Retail in Asia


How are independent Chinese designers laying the foundation of ‘Designed in China’?


The popularity of homegrown Chinese brands seems to be one of the strongest trends in China. “Guochao”, literally “national pride”, has become a buzzword while Chinese consumers realise that local companies are developing high-quality products that directly focus on them.

Who are the rising independent Chinese designer labels and what are the implications for the fashion industry at large? Retail in Asia shares a sneak peek of éCLAIR Asia’s latest report “China’s Fashion Shake-up”.

Based on data from 58 of the most influential and visible independent labels founded by Chinese designers, the study offers an overview of the segment’s growth, including designers’ characteristics, brand building strategies and the challenges facing them in their journey to build national – and increasingly, global – brands.

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“The world is taking note of China’s fast-growing number of talented independent designers,” said Chen Liang, China Managing Partner at éCLAIR.

“While still small in comparison to international fashion brands, these young Chinese independent designers are building a new image of Chinese fashion at home and abroad. That image is one of professionalism, creativity, boldness – all attributes at the foundation of the most successful fashion houses. But more than international brands, these designers enjoy the distinct advantage of being culturally closer to the world’s biggest fashion consumer market,” added Liang.

One of the findings is that the designers are increasingly younger. Those born in the 1970s had a median age of 34 at the time of founding, compared to 27 for those born in the 1980s and 23 for those born in the 1990s.

One reason behind this is a growth in young designers’ confidence and desire to share their own aesthetic. And according to designer Ji Cheng, when it comes to fashion design, youth can be an advantage: “In this rapidly evolving age, young designers and their teams are often closer in age to their target consumers, allowing them to connect with them more naturally. This is far more important than experience.”

When it comes to promotion, the two most popular channels for designer labels are Weibo and Instagram. On Weibo, top performers are outdoing global brands: 16 of the designer brands analysed have over 100,000 fans, and 5 have over 1 million fans. To put it into perspective, luxury brand Stella McCartney has 83,000, while fashion label Michael Kors has 670,000.

Meanwhile, 93 percent of Chinese independent labels analysed in this report use Instagram as a marketing channel – equal to Weibo. Though it is officially banned in China, the use of Instagram reflects both the designers’ overseas experience and an effort to grow brand visibility globally.

Among 54 labels analysed, buyer stores were the most common retail channel (87 percent or 47 labels), with 24 percent (13 labels) using that channel exclusively.

While WeChat garners a wide audience as a social media platform, its relatively closed environment makes it challenging for designer brands to build a large user base and drive sales at an early stage. Three of the labels analysed in this report have closed their WeChat Stores in the past few years.

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“We believe the growth of independent Chinese fashion labels creates collaboration opportunities across the fashion industry,” commented éCLAIR’s Milan-based Managing Partner Gregory Cole. 

“For international brands, independent Chinese designers represent creative marketing partners that can help them engage younger or niche consumer groups through culturally tuned-in design and craftsmanship. For Chinese designers, established brands can introduce them to global stakeholders and provide national or international visibility and awareness,” added Cole.

Download the full report here.


Chen Liang is a Managing Partner of éCLAIR, a strategic brand, marketing and communications consultancy with a focus on lifestyle and luxury brands. Chen has experience leading dozens of national campaigns for international fashion brands in China.