The Year of the Tiger’s Best Collabs

This month’s Chinese Designer Collabs column looks at the best China-related partnerships and drops transforming the retail landscape. From local fashion to C-beauty brands, virtual idols to NFTs, and KOLS to lifestyle and games, Jing Daily offers a curated selection of what’s hot in the world of drops. The column will also be featured in Jing Daily’s bi-weekly Collabs and Drops newsletter — a 360-degree lowdown on the world of collaborations. 

Chinese New Year campaigns are very often a stumbling block for international names. Big budgets and high concepts can help secure the best talent; however, they don’t automatically guarantee cultural insights or execution — which are often lacking. One of the best ways to ensure your campaign or products win over Chinese audiences is through collaborating with local players. 

Whether its artists, designers, or foodies, this year’s selection of initiatives for the Lunar New Year Festival illustrates the power of partnerships to galvanise consumers’ attention. Teaming up with a local name is a tested way to integrate Chinese aesthetics into your products, but be warned, collaborations may not necessarily make as much noise on social media as expected — and this was certainly true this year. 

Nevertheless, it’s a tested strategy that has resulted in some imaginative partnerships. And, as China marketing expert Amber Wu advised, “In the long run, brands will be rewarded through deeper collaboration and localization.” Therefore don’t see CNY as a quick sprint, rather it’s a race of stamina. Read on for Jing Daily’s roundup of some of the best CNY collabs kick-starting the Year of the Tiger. 

The Artist Collab

This season a number of international labels collaborated with local artists for their CNY offering. Bally’s partnership with US-based illustrator Jun Cen was notable for marketing consultant Xinyao Qiu, who loved how Bally interpreted traditional CNY elements in an artistic and creative fashion. 

“The brand went far beyond its peers which used commonly seen bold green or red colors and tiger prints. It was great to see a local artist with a local production team. But I’m not sure about the influencers they picked for the video campaign though it was nicely edited with a narrative,” Qiu noted. 

Bally’s Year of the Tiger post featuring popular Chinese actor Johnny Huang garnered over 10,000 likes on Weibo. Photo: Bally’s Weibo

The response was low but positive overall. The best performing post on Weibo (by @BALLY中国) had 10,279 likes, 6,904 reposts and 4,088 comments. Upbeat comments included: “pretty chic,” “seems cute” and “want to buy.” 

Michael Kors’ collaboration with well-known fashion KOL Ji Weiran, who is himself a blogger and illustrator, failed to make much impact on social media (the highest post on Weibo was from the artist @季未燃JiweiJW which had 471 likes, 41 reposts, 111 comments). Still, netizen feedback was good, finding it “interesting” and “a new style of monogram.”

According to consultant Wu, this collaboration seemed more of a “light touch” and “less involved in the product design and brand messaging.” This meant a lack of the designer in the campaign assets, while some images omitted it completely, and there was no mention on the official website (probably down to budget constraints). 

Still, the deeper the collaboration, the stronger the results. On that note, Wu pointed to Vans which tapped Chen Yingye (also known as Hua Tunan) — a young, post-90s artist born in Foshan, China, who has cultivated a cool following online. “For the products, the tiger elements were integrated well into the product design and with themes that resonate with today’s young generation,” Wu stated. 

The Vans x HUATUNAN Year of the Tiger collection covers Vans’ iconic silhouettes, including the Authentic, the Sk8-Hi and the Old Skool. Photo: Vans’ Weibo

These included mottos like “stay hungry” to encourage young people to keep working to achieve their goals, and this resonates with many Gen Zers. Fashion bloggers’ posts also helped to amplify on WeChat. @Flightclub中文站’s received 56.3K views while others from @Timeout上海 and @红秀Go received 24.4K and 11.6K respectively. The Weibo topic #Vans联名# (#Vans collab#), which was created for the drop, clocked up 150,000 views with target netizens writing “so creative” or “Chinese culture is so cool.”

The Independent Designer Collab

Working with a young, emerging designer was another key theme emerging from this year’s selection of CNY campaigns. First up, Jing Daily spotlights the Spanish highstreet conglomerate Zara’s team-up with Susan Fang. There were many positives in the China-only collection which has now sold out. 

“It was great to see a giant like Zara promote an emerging Chinese talent and give her the creative freedom to stay true to her aesthetic…. Often with these commercial collaborations, designers are expected to dilute and tone things down but I love that the capsule is unmistakably Susan Fang,” Jillian Xin, buying director at Labelhood commented. 

Moreover, although this was released to celebrate the Lunar Festival, it avoided any of the obvious symbols usually seen at that time. Xin added: “They went beyond the obvious Chinese New Year motifs of red and gold or a tiger print to deliver a capsule that felt joyful and, most importantly, authentic.” 

The Susan Fang x Zara collection, exclusively available in China, takes inspiration from family. Photo: Zara

Consumer reaction on WeChat, where the best performance article was found (from Zara officials account @Zara and totaling 100K reads), was overwhelmingly positive with fans loving the romance of the collection. A major victory for one of Shanghai’s most promising up-and- coming independent talents — now with global appeal. 

Puma’s tie-up with designer duo Pronounce plays on the latter’s proven track record for collaborating with international names (H&M, Diesel). Jack Porteous from China e-commerce specialists, Samarkand Global, went so far as to call it a “great example of a Chinese designer collaborating with an international brand without it being a transparent ploy by the brand to simply ‘do something Chinese.’” 

Porteous continued: “It has drawn inspiration from archaeological sites in Bolivia in its design, and demonstrates that Puma respects the creative integrity of the local brand and entered into the partnership on a more equal footing. The design concept treats the end consumers with due respect as global and intelligence.” 

It played out fairly well on Weibo, too, where the topic Puma x Pronounce had 20,000 reads and 5,815 discussions. Still, the campaign fared better on WeChat which is proving more receptive towards independent designers. There, a post from @Size尺码  had 38.3K reads and comments included: “love it, so chilly” and “ fit for youth, gonna buy.”

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And, it wasn’t only non-Chinese names tapping new local talent for CNY collabs; Domestic giant Erdos’ intricate knit collection with the cutting-edge knitwear label Swaying was a highlight of how the trend played out at home. The cashmere titans have been ramping efforts to resonate with younger consumers commercially for a number of years, with Qiu pointing out that this effort “shows how Erdos respects the younger generation and has a willingness to learn from them. Since last year, Erdos has been growing in popularity and they have quite a few hot products.” 

The post released by Erdo’s official account @EDRIS found 15.8K readers which called the pieces “very chic,” “modern,” and “beautiful.” Sales on Tmall have also attested to its appeal; meanwhile, the use of the hype photographer Zeng Wu to shoot the campaign added an extra layer of Gaochao appeal. 

The Foodie Collab 

Finally, there’s an old saying in China that food is an absolute necessity, particularly when it comes to families gathering for the festival season (or 民以食为天). Therefore, it’s no surprise that the event is always brimming with imaginative CNY food tributes. 

The meeting of Team Wang x Want Want Group appears quite obvious as Want Want is one of the idol Jackson Wang’s favourite food brands — not to mention the names sound phonetically similar. “Compared with the companies who just played with ‘tiger’ elements, this was a masterclass in how to respect CNY culture,” Qiu continued. 

Team Wang teamed up with Want Want Group to create delicious gift boxes for the holiday. Photo: Team Wang’s Weibo

She cited the product, gift box design and all the visual/video assets design as attributes that went above and beyond to be a successful cross-category collab. The hashtag #TEAMWANGSPARKLES# earned 37,000 reads and 61,000 discussions; #过年送添旺挺旺的# (wang wang is a good gift for tiger year) had 188,000 and Jackson Wang @王嘉尔 received 53,435 reposts and 20,401 likes. 

This partnership shows that the two industries can leverage similar target audiences when perfectly aligned — another key takeaway from CNY collabs.  

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