While the Big Four are still going strong, Shanghai Fashion Week now stands out for its extraordinary Gen-Z engagement, especially this season.
For Spring/Summer 2022, the event fostered multifaceted partnerships with popular Gen-Z social media and lifestyle platforms including Douyin, Xiaohongshu, and Bilibili.
- The season, livestreaming was taken to a new level by collaborations with video sites and the creation an ecosystem with a more public-facing social media presence.
After two decades in existence, Shanghai Fashion Week (SHFW) is now beginning to inch ahead of the top fashion weeks by successfully marketing to its Gen Zers and millennials now playing an increasingly decisive role in the future of fashion and retail.
Responding to disruptive challenges in the era of TikTok influencers and Instagrammers is becoming an everyday reality for fashion professionals, so staying on top of relevant marketing platforms is crucial. Not coincidentally, this season SHFW has been more devoted to empowering and grabbing the attention of China’s young population than ever. Partner Labelhood, the dedicated and independent program for young designers, is at the center of this shift.
With major fashion weeks worldwide rethinking how to better connect with audiences, the emergence of a unique model in Shanghai is providing important lessons for the fashion industry about driving change and creating initiatives that resonate with Gen Z.
Featuring over 110 runway shows on the official schedule, the new Spring 2022 season (under the theme The Future is Now ) at SHFW took place at its symbolic address of Xintiandi and a new venue for strategic partner Labelhood: The China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation Pavilion (which featured from of the season’s most iconic runway moments).
Additionally, highlights from a group of showrooms and activations, including a special pop-up collaboration with Gen-Z content sharing and social networking site Xiaohongshu, made this fashion week stand out in terms of young audience engagement.
Here, Jing Daily profiles what you need to know about the event.
Pop-up influencer community
Social networking platform Xiaohongshu, where users share notes on lifestyles, food, and travel, has become one of the country’s fastest-growing social networking sites with Chinese youth. According to statistics from the data site qian-gua.com, 46 percent of people on Xiaohongshu are Gen Zers between the ages of 18-24.
This season, these numbers were used on the front line of SHFW by moving the vibrant digital content community of Labelhood offline through a series of pop-up retail shops and booth displays. Selective designer shops, jewelry and lifestyle brands, and even coffee shops were among the participants. These Xiaohongshu blogger-owned shops offered the personal touch of “social media culture” to fashionistas as well as created an interactive space that attracted a broader range of young visitors to the venue.
“I think Labelhood’s collaboration with Xiaohongshu is very on point,” stated Adam Wang, who works in branding at a large Chinese apparel company. “I saw the pop-up stores at the venue, and was very impressed.” Given that Xiaohongshu is the top Chinese social media site for fashion, setting up a designated Xiaohongshu space at Shanghai Fashion Week was a win because it naturally draws a young crowd and increases Labelhood’s exposure online to a broader audience.
Livestreaming, virtual idols, & immersive shows
When it comes to livestreaming at fashion weeks, the event took it to a new level by adding more layers through collaborating with video sites and creating an ecosystem with a more comprehensive social media presence, allowing it to connect with the general public.
For its campaign with Douyin (China’s version of TikTok), SHFW launched a young designer boost program to support emerging designers with their branding; additionally, for MashaMa, Ivan Yong, DO NOT TAG, and SHUSHU/TONG’s runway shows, Douyin invited special live commentaries from industry figures to help decode their runway looks.
Azi, part of the virtual idol group on the video-streaming platform Bilibili, made a strategic appearance on the catwalk for the label Zl II CI IEN. The virtual KOL’s appearance advanced SHFW’s tradition of exploring hot trends via digital pop stars — a familiar strategy to internet native Gen Zers.
Immersive shows were another highlight of a season that won over this demographic particularly inspired by experiential mediums. Labelhood’s opening show on October 8 titled Romance of China, was held in a theater setting featuring four love stories from different historical eras. Meanwhile, on October 12, LILY Business Fashion moved its runway to the immersive art collective teamLab Borderless Shanghai for its new collaboration series with STAR WARS.
Chinese Gen Zers and millennials are very tied up with important social causes, and SHFW’s position on social issues has built even more bridges with the country’s youth. This season, the fashion week committee tapped into the core social subject concerning this demographic: sustainable fashion and women’s empowerment.
According to a 2020 study conducted by the nonprofit climate change advocate organization China Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN), 84 percent of interviewees (all aged 18-24) admitted they were aware of the urgency behind tackling climate change. The M SPACE forum, hosted at the MODE trade show, offered an elaborate selection of panels and exhibitions focused on topics like sustainability, the intersection of fashion and biodiversity, and the future of sustainable fashion under the country’s carbon peak and neutrality goals.
Meanwhile, Labelhood specifically dedicated two collaborative shows to sustainable fashion: CONVERSE x Youtopia Create Next and Sustainable Fashion Lab x Youtopia by R.I.S.E. The magazine canUjoin, which discusses sustainable aesthetics from the fashion platform canU, was displayed across many event venues.
Additionally, with a growing number of female-centric reality shows and dramas hitting Chinese screens over the last year, there has been more discussion around female empowerment and gender equality on social media.
The schedule featured the first female-themed forum (Her Power Fashion Conversation) initiated by SHFW’s ambassador and former Elle China editor-in-chief Xiao Xue. It shed light on important topics such as entrepreneurship, body positivity, and women empowerment; invited panelists included role models for Gen Z such as the Chinese supermodel Liu Wen and the founder of Chinese lingerie brand Neiwai, Lia Xiaolu, among others.
Young public audiences at the runways
Notably, there are always two sessions for Labelhood runways each season at Shanghai Fashion Week: one for professionals, the other is fully open to the public. Tickets can be exchanged through points gained from Labelhood purchases and this special arrangement largely contributed to the diversity and inclusivity of audiences.
According to a Labelhood spokesperson, the audience at the second session, fell primarily between the ages of 18 and 25 years old. For Wang, this pioneering strategy cultivates a following. “No other fashion weeks in the world has done this before,” he said, referring to the points-for-tickets exchange system. “It opens a window for people who are outside of fashion’s inner circle to get an inside look at fashion week, which shows the week’s commitment to community building and will help enhances the B2C [business to consumer] model of Labelhood.”
Indeed many students attended the Labelhood shows such as Yadi Peng, a 22-year-old media student. “Shanghai Fashion Week is like a festival, a party for every young person in the city,” she stated. “Compared to the fashion weeks in New Zealand and Australia I attended, I feel like the participants are from a diverse range of backgrounds and quite young. Some of them are bloggers, artists, or work in PR, media, and advertising.”
Claire Huang, a 23-year-old recent graduate from Central Saint Martins and a micro-influencer on Xiaohongshu, (she was one of the pop-up shop owners at Labelhood’s offline community space). As a newcomer to the fashion industry, Huang admitted that the opportunity to become “a participating member” helped her meet buyers, potential customers, and fashion professionals. “I have learned so much about the industry,” she noted. “I believe Shanghai Fashion Week is unique in its efforts to empower the younger community, both in terms of supporting young designers or just thinking about the needs of the younger generation in general.”
Founder of Labelhood, Tasha Liu is at the core of this success: “We are very proud that we are defining our own ‘Shanghai Model’ in the global fashion week scene. We will keep empowering this new generation of designers and giving voices to more young audiences.” With a strategic programme that has yielded a positive reception from China’s young generation, Shanghai Fashion Week has posed a valid question for the Big Four in the industry: As Gen Z gradually take over the world, how should global fashion weeks connect with them?