What 2023 Has Taught Us About Chinese Brand Collaboration So Far

    Chinese collaborations came in droves in Q1 2023, from McDonald’s and Clot, to Dingyun Zhang x Marni. What can brands learn from these co-branded releases?
    Chinese designer Victor Wong's Toe Uggs finessed meme fashion in April 2023. Photo: Ugg
      Published   in Fashion

    With the second quarter of 2023 having gotten underway, this year’s brand collaboration trends in China are coming into full view. The first quarter of the year saw an influx of global sportswear businesses tapping local streetwear names, world-renowned footwear brands inviting independent designers to work on collections, and a plethora of collaborative consumer-goods releases.

    Shanghai Fashion Week’s Fall 2023 collections have just been unveiled, too, foreshadowing the apparel and accessories crossovers that can be expected to emerge over the next eight months, such as the likes of Staffonly x League of Legends, and continued partnerships between Asics and Shushu/Tong, and 8On8.

    Staffonly x League of Legends unveiled for fall 2023. Photo: Staffonly Weibo
    Staffonly x League of Legends unveiled for fall 2023. Photo: Staffonly Weibo

    “Collaboration has always been an important part of our brand strategy,” says Chinese ready-to-wear concept store Randomevent’s founder Younker Hong, whose brand plans to celebrate Disney’s centenary this year via a dedicated collection.

    “Not only do we collaborate with other brands and artists to increase our voice in the marketplace, but we are also building bridges to express diverse attitudes and ideas,” he says.

    Co-branded products continue to be a key strategy for reaching consumers and boosting revenue, acting as a reliable marketing practice in most cases across industries. Businesses’ approach to co-branded products in 2023 reflects the prioritization of quantity over quality.

    Collaborations aren’t becoming less effective, but the measures of success are changing. Projects that do not break the internet are no longer deemed unsuccessful — in 2023, Chinese brands are planting seeds to maintain relevance, reach, and engagement online.

    For example, just because the Grace Chow x NBA collection released in March this year garnered less than 1,000 likes across related posts on Weibo, that does not connote failure. Chinese internet star Chow boasts 11 million fans on Weibo, so the mere association with her name and brand is a major win for NBA’s intellectual property in China. In return, Chow’s apparel brand earned some sportswear kudos, burnishing its streetwear credentials.

    Taking factors like these into consideration, here are three Chinese brand collaboration tips for 2023:

    Prioritize cultural awareness#

    “Respect the local culture, get in touch with the current crop of young Chinese people, and build an in-depth understanding of the Chinese market,” says Hong. Household names like Adidas, New Balance and Mizuno have all tapped his brand Randomevent to do just that, connecting with local talent to authentically resonate with consumers.

    Collaborations should be strategized according to current cultural nuances, too, such as the impact of Covid-19 restrictions. Consumers have this year finally been venturing out for leisure purposes rather than solely for necessities, which is directly influencing consumer psychology and shopping behavior.

    The first quarter proved to be an optimal time for collections associated with leaving the house, exemplified by Maison Margiela x Chen Peng’s elevated outerwear, which will arrive in September, Arc’Teryx joining forces with Chinese luxury hotel group Songstam, and the glamorous make-up line recently launched by Feng Chen Wang and Estée Lauder.

    Go offline#

    Naturally, consumers in China crave offline experiences as a result of being deprived of them for so long under Covid-19 restrictions.

    “Brands are interested in having more of their own presence and touchpoints in offline retail post-Covid-19, working closely with retailers to bring their visions to life,” explains Plush Consulting agency founder Lucrezia Seu.

    Plush partnered with Turight, a store located in Shanghai, from December 2022 through January 2023, running a pop-up for South Korean brand Mardi Mercredi under the theme “Garden Party.” The collaboration project included afternoon tea.

    Experience-led collaboration isn’t the preserve of a single industry – photogenic pop-ups dominate Chinese social media platforms Weibo and Xiaohongshu.

    On March 16, 2023, Clot dropped an Asia-exclusive capsule at over 5,000 McDonald’s stores around China, and on the brand’s WeChat Mini Program and Tmall store — the collection was promoted via an eye-catching pop-up that saw shoppers enter a life-size Happy Meal box. It was trending on global platforms.

    Clot and McDonalds produced the most visually-delicious pop-up of the year, so far. Photo: Clot x McDonalds
    Clot and McDonalds produced the most visually-delicious pop-up of the year, so far. Photo: Clot x McDonalds

    Aim for added value#

    Hong highlights the importance of creating added value when discussing the formula behind his stream of Gen Z and millennial-focused collaboration successes.

    “Forget abiding by fixed standards,” he says. “Sometimes we cooperate with some international brands to do large-scale commercial projects, and sometimes we collaborate with local brands to generate creative ideas, both of which I am keen on.”

    Randomevent approaches collaborations, whether for large or small collections, from the perspective of increasing the brand’s voice in the marketplace.

    It’s a game of creating and exchanging value, bridging diverse attitudes, and eventually reaping the benefits of combining unique ideas.

    For more on brand collaboration, check out Jing Daily’s weekly Collabs and Drops newsletter — a weekly analytical lowdown on the latest news. Sign up here.

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