In 2021, with the impressive success of SHEIN, a fast fashion e-retailer based in China, Chinese DTC overseas brands have started popping up on the radar of venture capitalists — marking, perhaps, the beginning of an era for the global expansion of Chinese DTC brands.
One such brand is PatPat, a top player in China’s children’s apparel sector, which recently secured $700 million in its third round of funding, bringing its total public funding to an astounding $1 billion. Moreover, PatPat has also been dubbed the “SHEIN of children’s apparel” due to its similarities to the fast fashion e-commerce disruptor.
Here, Jing Daily explores the similarities and differences between PatPat and SHEIN, analyzing its localization and marketing approaches in the global market.
The difference between SHEIN and PatPat
The United States is the largest consumer market for children’s clothing, accounting for 21 percent of the global market share. It’s also expected to grow faster than both men’s and women’s apparel, according to Euromonitor International. Carter’s, the largest and oldest children’s clothing brand in the United States, currently has a market share of 11 percent, leaving considerable room for penetration.
PatPat was co-founded in 2014 by three entrepreneur’s with no experience in the apparel industry. They believed there was a huge middle class consumer group in the US children’s fashion sector that was untapped and decided to leverage their knowledge of algorithms and digital marketing to meet this need in the US and abroad. And they’ve been very successful.
As a leading player among DTC brands going abroad, PatPat shares many similarities with SHEIN, especially when it comes to content marketing, mass-targeted product pricing, as well as abundant SKUs and fast design uptake — thanks to their flexible supply chain in China.
Both PatPat and SHEIN have high repurchase rates, but for different reasons: SHEIN is a fast fashion e-commerce platform that attracts repeat customers with low price points and a wide range of trendy knockoff designs. PatPat, on the other hand, produces children’s apparel, a market where the frequency of clothing replacement — you can’t stop kids from growing — is inherently high.
Given that many consumers value quality in children’s apparel, PatPat has been dedicated to developing well designed pieces rather than simply offering low priced products like SHEIN. Taking advantage of the team’s computing expertise, PatPat has developed analysis tools for “keyword search” and “popular color trends” to bring diverse and stylish clothing products to consumers in the US market, where children’s apparel is generally more monotonous in design. PatPat also aims to use these tools to solve inventory and turnover problems in the clothing industry.
“[PatPat] found a supply and demand gap in the overseas market and have greatly penetrated it,” said Luo Yang Yan, director of Crowd Asia Pacific, a global marketing service provider. She also pointed out that PatPat’s slogan — Cute, Quality and Great Prices — worked because it emphasized the word “Cute” first, as most children’s apparel products in overseas markets prioritize quality and comfort. PatPat has used it as a core selling point. “With the high replacement rate of children and baby clothes, [PatPat] is able to cater to the parents who want to share their children’s looks on social media while offering prices far lower than local brands.”
A detailed approach to localization
Children’s clothing and toys have always been popular export products for Chinese sellers; however, most of them barely pay attention to the brand image or localized design, with even product descriptions having serious grammar issues.
“In the US and European markets, where business models such as livestreaming sales are still emerging, brands are instead more focused on KOLs and KOCs to target users and consumers of the platform,” said Michel Gutsatz, a professor of marketing at France’s Cache Business School. Adding that PatPat’s localization is reflected in its exclusive social content section for local users, which utilizes consumer-to-consumer marketing communications.
For example, on the PatPat App, there is a feature called “Pat Life,” where users are encouraged to share content by offering rewards in the form of points. It also provides look inspirations and offers the chance to become key opinion consumers. This not only satisfies the consumers’ desire to show off their children’s outfits, but also improves user engagement and retention rate.
Is marketing really a panacea?
PatPat has been ranked in the Top 10 for several seasons in the OneSight and Marketing Overseas Brand Social Platform Performance List, and at one point even surpassed SHEIN. Marketing has indeed been a major advantage of overseas Chinese brands, and in PatPat’s case, it’s mainly reflected in its comprehensive presence on Facebook.
According to Similarweb, 52.89 percent of social media traffic on PatPat’s official website comes from Facebook. Currently, PatPat has 6.36 million followers on Facebook, as well as corresponding accounts for various markets, totaling over one million followers.
“It’s clear that PatPat is serious about their content marketing strategy. With a diverse social presence, polished video content and localized copy, PatPat’s Facebook copywriting strategy is highly consistent with the core selling points highlighted in its slogan, which focuses on cuteness,” says Luo. “A well-executed social media strategy is essential for successful overseas brands.”
In terms of a KOL strategy, PatPat announced its “Influencer Program” on their official website, in which PatPat sends KOLs $40-200 worth of children’s clothing every month. Within 7-15 days of receiving the clothing, KOLs are required to upload pictures or videos to their personal accounts with a link to the official website of the relevant product.
Luo suggested that PatPat could bet bigger on TikTok. “Perhaps given the relatively young age of the users on TikTok, PatPat has not yet made a push onto that platform. However, the target market of children and baby products could be wider than that of parents. Young aunts and uncles on TikTok could be a big opportunity to get PatPat’s brand out into new circles.”
However, some customers complained of buying PatPat clothing with the SHEIN label on third-party review sites, and questions about the quality of PatPat’s products continue to be raised. The negative feedback aligns with Gutsatz’s concerns on the sustainable development of PatPat. “They are investing a lot of money on marketing, but is this sustainable in the long run? How will they continue to grow if there are additional costs due to quality issues?”