What Happened: A new museum in Shanghai is putting a spotlight on some of China’s most classic brands. The Huashan 263 Laozihao Pavilion, which opened on October 1, is the first public space in the city with a comprehensive display of Laozihao 老字号 — a special title granted by the government to businesses that existed before 1956 and possess distinct Chinese cultural characteristics. Among the 100 representative Shanghainese groups included are candy maker White Rabbit, sporting goods company DHS Sports, eyewear line Maochang Glasses, and qipao label Longfeng. These names will set up installations that showcase their products as well as their decades-long history.
The Jing Take: While the museum highlights Shanghai-based Laozihao, there are actually over 1,000 firms nationally that qualify for this title, including Traditional Chinese Medicine suppliers, silk cloth shops, tea houses, and Peking duck restaurants. While these establishments are held in high regard — some have been in operation for hundreds of years — many have also struggled financially and fallen behind on innovation. In 2016, famous economist Li Yining pointed out that only about 20 to 30 percent of these time-honored institutions are still growing.
But that has started to change. For one, Laozihao businesses have made greater efforts to digitize, from opening virtual stores on Taobao and Tmall to using services like Meituan and JD.com to better market and distribute to today’s consumers. The government has stepped in too, implementing the “Revitalization of Time-honored Brands Project” in 2006 to promote their development and then renewing this commitment in 2022 (action items include protecting their intellectual property rights and original building sites, supporting global expansion, and increasing publicity).
More interestingly, these esteemed domestic names have benefited from the recent Guochao wave and nostalgia marketing boom. As CBNData notes, the two main consumer groups for Laozihao are Generation Z, who have a strong sense of national pride, and the silver-haired generation (those over 60 years old) who actually grew up with these labels. To win over the former, Neiliansheng (a Beijing shoe shop founded in 1853) has opened pop-up shops, launched collaborations — Neiliansheng’s co-branded shoes with the Chinese film Big Fish and Begonia sold out in less than 18 hours — and even starred in Fashion Scout’s London runway last year.
As such, partnerships between Laozihao and global ventures can be mutually beneficial. For homegrown players, joining hands with foreign IP or products could help them innovate to stay relevant and target new markets. For international labels, Laozihao outfits not only offer an avenue for nostalgia marketing but also a way to convey a deeper understanding of local heritage — beyond pop culture and trending KOLs.
White Rabbit best captures how far Laozihao concerns can go: founded in the 1940s, the Shanghai candy maker has evolved into a global sensation, expanding into cosmetics, perfumes, milk teas, and streetwear through collaborations. It also opened a funhouse-like flagship store in its home city last year that pushes the boundaries of traditional retail. This combination of iconic branding, immersive storefronts, and fun marketing campaigns are key ingredients to winning over a new generation of consumers and bringing a legacy house into the future.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.