (guócháo| “Chinese national [fashion] wave”)
The XUELI women’s clothing brand, today at the “tender” age of 10, earlier this month launched its guochao CU series in collaboration with a number of well-known young artists and Chinese designers. The Hangzhou-based popup was themed “Come on, courage! New national goods!” (we do translate literally), through core designer content embracing China’s “national style,” “national [fashion] wave,” and “national strength.”
The new XUELI CU line, basically a collision between China’s traditional allure and the independent spirit and inspiration on the part of young pioneering designers, explores a new era in guochao.
Exquisite nonchalant design meets art installation meets nostalgic sensation. Tech meets TCM.
Guochao: far-fetched fatigue back to fab fashzzz
Flashback to Paris Fashion Week 2018. When omnipresent Chinese sports brand Li Ning introduces a streetwear line highly infused with Chinese traditionally inspired color palettes and slogans, netizens went on to create the term guochao to label a rising group of local designers who were making Chinese nationalism trendy. Following that catwalk stunt/ stint, almost every millennial-to-Gen-Z-shrewd brand dashed to unveil its own guochao-inspired collabs “in support of” Chinese culture.
Guochao is linked to the concept of “cultural confidence” (文化自信| wénhuà zìxìn), another buzzword in China this time referring to the country’s rising cultural self-esteem. Meanwhile, as the craze took hold of the crazy-consumer public, domestic e-commerce giants like Alibaba and JD.com quickly launched Guochao shopping festivals to tap into a younger client base. Alibaba’s premium branch, Tmall, even introduced its very own Guochao incubator to help support domestic fashion brands through a related algorithm, among other measures.
As a type of “soft power” that encourages young people to take pride in their national identity, the Chinese government for one swiftly took the trend in its proud stride and approved of the guochao movement, saying that brands are “exporting China’s culture and aesthetic, which is bound to make a lasting difference.”
While guochao began as a cultural movement, fast forward to 2020/2021 and one will notice brands mostly create designs via a digital system rather than a creative approach. Thanks to how-to guochao guides, AI services and consumer data often play a big part in designing guochao sales hits by accumulating trending Chinese motifs like, well, cranes and ceramics, peonies and pagodas, and of course the all-time-favorite, the Dragon. And as national pride started turning into China’s favorite theme, guochao has become shorthand for political correctness and positive progress. Nevertheless, to prompt some legit cultural respect inside China, bearing one dragon on your back does not make you LIT – but does make for some bad fengshui, FYI.
As recurring “China + proud” narratives continued to almost usurp the market, consumer fatigue lurked.
China’s millennial and Gen Z consumers seek novel products that stand out from the crowd, empowering a rapidly shifting cluster of brands all trying to offer “experiences” — both digital and physical — and mind-boggling content for broader reach and larger impact. Special events, pop-up shops, gaming features, …, allow consumers to boost their engagement with brands and their collaborative products.
A number of international (luxury) brand collabs have tapped into China’s distinct heritage by leveraging current tastes for guochao products as well as “cultural creations” (文创|wén chuàng) and consumer nostalgia. “Dior explored guochao in its newly released fall collection by utilizing the traditional Chinese craft technique of seed embroidery (打籽绣| dǎ zǐ xiù) in its shoes and bags. The brand also combined zodiac animals with streetwear designs in the collection, creating a cool and unique retro style,” the business luxury in China Bible Jing Daily reported most recently.
From luxury to local, we go. Once again, the number of young consumers expressing a preference for The New (and Proudly) Made in China lingers on. And Chinese women’s clothing brand XUELI duly took note.
XUELI: The Power of Chinese Branding
We circle back to Hangzhou, with XUELI’s most recently launched next-level-guochao CU line. With “touch the tradition” (触摸传统| chù mō chuán tong) aka “fashion at your fingertips” as the main projection point, XUELI teamed up with Hu Qing Yu Tang (胡庆余堂| hú qìng yú táng), the historically significant Chinese pharmaceutical company aka Tongrentang in Beijing, to offer visitors to the Hangzhou popup store a creative space breathing the Mother Earth vibing legacy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and taking them deep into to the heritage of classical Chinese. So, without further ado, here are the top three collabs proving XUELI takes guochao to the next level:
“I have a Chinese heart” (我有一颗中国心| wǒ yǒu yì kē zhōngguó xīn)
Co-founded with Temper fave Fabric Qorn in exploration of the country’s unique street culture, injected a classic “I love you” heart-shaped pattern, and the back featuring a diamond-cut texture of the “I have a Chinese heart” slogan echoing the front.
This collab showcases just how today’s local culture continues to take inspiration from the “grassroots,” and the cultural self-confidence now deeply embedded in the hearts of China’s New Youth.
“Young people are always young” (青年总是年轻的| qīngnián zǒng shì niánqīng de)
This collaboration with China Youth Daily is inspired by slogans that hold at their very bodily core the emotional and spiritual outlook of China’s New Youth in the Roaring Twenties 2.0.
“What is true love?”, “Youth is always young”, “The most beautiful struggle of youth”, and the presence of year of the newspaper’s founding (1951) combined take the look to a new guochao level.
“Down to earth” (脚踏实地| jiǎo tà shí dì)
XUELI and the new guochao brand Troubled Smile came up with a delish mixture of classic tai chi and traditional cloth shoes clever combination, making for a consistent playful design aesthetic, including kung fu smileys, tai chi yin and yang or ice and fire dichotomies, and so on. In addition, the cloth shoes combined with the fun prints and “down-to-earth” slogan echoes the overall theme of laissez-faire, but not too laissez, shall we say.
If you know what we mean.
The power of manufacturing. More than just a fashion concept.