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    ‘Hipster-phobia’ Trends On Chinese Social Media — Should Brands Be Worried?

    A significant cohort of young Chinese consumers are expressing a fear of uber-trendy fashionistas. Does this spell trouble for luxury brands?
    A significant cohort of young Chinese consumers are expressing a fear of uber-trendy fashionistas. Does this spell trouble for luxury brands? Photo: Xiaohongshu @CCXUAN
      Published   in Consumer

    What happened

    With more than 8 million views on Xiaohongshu and around 15 million views on Weibo, as of press time, “hipster-phobia” 潮人恐惧症 is a trending social media tag that’s sparked widespread debate in China.

    Hipster-phobia refers to a fear of trendy people, and an instinctive desire to avoid those who dress in hipster street styles and frequent China’s popular shopping areas. The term reflects some citizens’ anxiousness and embarrassment when meeting these fashionistas, and includes reactions like being afraid of eye contact, avoiding starting conversations, and socially distancing themselves.

    @元气小鸡血, a blogger on Bilibili, outlined several common traits of hipster-phobia: not daring to go to places populated with young fashionable people, such as hipster-chic designer cafes, avant-garde boutiques, and hair salons; feeling awkward when taking photos at tourist attractions because hipsters are loitering nearby, waiting to be photographed; and assuming people are unapproachable due to their fashionable appearance.

    Chinese netizens express their stress over seeing fashionable hipsters being photographed on the streets. Photo: Xiaohongshu
    Chinese netizens express their stress over seeing fashionable hipsters being photographed on the streets. Photo: Xiaohongshu

    The Jing Take

    Surprisingly, a considerable number who claim to experience hipster-phobia are members of Gen Z, the generation that is considered to be the most individualistic and fashion conscious. This begs two questions: What factors are fueling this fear of hipsters? And what does it mean for brands?

    One reason for hipster-phobia is fashion anxiety. People with hipster-phobia say they lack the confidence to fit in with fashionista crowds and are afraid of being judged by them.

    In this context, hipster-phobia is the product of self-examination and the subsequent worry that wearers of plain attire will be judged as boring and outdated. Chinese society's preoccupation with appearance in the age of rising consumerism — what some hipster-phobics see as “fashion bullying” 时尚霸凌 — has been identified online as a cause of this phenomenon.

    Another factor at play is discomfort emanating from an instinctive avoidance of being different, the result of societal norms. The high-profile behaviors of hipsters clash with traditional Chinese values that advocate conformity and collectivism.

    “I could make myself look better, but I’m afraid of attracting attention. I prefer to wear ordinary clothes as I fear standing out,” @花花 commented on Xiaohongshu. This sentiment is widely shared on social media.

    From this perspective, hipster-phobia is a manifestation of social phobia, which is increasingly affecting younger consumers. Some 80 percent of Chinese university students believe they experience symptoms of social phobia, China Daily reported in December last year.

    Regardless of the root causes of hipster-phobia, brands should recognize that diverse values coexist in China's vast consumer base. As well as catering to consumers who enjoy expressing themselves through bold fashions, brands should also be aware of the existence of other groups that aren’t as prominent.

    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.

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