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Many industries in China are booming and accelerating. One of the latest to do so is in the men’s fashion industry. While fashion and apparel have always been one of the country’s strong suits, menswear has now seen unprecedented growth. In 2021, it accounted for over $104 million and doesn’t look to be stopping any time soon.

As the largest population in the world, China’s growth isn’t stopping, and more people are becoming aware of these trends. One of the reasons for its boom is a digitization and how more companies are now selling online. There are many opportunities, though it’s not easy for Western companies to make their move. Those that manage to do so may find themselves amid a new wave of profits unlike any they’ve seen before.

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The Chinese Men’s Fashion Market is Going Digital

One of the defining events that shaped the world in recent memory is the COVID pandemic. It turned the world upside down and broke down the traditional structure of retail companies. Due to a need to stay safe, businesses had to adapt. Many capitalized on the fact that people were now looking online for any of their needs.

China was one of the first to transition, being the center point of it all. Fashion brands had gained more exposure than ever before, with visibility increasing online. People became comfortable buying digitally, and soon it would become the norm.

It’s also opened the way for innovation. Fashion brands discovered that they could save money and still promote their wares through live stream shows. Social media became even more of a powerhouse for marketing and advertising.

The transition came just in time as the modern menswear market has seen rapid changes in its behavior. Here are some of the defining behaviors of the current generation:

  • Men are now more open to expressing themselves through their looks, especially clothes.
  • When it comes to Chinese men’s fashion, the younger generation was more open to experimentation.
  • Influence from Western shows and the wave of K-pop has changed their perspective.
  • The Chinese Millennials and Gen-Zs see clothing as a stress reliever in the new pandemic environment.

One development in China is the current dissatisfaction with gender tropes. Surveys revealed that men experience pressure in looking and acting a certain way, especially at work. It has led them to find alternatives of expression, and one of these happens to be men’s fashion in China.

  • Fluidity: As Korean and Western trends become more popular, Chinese men desire more fluid concepts. Even companies are becoming aware of this and have been using celebrities to send this message of understanding. The public has seen names such as Cai Xukun and Zhou Zhennan wearing unusual clothes that sparked debates on social media.
  • Streetwear: Streetwear is also a popular style in the country. It has received the highest growth, with many wanting urban details with their clothing. The spread of K-pop and rap shows have also added fuel to the fire. Streetwear is growing three times faster than other types of men’s fashion.
  • Guochao :Another adaptation that’s becoming popular is the mix between contemporary and traditional. People are now embracing the mixing of cultural wear and modern clothing. Many Chinese brands have begun to adapt, and the movement is collectively called Guochao (National Trend). However, using Guochao may not be so easy for Western brands. Foreign representation of cultural aspects often leaves a negative impression on the public. If misinterpreted, it could lead to a dip in sales and even boycotts. It’s a risk and one that could yield great rewards with proper execution. Dior managed to do so in 2021, experiencing some of its highest sales during its Fall 2021 collection, which featured Guochao designs.
  • Nostalgia: The current generation has attachments to things of the past. It provides them a sense of relief as it connects to a happier and free time of their lives. Fashion brands are leveraging this idea into some of the new releases.
  • Brand Collaboration: One of the ways they’re doing that is integrating popular franchises with their wear. While themed apparel has always been a thing in the West, China is now following suit. Brands like Uniqlo released collections that feature beloved characters like Nintendo’s Mario.
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Opening the Door for the West

China has transitioned from being a producer of Western fashion brands to being a country that’s interested in wearing them. With China also starting to open towards these companies, it’s a place ripe with opportunity. The current generation has a positive view of western wares, equating quality and modernity. The data even shows that some companies are already making their mark in the country, including:

  • Forever 21
  • Zara
  • H&M
  • Louis Vuitton
  • Prada
  • Adidas

These companies are now competing hand in hand with homegrown brands and are getting a significant part of the market share. The challenge, however, is getting a foothold in the first place. Many of the brands that have made it in the country have already developed positive impressions through the years.

While there are many good brands, the Chinese may not be aware of them or have not developed enough of an impression to decide. There is still a risk that a new venture could go without any attention, leading to losses. The first thing they need is to bridge the gap by creating visibility.

Fashion brands used billboards and television ads back then. Now the internet presents many more opportunities. However, there are different rules to follow when breaking that barrier of entry.

The Key to the Chinese Menswear Market: Social Media and eCommerce

In the last decade, fashion companies have opened their doors in China through physical and digital means. Even small boutiques have managed to find their way to success in the country because of how many people are interested in buying from them online. Traditional methods of digital marketing may not work as expected here. China opts to use different platforms than the rest of the world.

Sell Menswear on Chinese eCommerce Platforms

There are a few reasons why online marketplaces are the best channel to sell a menswear brand in China.

  • Chinese consumers are incredibly digitally-savvy, and they love shopping online. In fact, nearly two-thirds of all Chinese consumers shop online regularly. So by selling your menswear brand on an online marketplace, you’re tapping into a massive and growing consumer base.
  • Convinience for both buyers & Sellers. You have access to integrated tools directly from the markeplace hosting your site, you have the option to sell cross-border and not register for a chinese business license, no need to rent a physical store and a full team of shopping assistant.
  • Consumers trust: Chinese marketplaces like Tmall have made tremendous efforts in order to gain the trust of Chinese consumers and it payed off. Chinese consumers order from them without thinking of what could go wrong as they know, that no matter what they will get a satisfactory customers experience. And this play in your favor in a market such as clothings. Before easy returns policy, consumers would rather go to a store to try on clothing, now they order directly from the confort of their home and have access to a lot more choice than before the age of marketplaces.
  • Shopping festival: Chinese marketplace and consumers are big on shopping festivals, and selling on them make its a lot more easier to take part in this important date.

There are a few different Chinese eCommerce platforms to choose from when selling men’s fashion brands in China. The most popular platforms are Tmall and JD.com. Tmall is the most popular platform for luxury goods, and it is owned by Alibaba. It has a large user base of consumers who are interested in buying high-quality products. JD.com is also a very popular platform, and it is known for its focus on quality and customer service.

Chinese Social media for Brand Awareness & Engagement

In Europe and the US, people use platforms like Facebook or Instagram. China has either banned or restricted usage in the country of popular Western social media platforms. The government doesn’t have much agency over them, leading to these moves. Instead, they’ve launched China-based platforms, which have become the norm for every citizen. Some of the most popular platforms include:

  • Douyin: The Chinese version of Tiktok. Litteraly the same app (belong to bytedance) but targetted at different audience. Douyin can only be used with a chinese phone number.
  • Weibo: A microblogging website that is the second-largest social media platform in China. Most brands are present on Weibo, which as an open media has the edge on Wechat when it comes to promoting a brand a growing a following as you can vreate the buzz quite easily. Also the paid adversting eco-system of weibo is quite mature and relatively cost-efficient when compared to Wechat.
  • WeChat: WeChat is the most popular social media platform in China. It is a do-everything app and used by more than 1billion users. Altough not the best app to build a following, it is a must and also your best alternative to emails marketing. Use Wechat to nurtur your existing fan base.
UNIQLO on Xiaohongshu, Weibo and Wechat

Note that, whatever social media you’ll be using to reach out to your Chinese target audience, you should go through the effort of registering an official account for two reasons: Legitimacy and access to the many tools available to these accounts.

Getting Started with Social media & eCommerce in China

Now, the Chinese men’s fashion market is incredibly attractive to western brand as it has not reached maturity yet and still have a margin to grow. However, this market can be challenging for a plethora of reasons one being, China has its own eco-system from everything online but also unique regulations (eg: trademark)

For some companies, entering the Chinese market happened by chance. Connections with Korea and Japan became a pathway to enter the market. Others who want to enter the Chinese market directly have to start from scratch. For these unknown brands in china, a social media strategy is key and the solution is often hiring local experts that understand digital marketing trends in the country.

Digital is an Opportunity for brand looking at the Chinese Men’s Market

While some Western brands have already settled in the country, there is still much space in the market. Companies are beginning to figure out how to navigate China’s social media while establishing a way to sell to them online. Social media like WeChat can be powerful tools to drive the public’s attention when used correctly. We’ll likely see more brands transition to the Eastern giant over time.

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