This year has seen a conveyor belt of co-branded releases rolled out in the mainland, as reported by Jing Daily’s weekly Collabs & Drops newsletter.
Global brands are increasingly being welcomed into pockets of Chinese culture via partnerships with local talent, and domestic streetwear brands are consequently booming across the board, from homegrown Gen Z favorites such as Roaringwild and Randomevent, and power-players like Li-Ning and Clot.
Simultaneously, it has become commonplace in China to see luxury labels collaborate with household coffee brands, or release their own inventive bubble tea, in order to reach the wider public.
With the last quarter of 2023 nearing, now is an opportune moment to look ahead to next year’s collaborative trends, and highlight those that have succeeded in China this year.
As designer Susan Fang says, “Collaborations definitely sell super fast. Usually, they sell out within the week. But also it’s a very different system from our own.” Many brands have found partnerships to be lucrative opportunities in 2023, as well as a survival strategy.
Mainstream consumer goods a gateway to the mainstream public
If fashion x consumer goods crossovers were once an unexpected pairing, they became bedfellows through 2023.
Global luxury houses have adopted an approach to partnering with household names to go viral on the internet, and, ultimately, gain widespread cultural recognition in the mainland. Affordable bubble tea brand Heytea, for one, has worked with the likes of Tesla and Fendi this year.
Back in January, beauty brand Sk-ii worked with popular Chinese candy brand White Rabbit on a limited edition Pitera Essence product. According to an email from the brand, the limited-edition, co-branded bottle received over 550,000 consumer engagements on Douyin and Xiaohongshu within the first five days of the announcement.
June saw Fendi work with Corner Cone Gelato on zodiac-inspired ice cream flavors to promote the brand’s Astrology Summer 2023 capsule, leveraging the “summer ice cream” trend on Xiaohongshu and generating 45.8 million views at the time of Fendi’s release.
That same month, Louis Vuitton worked with Manner Coffee, the Shanghai-born brand whose hashtag has 11.3 million reads on Weibo. Known as a brand for young consumers with its grab-and-go coffee, Manner is an accessible domestic brand that capitalizes on the urban work-around-the-clock culture. In short, it is a failsafe vehicle for Louis Vuitton to relate to its crucial Gen Z and millennial demographic.
Whether the result of consumers yearning for post-pandemic comfort in familiarity, or the fact that Gen Zers are coming of age, nostalgic cartoon intellectual properties (IPs) have thrived through 2023.
Randomevent has continued to work with Disney, celebrating the American franchise’s 100th anniversary with a Snow White Spring 2023 collection — a winner for marketing, Disney’s official 100th anniversary hashtag, Dishini100zhounian (#迪士尼100周年), has 41.6 million reads and counting.
Chinese smartphone brand Xiaomi also rode the Disney wave with a limited edition Civi 3 smartphone, announced in June. A 2019 report from McKinsey states that the post-1980s generation in China was the first group of consumers in the country to grow up with Mickey Mouse, and they account for over half of luxury buyers in the mainland.
Another cartoon favorite coming out of China this year was Shanghai-based label 13DeMarzo, which launched a Looney Tunes ready-to-wear capsule in May featuring 3D teddy bear designs. The brand had 13,000 fans on Weibo when Collabs & Drops reported on it four months ago, whereas it now has 31,000 — the collaboration contributing to the more than doubling of its follower count.
Global brands target specific consumer segments via local names
One of the most prominent benefits of brand collaborations is how they enable foreign brands to connect with the local market.
Working with China’s independent designers, streetwear brands, and household names enables foreign brands to build a relationship with their target consumer demographics, and translate their existing identity into Chinese culture and connect authentically with consumers.
Over the course of 2023, names like Champion and Herschel teamed up with local Gen Z-favorite brands such as Melting Sadness and Randomevent as a bridge into the Chinese market.
American sportswear giant Nike’s localization strategy saw it work with independent designers Feng Chen Wang and Susan Fang this year.
In August, the brand invited Fang to design an eco-friendly basketball court at Gucheng Elementary School in Yunnan Province, a social responsibility project intended to inspire girls to play football. And Feng unveiled a Nike ready-to-wear collection accompanied by Air Force 1s in Paris in June for Spring 2024. Then earlier this month, the collaborator queen paired up with Crocs. The project’s #crocsxfengchenwang hashtag has amassed 3.4 million reads on Weibo to date.
While independent designers do benefit from the mainstream exposure that these collaborations offer, the creative innovation and organic connection to Chinese consumers that they provide produces long-term benefits for collaborating brands.
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