Post pandemic global and domestic shifts in China on issues like climate change and green energy are forcing Chinese millennials to reflect on their generations’ values and purpose.
Key influencers and investors are on a mission to promote sustainable fashion in China, such as Yu Holdings founders Wendy Yu and Veronica Chou, the founder & CEO of Everybody & Everyone.
Streetwear trendsetters living zero-waste, minimalist lifestyles have gained traction in online forums and among Chinese netizens.
Last week, Shanghai Fashion Week AW21 presented more than 100 physical shows and spotlighted the importance of green lifestyles via a slew of events. Sustainability was at the heart of this season’s programming and could be found in material interventions, fabric developments, circularity, and upstream trade business promotions.
The pandemic has propelled China’s global stance on climate change, sustainability, and green energy
Recently, leaders from France, Germany, and China held a virtual climate change summit. In March, the National People’s Congress (NPC) of China formalized its latest 14th Five-Year Plan, in which the nation has been vigorously promoting the development of green consumption. Governor Yi Gang of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) noted that China already owns the largest green finance market worldwide, based on a report by Forbes. Additionally, President Xi Jinping announced in September of 2020 that China aims for carbon neutrality by 2060. The pandemic has facilitated a shift toward inconspicuous consumption, and products perceived as investments have proved to be notably resilient. Moreover, luxury brands investing in “clean tech” and sustainable practices will find an opportunity to connect with “woke” consumers.
Daniel Langer, the CEO of Équité and a professor of luxury strategy at Pepperdine University, wrote in a piece for Jing Daily that, before the pandemic, consumers would occasionally ask about sustainability, but they would never lead to actions. He spoke with the head of the Asia-Pacific region for a top-ten global fashion brand, who shared that many consumers today, particularly young and affluent ones, already see sustainability as a top criterion for purchasing.
Sustainable living is associated with the global millennial elite and China’s middle and upper-class youth
American West Coast DCT brands have cemented their position within a club of global millennial elites and, as a result, have become the new status symbols among China’s middle-class youth. “On social media, these brands are also promoted by Chinese KOLs, who live and work in the Silicon Valley area, or by local influencers who seem to have a successful career in one of China’s Fortune 500 companies,” said Emma Li, founder of the fashion marketing blog and podcast “Annstand,” to Jing Daily. All these associations are powerful attractions for middle-class consumers. Now, young people are experiencing a high level of anxiety and stress and will desire brands that represent a more laid-back message.” Faced with a highly competitive environment and a post-pandemic recession, Chinese millennials have joined in the conversation of millennial burnout (焦虑疲惫的千禧一代) and the search for a more minimalist and purposeful life.
Veronica Chou, the daughter of Hong Kong textile tycoon Silas Chou, who is known for investing in Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors, said in an interview with Hong Kong Tatler, “My father was all about making as much money as possible. For me, making some kind of positive impact is also important. I had this epiphany that whatever I do has to have a bit more of a purpose.” The impact of COVID-19 on the industry, including her own business, emphasized a need for companies that are sustainable and nimble rather than the megabrands of her youth, Chou adds.
Wendy Yu, the founder of Yu Holdings, recently launched the inaugural Yu prize at Shanghai Fashion Week to support emerging Chinese designers. “In the space of just a season or two, the momentum has picked up with fashion companies, industry stakeholders, and consumers taking action toward environmental sustainability,” Yu wrote in a piece for Vogue. “More than ever, I noticed a collective consciousness emerging. Even in China — a country known for its consumption and an insatiable appetite for luxury — the mood is changing. And it all starts with education.”
Asian streetwear trendsetters seek sustainability as an authentic lifestyle and not a label slogan
According to Metabolic, a Dutch consulting company that tackles sustainability challenges, Taiwan’s textile industry is leading in the specialization of performance fabric made from waste-based products (PET bottles, coffee grounds) and are pioneering circularity and sustainability efforts in this region.
Fresh off of livestreaming their AW21 collection at Shanghai Fashion Week, Taiwanese functional streetwear label oqLiq spoke to Jing Daily about the ethos of their brand and how they practice a zero-waste lifestyle. Based in Tainan, a southwestern coastal town known for being the R&D base of high-end technology fabrics in the global supply chain, oqLiq’s shoes use leather made from reservoir sludge (“Bi-birth sludge leather”), winning the label the Red Dot Award and the IF design award in 2015. After that, the brand quickly gained traction, participating at Pitti Uomo and debuting at NYFW in 2020. Besides Taiwan, oqLiq designs are currently sold online and with select retailers from Guangzhou and Seoul to Chicago.
Chi ‘Kay’ Hong, one of the designers and the co-founder of oqLiq, shared with Jing Daily that the label focuses on creating a quality piece of clothing that can possess many life spans. Therefore, sustainability is only one aspect that oqLiq offers to its customers and not its entire marketing strategy. For example, by dropping limited capsule collections, they have seen the value of an oqLiq product increase threefold after it was bought by a customer and later resold online. That also encourages Chinese netizens, who are aware of streetwear and new lifestyle trends, to start discussions about oqLiq in online forums, broadening a growing interest in minimalist lifestyle trends. Hong also talks about how both founders and those in their design community have been living a zero-waste lifestyle for many years already.
To oqLiq, there is still much to learn about living sustainably. But it has an advantage because the label is at the hub of the latest innovations in this sector of functional and sustainable textile. OqLiq’s brand ethos is a model example of what Langer discusses in his report on how brands can uphold sustainable values authentically as a way to attract Chinese customers: When a customer believes a sustainability story, it is not a random occurrence. It only comes when a brand competitively benchmarks, strategizes and masters its story delivery.