Sorry Hypebeasts: China Says Gorpcore Is Out, ‘Cleanfit’ Is In

    China’s fashion-forward Gen Z is losing interest in gorpcore and embracing cleaner, more immaculate aesthetics.
    Stüssy and Birkenstock's collaborations embody the CleanFit. Photo: Stüssy 2020
      Published   in Fashion

    Toward the end of the 2010s and into the 2020s, utility gear transitioned from being reserved for hikers and comfort-seeking dads to the uniform of the streetwear set.

    As a result, US publication The Cut in 2017 dubbed the trend “gorpcore.” It’s a wordplay on the “good ol’ raisins and peanuts” snacked on by hikers — in China, the functional outdoor gear vogue is known as mountain aesthetics 山系美感.

    Around the world, outerwear by brands like Patagonia and The North Face became a signifier of this style subculture. And as these brands soared in popularity, Chinese mountaineering clothing companies saw their opportunity, serving up techwear duplicates, with names like Kailas, Mountain Fever, and Enshadower reveling in their newfound consumer bases.

    This rise in popularity can be seen in the simultaneous surge of related global brand collaborations: 2021 saw Jil Sander release an Arc’Teryx collection, Salomon collaborate with Comme Des Garçons, and Gucci join forces with The North Face. In fact, The North Face is at the center of streetwear today, frequently releasing collabs with the likes of Brain Dead, Kaws, Supreme, MM6 Margiela, and Clot.

    Salomon's Alex Van Oostrum who is the Global Marketing Manager Sportstyle says, "This whole trend of Gorpcore is born out of consumers identifying with technical function and is commonly associated with Outdoor brands. At Salomon, we are athletic outdoor, which is a distinct proposition in the market."

    Thanks to gorpcore’s rise, social media was, and still very much is, flooded with shots of influencers sporting parachuted water-resistant cargos, fleeces, and anoraks. These looks are frequently seen on the streets of the US and Europe’s main cities.

    But what was once an in-the-know, fashion-forward look has graduated to a mainstream movement, and utility-wear has reached its peak, particularly in China. After all, what goes up, must come down.

    Welcome to the “cleanfit” era.

    An antidote to utility-wear styles, cleanfit, or “clean” fashion entails a logo-free, immaculate aesthetic. Minimalism is at its core, and a sense of simplicity is its theme. Think suede Birkenstock clogs teamed with fresh white socks, loose-fit denim, and a crisp ironed shirt.

    China's Generation Z are flooding Xiaohongshu with Cleanfit 'fit pics. Photo: Xiaohongshu
    China's Generation Z are flooding Xiaohongshu with Cleanfit 'fit pics. Photo: Xiaohongshu

    It can be seen as an extension of the “clean girl aesthetic,” the Gen Z TikTok trope of someone who eats well, works out, and always has glowing dewy skin, but wears minimal make-up.

    The #cleanfit hashtag on Xiaohongshu has supplanted #gorpcore; the former has amassed 87.9 million views on the platform, and 2.93 million views on Weibo, while the latter has generated 36 million views on Xiaohongshu.

    Though utility-wear started to take off in the West post-2017, it didn’t reach full stride in China until 2021 and 2022, propelled by the fact that outdoor activities in the mainland surged because of COVID-19 restrictions.

    “Gorpcore is still very popular in China and globally,” Shanghai-based Multimedia Editorial Director Mel Chen tells Jing Daily. “The pandemic has basically just ended, and outdoor demand is still growing. Of course, the most important thing is to look at how social media affects the trend.”

    Despite gorpcore being relatively new and popular in China, social media attention indicates waning interest. "Gorpcore has become somewhat of a cliché in the lifestyle space, a trend," Van Oostrum explains that while the trend might be running its course, sportswear brands like Salomon hold durability, still. "But there is, in fact, longevity in what Salomon brings because we offer products that are unique. We have created a category in its own right. Salomon has not seen success in lifestyle purely because of this trend, but because it has been adopted, and universally authenticated by the wearer because of this functional need. Then we have a pool of designers, developers, material experts—teams who can adapt products to the wants of people interested in fashion. "

    The Cleanfit trend is taking Gorpcore's top spot as the streetwear-trend-to-watch in China. Photo: Xiaohongshu
    The Cleanfit trend is taking Gorpcore's top spot as the streetwear-trend-to-watch in China. Photo: Xiaohongshu

    The luxury industry should be mindful of this shift away from utility-wear toward cleaner cut basics and staples — the psychology behind it suggests consumers crave simplicity.

    Some esteemed brands are already taking note, with the likes of sportswear giant Li-Ning dropping some Clarks Wallabees on March 3, and Gap joining forces with Chinese label Attempt to launch an elegantly moody capsule last month.

    Think of cleanfit as the mature elder relative of utility-wear – the casual, comfy aesthetic of gorpcore is still very much in fashion, just in a neater way. The vibe is coolly anonymous, so logos are out.

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