How Brands Can Put Female Empowerment Into Action in China

When Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei, returned to China, socio-political conversations went viral. The deal not only sparked off patriotic sentiment among Chinese netizens, but also increased their admiration for women with strong, uncompromising personalities. But within these online discussions, Meng’s outfits created their own social buzz. One brand in particular stood out — Max Mara. Snapshots of her wearing the luxury house’s signature coats were greeted with much enthusiasm by netizens.

Consumer sentiment behind Meng’s appearance in Max Mara was more comprehensive than a brand’s typical celebrity endorsement. Women are now an indispensable force in both the luxury and fashion sectors and homegrown fashion insiders are elevating this fact on a broader social agenda. And as the topic gains momentum —  from consumer to corporate levels — conversations on this demographic’s nuanced identities are painting a picture of China’s modern woman.

In response to this trend, Max Mara is tackling the importance of hearing and projecting women’s voices outside of the fashion industry. Moreover, the Italian label has continuously challenged the stereotypical ideal and advocates for more diversity and inclusivity.

To understand how Max Mara speaks to modern Chinese consumers, Jing Daily analyzes its latest content strategies, and uncovers how it can inspire global players eyeing this multifaceted segment.

Co-creating content with women creatives

With a focus on women in the workplace, Max Mara has built a brand image rooted in commitment — a sense of belonging, entrepreneurship, and professionalism. In fact, the house pays close attention to women in different life-stages. This month, it produced a feature story named “7 for 70 Photography Project” in collaboration with the fashion magazine Wonderland which brought the house’s signature coat to life through the lens of women photographers of various ages.

For the house’s 70th anniversary, seven pioneering photographers between the ages of 19-to-83-years-old shot looks styled with Max Mara’s iconic coats in a campaign that conveyed the power of women across ages. This garnered extensive organic engagements and user-generated content on local social platforms such as Weibo, Xiaohongshu, and Douyin.

On October 12, the hashtag #83-year-oldGrandmaDocumentedChineseSportsThroughHerLens entered Weibo’s hot topic list, receiving more than 36.8 million views, which immediately drove substantial social buzz. This series, featuring China’s female football team, was shot by the 83-year-old photographer Hong Nanli — renowned in the male-dominated sports industry for capturing significant athletic moments.

A behind-the-scenes snapshot of the series of Max Mara’s “7 for 70 Photography Project,” featuring China women’s football team. Photo: Wonderland China

Hong’s dedication and persistence in her field made her one of the most powerful spokespersons for empowerment. Netizens were bowled over by the athletes’ beauty, power, and speed, as well as the cross-generational communication between the team and practitioner.

Physically engaging female leaders across various sectors

Max Mara has also invested in physical gatherings and in person interactions with its important customers. Again, for its 70th anniversary, the house hosted a series of “Wonder Women” gala dinners in several cities throughout China, exploring the multi-faceted concept of “womenship.”

The Wonder Women gala dinner in Chengdu featuring Mani Fok, Ma Yili, and Liu Ying. Photo: Max Mara

The initiative toured Guangzhou, Chongqing, and Beijing in the first half of 2021 and landed in Chengdu in September. These events, featuring immersive and digital experiences, saw established women in the fields of film, sports, science, and journalism come together to celebrate their vitality.

In Chengdu, a panel featuring the well-known actress Ma Yili, the Chief Executive Officer of Emperor Culture Development Mani Fok, and the young female Chinese scientist Liu Ying discussed a number of topics including careers, partners, and relatives. These comprehensive dialogues offered attendees a host of valuable insights and the ability to network in addition to a traditional runway presentation.  

Reinforcing communication strategies through leveraging blockbusters

Finally, Max Mara has historically focused on motherhood and explored the emotional and physical bonds between mothers and daughters via their “Mother & Daughter” project launched in 2016. This global initiative introduced groups of mothers and daughters in Milan, New York, and Shanghai to show the versatility and timelessness of Max Mara’s iconic 101801 coats.

This year, it rolled out a campaign video ahead of the premiere of the blockbuster film All About My Mother whose premise is based on mother-daughter relationships. The campaign featured the leading actress Xu Fan (the onscreen “mother”) sharing an identical 101801 camel coat with her daughter, played by emerging Gen Z actress Zhang Jingyi, which reinforced the allure of the brand regardless of age. Both the campaign videos and photos have touched viewers profoundly.

The “Mother & Daughter” campaign casted actress Xu Fan (the onscreen “mother”) and Gen Z actress Zhang Jingyi (the onscreen “daughter”). Photo: Glass China

Given that Max Mara has built its company DNA primarily on its archive of stylish, iconic, and elegant coats, these items have impressed Chinese consumers through a localized content commerce approach. The brand’s most recent TV collaboration, the office TV series The Ideal City, starring Chinese mainland actress Sun Li, depicted career dilemmas facing today’s young people. For example, the show’s realistic portrayal of how women break the unwritten rules of a male-dominated workplace resonated with many audiences.

Sun, who played the main character, wore Max Mara following significant promotions as she realized her career goal, which symbolized a major work transformation (from a junior to senior). This approach of empowering characters during life milestones has proven to be effective following the label’s previous exposure in popular TV dramas like Nothing But Thirty, All Is Well, and A Little Reunion. All featured characters, as well as the women who portrayed them, were self-reliant and powerful working professionals, which allowed viewers to identify with these typical Max Mara women in China’s new social context.

As a house committed to women’s Ready-To-Wear, Max Mara not only maintains its product desirability by designing iconic pieces that work across the decades, but also by telling stories that engage contemporary Chinese women. With 28 years of experience in communicating with local customers, Max Mara understands the pulse of today’s sophisticated fanbase mentality and has set a benchmark in marketing to it.