Retail in Asia

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Chinese consumers ditch luxury for leisure

Casualwear now occupies more space in local wardrobes, as luxury loses cultural clout, argues Jerry Clode, head of digital and social insights at Resonance China, Shanghai.

As Chinese consumers gain confidence in their own sense of style, some are starting to ditch luxury for leisure. The luxury drift in China is often explained as a reaction to the country’s economic slowdown and the government’s distaste for overt displays of opulence. However, underlying this shift is a unique transition of China’s cultural, political and street dynamics.

China’s sportswear market will surpass the luxury goods market by 2020, according to Euromonitor International, with double-digit growth each year to 280.8 billion yuan ($42.6 billion) compared with luxury’s single digit growth to 192.4 billion yuan ($29.2 billion) during the same period.

In a quest to better understand how to re-connect with the nation’s increasingly fickle upwardly-mobile consumers, I recently met face to face with several of them. ‘Little Zhang’ is the son of a wealthy business tycoon who did not wish to reveal his full name out of privacy concerns.

A self-confessed fashionista from the booming industrial city of Wuhan, deep in the country’s interior, Zhang admitted that he had been “teethed” on a set of “luxury brands that arrived in China early”. But although they were brands he still followed, he had a nagging feeling they were now “unable to express his more laid-back style”.

As a princeling of China’s economic miracle, Zhang had grown up using luxury brands to showcase his family’s wealth, success and status. However, as a twenty-something, he and many of his friends felt they were “evolving” to high-end leisure and sportswear in order to create a higher sense of style — or as he conveyed it in his local dialect, to be seen as “fresh rather than rotting meat.”

Zhang’s sentiments are part of a profound identity shift taking place in China, reflecting new realities for the nation’s moneyed millennials. High-end leisure and sportswear now occupy more space in local wardrobes, as luxury loses the cultural clout it once held in China’s ambitious economy.