Approaches to Fashion by 3 Generations of Chinese Women

In trying to understand why Chinese women make the fashion choices they do (from body-con mini dresses that let a little butt cheek hang out to colorful and bold printed pajama sets in public), we may find the answers the recent past. The experiences of Chinese women in just the last 60 years have been dramatically varied and have manifested in different styles of dress considering where in this timeline a woman was born.

Women of Revolution

After decades of foreign aggression and civil war, in 1949 Mao ZeDong and the communist party assumed control in China. The years following were characterized by reconstruction and reform, ultimately culminating in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. For ten years from 1966 to 1976, the Communist party politicized every aspect of life in China and anything considered bourgeois or counter revolutionary was repressed. The Red Guards were instructed to attack all elements of old China; customs, habits, culture and thinking.prt_670x560_1392190392

Inevitably, fashion was affected; contemporary fashions were touted as too “foreign” and bourgeois while traditional clothing was considered too feudal. Any concern with physical appearance was deemed bourgeois. Thus, the adopted outfits were simple and plebeian. The common styles were those replicating the ultimate supporters of the Communist state; workers, soldiers and peasants. The uniforms were of cotton cloth in different shades to signify one’s function in society; green for the army, gray for civilians and blue for workers and peasants. Traditional femininity was deemed bourgeois as women were expected to crop their hair short and refrain from adorning themselves with any color, jewelry, or flowers.

While this history has strongly influenced Chinese designers, it is apparent too in the purchasing habits of women who experienced this era. In their late 30’s or older, these women grew up in a China very different from today. Strict uniformity of dress gave women little choice for self-expression in their clothing. In their purchasing habits now, they look for comfortable fashions and avoid taking risks. They reject frivolity, preferring formal dresses in jacquard fabrics. If they belong to the upper class, they may opt for Japanese style minimalism, loose forms, distinctive cuts and intense color and buy from brands like ZucZug and Exception. These women choose clothing to be distinctive while maintaining their sense of Communist frugality.

Women of Reform

Women of the reform are products of China’s one child policy, the family planning initiative enacted in 1980 used to control the population. While they did not endure the same hardships as their parents, growing up in a time of economic reform and open door policy, they faced their own adversities. They are a transitional generation.

The Chinese tradition that the son will care for aging parents coupled with traditional Confucian views of female inferiority created a distinct environment for women born in this time. Since the one child policy was put in place there has been an increased disdain for female infants, abortion, neglect, abandonment and infanticide. These girls were a disappointment to their families as a female but as the only child they were still spoiled and pampered. This lead to a generation of women who feel inadequate and inferior while at once feel entitled to special treatment. They are often considered materialistic and egotistic, and are psychologically more inclined to heavy consumer spending.

These women grew up through steady economic growth and public spending on education, thus they were educated according to rigorous standards but in a context of optimism, consumerism and entrepreneurship. They feel loyal to their families but still do not neglect their own ambition which increases their shopping spending. This segment desires visibility and clothing that adapts to a multifaceted and demanding lifestyle.

This segment is known for their ‘cute’ style, to some extent a reaction to their mother’s colorless and gender neutral fashion heritage. Further, with pressure to marry before their 27th birthday many women adopt the sweet, quiet and young look to defer the marriage deadline. However, their style is also quickly evolving, finding influence from many directions including Korean fast fashion and European styles once considered boring and flat. Importance of detail design and material quality is growing while their appetite for logos is fading as brands have been over exposed. It is anticipated that this segment will increasingly demand quality and simplicity.

Women of Weibo


This generation is rejecting the overly “cute” aesthetic of previous generations, opting instead for sporty high-street looks. These women have more individualistic and liberal values that have translated into more selective and anti-mainstream shopping habits. The newly popular XQX (Xiao Qing Xin) style translates to “small and fresh”. Originating in indie pop music, XQX is an entire subculture fostering self-expression and simplicity. Still cute and girly to a Western eye, their style favors the polka dots and A-line skirts without the sequins and embroidery of previous generations.

These women are more connected internationally than any before them. Though still young, they are defining themselves quickly as most young women throughout the world are – social media. The majority of Western social media cannot be accessed in China but they are not missed; with 600 million social media users in China similar platforms have been developed, like Weibo, QQ, and WeChat. Young Chinese women look online to find interesting content, advice and recommendations from friends and opinion leaders on social media.

With Western social media inaccessible for mainland Chinese, these women are limited in their exposure to emerging designers. They demand creative design and well-crafted products. They are more likely to take risks in their fashion choices and are attracted to the foreignness of international brands.

There is no doubt that each woman in China is different and unique, but some inclinations transcend segmentation. Like pajamas in public, foreign made and quality products are poised to find success with Chinese women of any age.

Client Highlight: NPS Shoes

NPS Shoes is an independent, family-run business manufacturing hand-made Goodyear-welted footwear in the county of Northamptonshire, England.

Established in 1881, they have a proud and distinguished heritage in footwear manufacturing. Today they specialize in manufacturing both men’s and lady’s Goodyear Welted boots and shoes 100% Made In England. These are produced on behalf of brands and wholesalers alongside their own brands: Solovair Classic, Heritage and Country.

In 1881, five men banded together to form a co-operative in the village of Wollaston called the Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS) Shoes Ltd. Luck was with them from the outset as they managed to secure an order for army boots from the Government, an order which would sustain them for the first year. As industrialization spread through England during the late nineteenth Century, demand domestically and abroad for high-quality boots steadily increased. Accordingly, NPS enjoyed rapid growth. NPS moved into private family ownership in 2006 but has continued to maintain its independence and high-quality standards which have secured a reputation with retailers and discerning customers as a premium product.

NPS continue to remain true to their ideals, combining over 130 years of tradition, the latest technology and materials, in order to produce high quality footwear. To maintain this undisputed quality, the products will always be Made in England from start to finish.

For more information, please visit their main website at or contact them in either English or Chinese:

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9 Steps to Setting up a Business in China

First step is to understand China and that it is not just one market. Learn about China, but don’t think a book about “how to do business in China” will ever be enough. China is the country of contrasts where almost any answer can be as correct as its opposite

Buy a market report or hire a consulting company. Although if done in large enough extent this can offer good insights, it is often extremely expensive and the answers still very theoretical. To save both money and time, it is recommended to jump to step 3 directly.

Start up a company in HK and get a virtual office in China (phone number and address). Companies like Regus or Servcorp offer this, and new companies like iQubator complement these services with virtual assistant services depending on your needs.

Move to China, send a representative over or hire someone local in China to do the required research. This is often much cheaper than doing it from overseas because of the cost of living and salaries and it also offers a much better insight. This can be done either the traditional way  through local consulting companies and serviced offices, or through one-stop-shops companies that offer you toolboxes to do it yourself. An example is the HK and Shanghai based iQubator that offers an incubation-like service.

Build your guanxi (business network) in China and get a deeper understanding. These things are recommended to be done before starting up a company. IQubator offers all tools needed for this from office solutions, virtual offices, virtual assistants to recruitment, hiring, visa services, HR, accounting and local invoicing. Basically everything you need to start up directly.

Since 2010 it is possible to receive payments online through cross-border payment systems such as Alipay, Tenpay, 99bill and others. iQubator can help translating the website, adapt it to the market and integrate the payment systems in it. Together with the local representative you have a fully operational business in China that you can use to try out the market and further develop your network.

After about 3-6 months of research, network development and trials it is time to incorporate the company. Many people think a Representative Office so called Rep Office or RO is the first step. Actually, through tool-box companies, or Business Support Offices, you get much more than a RO can offer at lower cost and low risk, since you can cancel the contract at any time. The best way to go is a WFOE, Wholly Foreign Owned Enterprise.

Choose your registration agent. This can either be the company that you have conducted theresearch and trials with, or hire more people through the company to assist you. Normal cost for a WFOE registration ranges from 5,000 Euro for a consulting company to 15,000 Euro for a manufacturing company. The minimum investment needed also varies between 50,000 Euro to 1 Million Euro, both depending on the type of business license but also depending on what other licenses you would like to apply for later on. You just need to pay in 20% of the capital during the registration, you get up to 2 years to pay in the rest. An important thing to keep in mind is that it takes 3-6 months to register a company (compared to 1-7 days in HK) and it takes even longer to close it down. Be therefore sure before starting such a venture and rather stay longer in the incubator than taking unnecessary risks.

Once your company is registered and you have your own offices, you should be counting on having at least 3-5 employees, but you can still outsource the operational services such as HR and Accounting for a monthly fee. When you receive your business license you can officially begin business in China in your own name. You do though still need to wait a while for your tax license and special accounting computer and invoice machine from the government before you can issue Fapiao (tax invoice). The fapiao is often the main reason to choose a business support office that also can help you with these kind of issues, since most local businesses will not wish to do business with you unless you can offer fapiao.

E-commerce is booming in China

China will never stop amazing the world with its numbers.

At the beginning of 2012, China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) issued a report claiming that in 2011, the user scale in China for online shopping increased to 194,000,000 in total, which is only 10% of the population of China, but nearly equal to the sum population of France, German and the United Kingdom. By the end of 2012 there were over 300 Million shoppers, 146 million mobile shoppers and 500 million social media users. 66% out of these 500 million users were in average following 8 brands each! The market size is expected to reach over 250 BILLION USD by end of 2013 or beginning of 2014. And the fashion market is already over closing up to 500 BILLION.

Luxury fashion brands doing ecommerce in China

China’s online sales of clothing were worth $50 billion in 2012, but only 41 percent of luxury fashion brands have any e-commerce offerings of their own. Furthermore, there’s an overall lack of commitment and direct involvement with a mere seven global couture brands selling directly to Chinese consumers from their own sites. That’s the stark summary presented in the new L2 Digital IQ Index: Fashion Supplement.

Digging deeper into the report, it shows some interesting e-commerce trends in China, as well as other ways in which luxury fashion brands are failing to reach out to Chinese e-shoppers.

The most interesting trend is a shift away from consumer-to-consumer shopping when it comes to clothing. In 2011, 80 percent of China’s fashion sales came from amateur shopkeepers on Taobao, China’s biggest C2C site. But, in 2012, there’s a clear leap towards more official sources, such as brands’ virtual storefronts on sites like Tmall, or from flash sales sites like VIPshop or GlamourSales:

The truth is that with the fast development and popularization of Internet, China is expected to overtake the United States as the world’s largest e-Business market by 2014. The more and more affordable and widely available Internet across the country, the continuously rapid growth in the number of Chinese consumers shopping online, and the relatively low cost of logistics are all driving the expansion of e-Business, this booming industry in China.Luxury fashion brands doing ecommerce in China

You no longer need a company in China to start up your business, you can get paid directly through your website by integrating the Chinese cross-border payment systems such as Alipay or Tenpay. With a Chinese site placed just outside of the mainland, with payments in place and with office and representatives on the mainland in a matter of days, business in China is something for everyone and E-Commerce is the way to enter it!