Today, Chinese millennials are arguably the most important demographic segment on the planet – and they’re tuning in to ancient culture. Their daily lives are incredibly modern – they’re constantly connected to the internet, around which their friendships, entertainment, and work revolve. But the consumption of Chinese millennials is surprisingly complex; economically strong and culturally divided between ancient values, modernity, and national pride.
It is precisely millennials’ rediscovery of Chinese ancient culture to which foreign brands must cater to be competitive in the market. With over 3,000 years of history, Chinese civilization is one of the oldest in the world and millennials have become the spokespeople of cultural pride. This pride is reflected in both everyday style and consumption patterns.
But foreign brands aren’t paying heed to millennial preference. A prime example of this ignorance was the onslaught of dogs pasted on clothes to honor Chinese New Year. Brands such as Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta, and Gucci issued special edition accessories, bags, and sweaters for the occasion. Online message boards featured a slew of millennials responding that the products were in bad taste.
China’s fashion industry supports cultural renaissance
The younger generations are getting specific, expressing their desire to incorporate traditional culture into modern dress. In an interview with Jing Daily 24-year-old student, Yu Yuzhou, said, “Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties each have their own specific styles. Instead of repeating superficial Chinese aesthetics, it’s better to go deeper in a specific period.”
23-year-old Sha Chenyu elaborated, “The bling bling, gold, red with green is actually the aesthetic of Manchu. The aesthetic of Han is simple and elegant.”
There are several instances of Chinese brands’ efforts to cater to millennials’ desire to connect with ancient culture. China’s Forbidden City, a site of one of the world’s most famous monument, launched a line of traditional accessories which it sold in brick and mortar sites as well as online. They even hired a millennial marketing team to better connect with their target audience through digital millennial ‘speak’.
The Muzkin Chinese fashion brand, launched in 2014 by George Feng and Kate Han, is rejecting the prevalence of the Western aesthetic in favor of the Far East. Muzkin’s mission is to revive China through unique representations of ethnic minorities. Efforts include a recent display of the embroidery of Xinjiang province on the catwalk. Mukzin’s brand is “100% Made in China” – even the photographers and models used are chosen from within the country’s borders.
How can foreign brands be on trend?
Building an in-depth knowledge of Chinese culture and history is important. A superficial cultural knowledge will not only drive marketing campaigns into the ground, it can spark loads of disparaging comments from millennials on Weibo and other social channels.
This year’s dog-applique stunt was met by many opposing voices. Millennials do not want to be labeled as 土豪, which literally means “enriched potato” signifying new-found wealth without culture.
Reanimating ancient arts and crafts with the help of local experts and designers is a fertile direction for international luxury brands that want to enter the market. China’s younger generations are just beginning to delve into traditional culture, and want to discover more – even through consumptive channels.
Foreign luxury brands can also support China’s cultural renaissance by funding cultural programs or by developing specific products that support local craftsmanship and skilled labor.
A great example is Cartier’s recent collaboration with Chinese artisans to restore the ancient clocks of the Forbidden City Palace Museum. The brand received overwhelmingly positive feedback for its efforts. Cultural patronage that goes beyond limited timespan of Chinese New Year will foster lasting impact and brand loyalty.