One Question, Three Answers: Are Chinese Millennials Willing to Pay More for Sustainable Goods?

In our latest column, One Question, Three Answers, we pose a current, hot button question to industry executives, researchers, and consumers to demystify, or at least, to take a deeper look into one aspect of the business of luxury in China.

Question: A vast number of reports state that Chinese millennials are ethical shoppers—that they would be okay with paying a bit more for a sustainable product. How true is this in today’s China, where the notion of sustainability is in its infancy?

Shaway Yeh, Group Style Editorial Director at Modern Media, and Founder of yehyehyeh, an agency bringing together sustainability, creativity, and innovation to instigate valued-based change.

Shaway Yeh, Group Style Editorial Director at Modern Media, and Founder of yehyehyeh, an agency bringing together sustainability, creativity, and innovation to instigate valued-based change.

“I believe Chinese millennials will pay more for sustainable goods. Unlike their processors, which purchase goods out of necessity or status, millennials purchase goods in reference to its quality, style, and meanings. ‘Sustainable’ goods tend to have better quality, especially in terms of “safety” and “toxic-free”; sustainable goods also reflect positive values: caring for the community, the planets, the animals, etc. If the stories are communicated well and the values are recognized, it can create the halo that appeals to consumers. However, a consumer won’t simply pay more because something is “sustainable”; you need to break down to its various merits and attributes in order to attract specific consumers more accurately.”

Janice Wang, CEO of Alvanon, a global fashion technology company, advocating that profit can coexist well with a social and environmental impact.

Janice Wang, CEO of Alvanon, a global fashion technology company, advocating that profit can coexist well with a social and environmental impact.

“Chinese millennials, especially in urban areas, are increasingly sophisticated and making intelligent purchases. They are highly conscious of brands, quality, and value. They expect, like all young people around the world, to buy something that embodies their lifestyle choice. However, like every global consumer, they may not know how something is made or the multi-layered definition of sustainable. But they have a very strong social presence, ask questions, voice strong opinions and also expect the brands that they buy from to have an ethical stance both socially and environmentally.”

Yufei Li, Guangzhou-resident, Chinese millennial sustainable fashion shopper:

“First of all, I don’t think there are that many brands that are truly sustainable beyond Patagonia and Reformation. There are, however, some small, environmentally-friendly brands in China, which have insisted on using natural materials, such as cotton and linen, or using blue dyeing technology to reduce the damage to the environment.
Unfortunately, these small brands are unlikely to scale up with such strict manufacturing and design issues. For much larger brands, I think the leading trend is for them to use their capital and influence to educate the consumer about the cost of fashion to our environment.”

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Consumer, Market Trends