Saturday, May 18, 2024

China Insight: Why ‘New Chinese Style’ Is the Nation’s Latest Fashion Trend

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“New Chinese Style” designs have gotten off to a strong start in 2024 after a difficult time for fashion last year. Despite the various challenges that China is facing, New Chinese Style fashion is on the upswing, with orders at factories around the country rising rapidly.

A major driver behind the trend was the latest Chinese New Year, the most important festival in China and for many a occasion to connect with traditional Chinese culture. Since Central Television’s Spring Festival Gala, sales of New Chinese Style designs have increased by 215 percent year-on-year on JD.com, and those of Hanfu (Han-style clothing) rose by 325 percent year-on-year.

In Little Red Book, the number of posts related to “New Chinese Style” reached more than 2.6 million. New Chinese Style outfits are considered one of the “three must-haves” of the Chinese New Year. Videos tagged with “New Chinese Style” were viewed more than 1.02 billion times on TikTok while sales of “New Chinese Style” fashions on Tmall last year rose by more than 50 percent year-on-year, and the market size is said to reach 1 billion consumers.

This market data show that the “New Chinese Style,” which was once jokingly called “Chinese old money style,” is attracting more and more consumers, driving more brands to produce Chinese style clothes. Together with big promotions of this trend on various e-commerce platforms, it has also attracted investment.

Earlier this year, Chinamind Next Interculture Group, the parent company of WWD China, launched a special issue taking a deeper look at this new trend. The issue, titled “New Chinese Style Enlightenment,” included interviews with brands, designers, industry representatives, academia, researchers and other players on the latest developments and outlook for the category, including the latest market trends, cultural and social trends and the supply chain.

The “New Chinese Style Enlightenment” study by Chinamind Next Interculture Group

There is no question that New Chinese Style has become a guarantor for social media traffic in the overall flat market, and for many designers and brands a quick way to generate revenue. However, it is still too early to determine how sustainable the trend is. Does it have the potential to further grow and even go global? Or will it face a similar destiny, like the hyped Guochao (Chinese style streetwear), which suffered overexploitation and stalled before it could turn into a lasting trend?

Young generations are looking for cultural and spiritual identity in their selection of clothes

During the last century, international brands incorporated Asian elements into their designs to open the door to the Chinese market, and used “Chinese style” to develop a localized marketing narrative. At the beginning of this century, the trend of “traditional Chinese clothing” emerged, with a number of domestic brands making Chinese elements the focus of their new products to develop new incremental markets, contributing to the popularity of Chinese design and a craze for Hanfu.

However, New Chinese Style is different from the previous design trends as it represents a new set of social values.

These values are not just an awakening of cultural confidence that dominated the market sentiment during the Guochao period. Behind the New Chinese Style is a deeper bonding with national culture and heritage, a conscious expression of cultural identity. From traditional imagery to ornaments and China’s traditional color schemes, these clothes are not just fashion to their wearers — they are cultural codes that create a new identity rooted in tradition.

In ancient China, the imperial family weren’t the only group to adopt the motif of the dragon — the mythological symbol of auspiciousness — as the main brocade pattern, expressing their wish for longevity — ordinary people also used the figure in jewelry so they could wear something that would potentially bring good luck. Throughout the 5,000-year history of China, each era’s popular patterns not only represent that period’s aesthetics but also express people’s longings at that time and reflect a social philosophy.

Today, these patterns are being studied indepth by designers and redesigned into fashion. These designs aim to appeal to the aspirations of a new generation of consumers who are seeking emotional and spiritual fulfillment as well as the latest fashion trend.

Spiritual fulfillment is also reflected in data from China’s largest travel platform Ctrip, which show that ticket prices of tourist destinations with famous temples have increased by 310 percent year-on-year since 2023, while online searches using the keyword “temple” have increased by 600 percent year-on-year. The post ’90s and 2000s generations accounted for nearly 50 percent of the bookings for these destinations. The index is further evident of the search by younger generations for spiritual fulfillment and traditional Chinese wisdom and values. Their growing demand for New Chinese Style outfits to a certain extent follows similar motives: a better, more fulfilled life through auspicious patterns and colors and other aesthetic elements.

Is New Chinese Style here to stay?

At the beginning of 2024, a large number of enterprises in Zhejiang were in full swing thanks to the popularity of New Chinese Style.

In the Evergreen Garment Wholesale Market in Hangzhou, New Chinese Style clothing accounted for 80 percent of the business. According to sources, “Some orders have been lined up for ten days to half a month.” Orders of factories and enterprises in the upstream of the supply chain also soared, with demand exceeding supply. In Zhejiang Province’s Haining, some fabric factories had to turn down orders due to insufficient capacity. Other factories are shifting their production to make more New Chinese Style fabrics to keep up with market demand.

Juztlab has obtained financing from brand management company RYC.

In Haining – an industry cluster known for its leather products — there are more than 100 manufacturers now producing New Chinese Style fabrics with a daily output of up to 30,000 meters.

But it’s not only fashion where demand for New Chinese Style is growing: the trend also has taken hold in beauty, food and nutrition. At the end of February, the Juztlab, a New Chinese Style health brand, received an investment of 10 million renminbi, or about $1.4 million, from brand management company RYC.

Beyond these sectors, Chinese contemporary architecture and interior design have been looking for an aesthetic form that combines tradition and contemporary design. Among many others, this can be found in the works Ma Yansong and his concept of the “landscape city” that takes its inspiration from Chinese traditional gardens.

The famous Chinese designer Wu Bin, winner of the global Anderson Martin International Interior Design Award, also has created works influenced by Chinese traditional style. His creation of the “Modern Oriental Design Language” has become a unique label in the interior design industry. Recently, his installation “A Journey to the Mountains” was shown at M&O 2024 in Paris, using traditional forms of Chinese landscape painting and poetry and its spiritual core to respond to technology and the future while promoting traditional Chinese culture overseas. Whether it is the Modern Oriental of Wu Bin or Kelly Hoppen, the British designer who advocates the unity of heaven and mankind, both of them have shown that New Chinese Style has a place on the international stage.

However, fashion is different from architecture and interior design, and whether the trend will be adopted by markets outside of China remains to be seen. For now, though, it offers the Chinese fashion sector a new avenue of growth as local demand is likely to continue to increase.

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