The Commercial Opportunity of Gender Fluidity

    There's a growing desire among brands and consumers for products that aren't just for men or women -- it's a way to break traditional gender roles in China.
    Specifically targeting Chinese consumers, Boy de Chanel was launched on WeChat and generated significant buzz. Photo: Chanel website
    Sandy ChuAuthor
      Published   in Retail

    The global rise of gender fluidity indicates a growing desire to embrace personal exploration beyond the narrow identity codes of masculinity and femininity. Led by independent Chinese designers like Feng Chen Wang, Sankuanz, and Angel Chen, this emerging sentiment has increasingly allowed sexuality to be approached in fashion with a new type of individuality.

    Today, toxic masculinity or passive femininity can be replaced with new types of roles: sensitive men or strong women. This has led to slang such as "wonder dads," which celebrates engaged and thoughtful fathers. These new concepts represent a positive step forward, and Chinese consumers can be more of a man or woman today by embracing who they actually are rather than the restrictive gender norms of the past. But what does this mean from a commercial business perspective?

    For one, products that were once limited to one gender can now be relevant to both. Fashion marketing can move away from flat portrayals of women and men to express the multi-dimensional ways humans can live across their lifestyle purchases. Recent examples of how this trend is playing out include the rise and social acceptance of male beauty bloggers like Li Jiaqi who boasts 1.61 million Weibo followers. His over the top signature catchphrase "omg" has made him a popular influencer among women who enjoy his product reviews of major brands such as Dior and Armani. Notably, his recent short video of YSL’s Rouge Pur Couture the Slim Matte Lipstick went viral on Douyin, generating more than 1 million views. Based on our interviews with consumers who viewed the content, they tried to buy the item at brick-and-mortar retailers only to find it was sold out, and his female followers commented online about how great he looks with lipstick and how his makeup recommendations are more interesting than the usual female influencer-led content.

    Male beauty blogger Li Jiaqi has gained a large following on Weibo. Photo: Official Weibo account
    Male beauty blogger Li Jiaqi has gained a large following on Weibo. Photo: Official Weibo account

    But in today’s social media-led world, men are also openly embracing makeup to look and feel beautiful. In late February, Chanel launched its first-ever men’s makeup line on WeChat called Boy de Chanel for a Chinese audience. Published under the title "Only be yourself," the product launch article, which features Korean actor Lee Dong-Wook, received more than 65,000 views.

    Among female consumers, brands are beginning to tap into Asian holidays like White Valentine’s Day, where women purchase a gift for their partners. Already popular in South Korea and Japan, this holiday could become a major new shopping occasion for brands to reach the "boyfriend power" of Chinese women that comes from changing gender attitudes.

    Recently, Nike’s February and March WeChat content became a notable gender norm-busting campaign that went viral on the social channel’s Moments updates. Launched on March 1, a tongue-in-cheek microblog post titled, “Too much? Then look at the power of overdoing it” focuses on barrier-breaking female athletes who ignored social conventions to embrace sports culture. Garnering over 100,000 views, the article celebrates pioneers such as tennis great Li Na and China’s top women's basketball player Shao Ting. With fitness having become a modern lifestyle trend around the world, the personal empowerment of athleticism is no longer limited to masculine archetypes only.

    As Chinese consumers continue to embrace gender from a more modern and fluid mindset, we believe product categories and marketing can and will be broadened. Innovative brands can consider exploring whiskey for empowered women or targeting "wonder dads" for family purchases to resonate with today’s contemporary shoppers in a novel way.

    Headquartered in Shanghai, with offices in Beijing and Singapore, RTG Consulting Group comprises over 70 international consultants, across four independent divisions – Intuition (market research and trend forecasting), Capital (financial and investment advisory), Solutions (strategy and management consulting) and Inspire (creative marketing and advertising).

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