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The Fashion Industry and China

From Mao Suits to Victoria Beckham, read about China's fashion evolution and the booming industry it has embraced today


The Fashion Industry and China

From Mao Suits to Victoria Beckham, read about China's fashion evolution and the booming industry it has embraced today


With  China Fashion Week 2013 and  MODE Shanghai 2013, the leading international fashion trade show in Shanghai,  as well as the 2013 BIFT Fashion Week  all taking taking place this month, we decided to take a closer look at the fashion industry in China. The fashion industry has undergone tremendous change within the past decade and is continuing to expand at an exponential rate.

What it Used to Be :

If you walked down the street in China a couple of decades ago, you would more than likely see  both men and women wearing the Zhongshan suit (中山裝, zhōngshān zhuāng), the Chinese version of a Western business suit also known as the Mao suit. The suit was originally named after  Sun Zhongshan (Dr. Sun Yat-sen)  after he advocated the wearing of functional clothes.

Women's Fashion in the Past

As China underwent its modernization period, women began to experiment with fashion.  Many more flowery dresses were beginning to be seen, as well as leggings with straps on the foot, hoses that reached up to the ankle, and hairstyles other than just braids. Because China was slowly picking itself up, fashion developed at a very slow pace. Migrant workers began to wear white shirts and black dress pants to work, even if their jobs consisted of manual labor.

Today’s Fashion Boom

China is expected to become the largest fashion market within the next five years. “China’s luxury market is forecast by McKinsey & Co. to soar to US$27 billion by 2015 — one fifth of the world’s total — up from US$10 billion in 2009,” said Emma Charlton in “China’s passion for fashion on show in Paris.” According to fashionista.com, Didier Grumback, head of France’s fashion federation, also claimed China “is a country that is passionate about fashion, like all emerging nations where appearance is of the utmost importance. ”  China Daily argues that China’s eye is “set on creating brands and products that will win the world, much like Apple, Louis Vuitton and Ikea” and that it “wants to become known as a design and innovation center – and no longer just as a manufacturing powerhouse.”

Fashion Weeks

In 1997, China Fashion Week was established in Beijing. According to this article, today  it has become world-renowned as not only a “top-rated platform for fashion design, ready-to-wear- accessories, styling and other designs and new technologies,” but also as a “platform for promoting brands, displaying originality, and broadcasting fashion trends” to the world. It has over 320 designers, more than 350 fashion brands, and holds over 768 fashion shows, attracting hundreds of media from all of the world. It is held twice a year during March and October. China’s fashion week has proved to the world that it is not only ready to embrace the fashion industry, but that it is becoming pivotal in the innovation of  fresh new trends.

 Chinese designer Zhang Jingjing Haute Couture Collection during the China Fashion Week 2013Credit: AP Photo/Andy Wong

Chinese designer Zhang Jingjing Haute Couture Collection-China Fashion Week 2013
Credit: AP Photo/Andy Wong


In March 2010, the leading international fashion trade show in Shanghai, MODE Shanghai, was established. It is said to be designed to “cater to the needs of global department stores looking to enter the Asian fashion retail business, and to be an optimized business platform for retailers and fashion brands,” according to its website. It further argues that MODE SHANGHAI is more than a trade show, it is “a gateway of  a tremendous market for fashion brands and designers, as  the future’s axe of the global fashion business.” In just three years, the fashion trade show has flourished exponentially. This year, it was held March 12th-14th.

There are many more fashion shows seeking to crack the Chinese market, including Dior’s S/S 2013 couture show, taking place in Shanghai on March 30 and organized by Bureau Betak.

The Chinese Consumer 

Many Chinese women will spend a larger percentage of their income  on fashion magazines than Western women, according to this article in The New York Times. In the article, Duncan Edwards, president and chief executive of Hearst Magazines International, stated, “We’re going through this wonderful period where huge numbers of women are coming out of poverty into the middle class and beyond. Many of these women are choosing to spend on luxury goods.” Chart of Chinese Women expenditures

With much more recent exposure to Western media, the Chinese consumer is now much more aware of  global fashion trends. Furthermore, according to a 2011 study conducted by Bain & Company, as stated in The New York Times, mainland China ranked sixth in the world for spending on luxury goods ranked by country, and in 2010, it was a US$17.7 billion market where Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci remain the most desired luxury brands.

 International Designers

Because of such a freshly booming fashion industry, world renowned designers are turning their attention to China. After husband David Beckham was unveiled as China’s first ever global football ambassador, Victoria Beckham will be making a series of high-profile appearances in China in an attempt to crack its market with her fashion line. Luxury fashion label Marc Jacobs is also said to be going after China with plans to add six stores a year to its existing 25 in Mainland China and 5 stores to its stores in Hong Kong.

 “I think Chinese consumers can learn very fast. Three or four years ago, they may have been merely chasing logos. Now they seek more than that. The chase now is more about lifestyle, social status and how the brand can fit them. It’s not just about a logo any more,” said Stalla-Bourdillon, Marc Jacob’s chief executive, to the South China Morning Post.

Companies such as H&M, Zara, Topshop, and Karen Millen are opening stores at an alarming rate, as China continues to become the fastest growing market with store numbers.

Chinese Students in the Fashion Industry 

BIFT Fashion Week 2013Chinese students are seeking to gain more exposure and experience in the fashion industry. The applications to Pratt Institute’s fashion program in New York have more than tripled in the past three years. The younger generation is interested more than ever in fashion and in creating a stronger presence in the industry.  This month, the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology hosted its four-day 2013 Fashion Week. According to former vice president of SCAD Hong Kong, “One only has to walk down the street in Shanghai and Beijing today and see the importance of fashion and street style, and how that’s grown and changed in the last 20 years and definitely even in the last five years,” reported China Daily.

Photo Courtesy of China Daily