With Victoria’s Secret set to launch its next fashion show in Shanghai in November, the American giant of intimate apparel is creating loads of buzz and taking advantage of the Chinese lingerie market’s rapid rise (in 2016, it saw a 20-percent increase year over year) and its colossal potential.
But the American brand, which is considered a luxury label in China, has generated strong reactions on Chinese social media networks over its inclusion in its roster of models Gigi Hadid, who, earlier this year, was accused of mocking Asian people in a video that was posted to Instagram. This reaction was enhanced by the brand’s insufficient response which was seen as a slight to the national pride of Chinese millennials.
The event spurred us to take a closer look at the local lingerie industry, especially the more innovative Chinese lingerie brands that are emerging on the market. Those up-and-coming brands work to make creative moves that adapt quickly to new millennial consumption codes and their nimbleness pays off. Here are the top tactics these brands use to achieve success with this young and powerful demographic:
1. Integrate the Online and Offline Experience
NEIWAI, a Chinese brand founded online in 2012, and which has been called “the Uniqlo of lingerie” in China for its simple and modern designs, opened its first physical experience space in 2016. The local trendy lingerie brand is going to open more shops soon.
Embodying the slow fashion philosophy, the brand limits its offerings to 80 models and extends the product development cycle so that the product can better fit the needs of Chinese customers.
NEIWAI believes that once a customer gets used to a lingerie brand, she will become loyal to this brand.
After several years of operation, the online development of the brand has come to a turning point. NEIWAI found that even though their online sales were increasing, it was still important for millennials to have a physical space to come to in order to try things on before making the purchase.
In the first experience space of NEIWAI, in Shanghai, customers can reserve their personal measurement service to find the size that fits them the best.
NEIWAI is now aiming to be a life aesthetic brand which combines online and offline experiences.
2. Build a Community to Gain Loyal and Engaged Consumers
Nowadays, Chinese women share their experiences with other consumers online, and they often trust their peer’s opinions more than the brand’s official information. According to the brand strategy of the lingerie shop Oxygen, this is particularly true for lingerie, a product that needs to provide a sense of intimacy and reassurance to its audience.
Originally an online multi-brand shop, Oxygen focuses on feminine lingerie brands and organizes its product offerings by different occasions and lifestyles that resonate with the expectations of young Chinese women. The selections of the products are chosen by the buyers of Oxygen, they personally try on the product and then write and share their experiences to the community. Once the consumers shop online, they are also invited to share their experience with the community and chat with each other.
The users who have the most followers become key opinion leaders (KOLs) or influencers within the Oxygen community and the multi-brand shop will ask them to be an “experimenter” of lingerie. They will then receive complimentary products to share pictures of themselves wearing the products and also disclose their own experience. These KOLs are well trusted by the customers because customers can relate to them and their daily life.
Oxygen’s community, and its e-commerce prowess, helped the company get $5 million in investments in 2015. Its online retail model is also very efficient and favors small brands who want wide access to potential consumers with limited investment.
Aurora Alba, a premium lingerie brand founded in 2015 by a Chinese women, Xu Yue, is one such success story. After realizing that there was room in the China lingerie market—between the luxury brands and the fast fashion brands—she launched her products on Oxygen (she was picked by their buyers), and almost overnight received hundreds of orders.
For Xu Yue, the lingerie market is not one that will “explode.” But new technology and the changes in the way millennials shop today gives small brands like hers a much greater chance to succeed than would have been thought possible before.
3. Focus on Ultra-Specialization to Offer Your Customers Something They Can’t Find Elsewhere
For a long time, the lingerie market in China was populated by brands that had similar products and brand positioning. Their goal was mass consumption and they didn’t pay attention to the emergence of new styles or to the aspirations of their clientele.
Tuibian Hezi was created to fulfill a gap in the market: smart lingerie for teenagers. The founder Tuibian Hezi thought that young women need to develop healthy notions of intimate apparel from a young age. She created the brand and named one of its early product packages “a girl’s first bra.” This package came with a set of lingerie, a tapeline to measure her size and a teen magazine.
Keeping in mind that the majority of posture corsets in the market are not sophisticated or visually appealing enough for teenage girls (who are sensitive about aesthetics during puberty) they’ve designed a bra which helps to correct the posture of teenagers in order to avoid problems with their figures, such as hunched backs, in the future.
The founder of the Beijing-based brand AtoG doesn’t believe in the “one-size fits all” approach of traditional lingerie. Thus, the brand creates custom-made bras made in the manner of Haute Couture with the belief that because we all have unique body shapes, a personalized bra is more meaningful to women.
For AtoG, a bra should be made to order the way people are measured for eyeglasses. In their boutique, you can customize your own bra and get them in seven days. They also provide lessons on breast-health, including tips for massages.
4. Think Beyond Lingerie
ForDearMe is a lingerie brand targeting young Chinese girls. They’ve innovated with several types of bra and a comfortable selection that suits Asian body types. The brand’s most unusual quality is the way they package their product. The brand’s packagings are named after different moods. In each package, there’s a piece of bra with a sample of perfume or an accessory, a sentence and a song that differs depending on the featured mood.
Oxygen is also famous for its “A piece of bra for each occasion” marketing strategy. Each day, their app showcases one bra and pairs it with accessories and garments to suit the occasion with some text to create an inspiring montage.
Holidays and festivals are also great occasions to launch specific products. Aurora Alba provides different packagings of lingerie for different holidays. For example, in a Valentine’s Day gift-set, you might find an eyepatch, a lipstick or perfume with a romantic bra. This will not only improve the customer’s experience but also helps create buzz on social media.
To sum up:
- Lingerie is a growing market in China and young local brands are adapting to fit millennial taste with smart approaches that can inspire consumers to be flirty and feel confident
- Think digital but integrate with offline experiences
- Engage with your consumers and encourage them to connect on your platform
- Analyze the market and its fast evolving consumer behavior to give your products that added value
- Open your lifestyle universe and brand journey above and beyond lingerie products
Juliette Duveau and Sophia Dumenil are co-founders of The Chinese Pulse, a creative marketing agency based in Paris dedicated to spotting trends in the Chinese contemporary market for fashion, beauty, luxury and lifestyle brands.