Sustainable Brands Lost Their Way in China

Sustainability is driving the western fashion trend in recent years, from eco-friendly materials to work ethics. It has been a core value that European customers take into consideration while making purchases. However, when those sustainable fashion brands enter the Chinese market, they usually got lost due to the huge gap in the consumption mindset between the customers of the east and the west. Understanding more about what Chinese customers care about can greatly help brands find their way out.

Chinese Fashion Consumers Favor the Pursuit of a Better Life Quality

The Chinese fashion market is booming with the growth of the middle-class and younger generation. According to the data from Statista, the expected fashion industry revenue will reach 362.08 billion USD. With the recovering from Covid, entering the Chinese market became a key strategy for many fashion brands.

Research on the public understanding of fashion in China in 2021 from Statista shows the key criteria for Chinese consumers when purchasing a fashion item. The 7 top definitions include:

  1. The pursuit of better life quality
  2. The uplifted attitude towards life
  3. Trendy items that young people like
  4. The presentation of popular elements
  5. High-tech elements
  6. Cultural elements inherited from traditions
  7. Distinctive personality

From how Chinese customers see fashion, they are pursuing more for lifestyle, trends, taste, and personality. In a country of 1.4 billion people, they want to be different and show their own personality through their outfits. Even today, the 3 major criteria in China to purchase fashion apparel is the design, price, and quality.

Importance of Buying Sustainable Products for Chinese Consumers

With the blooming purchasing power from the younger generations, Gen Z is driving the market. Their values and purchasing factors are changing the face of the whole fashion market in China. In 2022, they are caring about eco-friendly factors, which is affecting the consumption mindset in a greater way. According to the Sustainable Consumption Report in China, only 17% of Chinese consumers think that sustainability is a buzzword and will lose importance in the future.

sustainable consumers insights china

Many consumers consider sustainability as an important purchase criterion: 83% of consumers consider sustainability as somewhat important or very important. This is way more than US consumers.

  • A part of Chinese customers is doubting the “sustainable” label and think this is created by brands only to sell their products at a higher price
  • Another part cares more about the next generations and is likely to pay more for the protection of the environment and fair trade

In brief, most Chinese customers will not base their decision on the sustainable criterion only but those who give importance to this matter would be likely to spend more. Even if sustainability is still not a motivation for making fashion choices, 77% of consumers are willing to pay 5% to 20% extra for sustainable fashion products.

Sustainability is an Asset but not a USP in China

Comparing to western customers who are willing to buy the product only for the sustainable concept held by a brand, Chinese customer act in a different way. Although sustainable concepts influence the decision-making process for purchase, the top factors Chinese customers care about are still the quality and the design.

When a Chinese customer makes a purchase decision, he will first think about if the design catches his eyes and if it would be comfortable. The material and craftsmanship are all considered very important assets before thinking about the sustainable concept. Eco-friendly factors are an important asset since brands and stores with poor sustainability policies tend to be avoided or even boycotted by customers, but it is not enough to be the only driver for purchase.

Case Study: The New Positioning of WeWood in China

Back a couple of years ago, we worked on the brand awareness of the sustainable watches brand WeWood in China. Their slogan “buy a watch, plant a tree” was a successful catchphrase and a strong commitment in the eyes of European consumers. But in China, this tagline was a flop. The reason was simple: Chinese fashion consumers will never purchase a watch because it will help plant a tree. They will purchase it if they like the design, if the price is good, and if the quality is high.

sustainable brands china

For their marketing, we worked on a new positioning. We focused the storytelling on the Italian origin of the brand, the local manufacturing, and the unique design of the products with watches made of wood. The green commitment of the brand was a plus and was not the core center of the whole marketing of the brand. This new positioning in China enabled them to find a distributor and sell in D2C through WeChat.

How to Balance the Sustainable Concept and Product in Marketing?

Many brands met trouble when they are building their brand in the Chinese market. Like WeWood, if they keep their sustainable concept as the one and only selling point, they will lose the interest of Chinese consumers.

Your Copywriting Must be About Emotions not Facts

Brands need to keep in mind that their sustainable concept should no longer be the main asset when they are branding and marketing in China. Instead, they should keep it as an additional asset based on their product quality and design since Chinese customers care more about them. At the same time, keeping their unique concept can greatly make them stand out from similar brands. Making a great balance between the concept and product is not easy, but once a brand made it, it will help the brand succeed in the Chinese market.

Use Chinese Social Media to Communicate your Message

Social media branding is widely used in China thanks to the huge coverage of social media users. A brand or a concept can be known by millions of potential customers overnight if it successfully gets hot on Chinese social media like Weibo, Douyin, or Xiaohongshu.

Xiaohongshu: Focus on Lifestyle and Sustainable Fashion Tips

Xiaohongshu is a special social media that is extremely important for fashion brands because the majority of the users are girls and young ladies. They enjoy sharing opinions on fashion products with videos, photos, and suggestions.


Here are some tips on branding with Xiaohongshu:

  • Focus on the sharing of experience and lifestyle
  • Create a community to gain customer loyalty
  • Lucky draws and activities to attract new customers
  • Immediate actions to avoid crisis that may harm the e-reputation

Douyin: Creative Interactive and Entertaining Videos

Douyin (Tiktok) is another social media that enables users to share short videos. By creating entertaining videos, brands can attract users to subscribe and share with friends. Having creative daily posts can help maintain the visibility of a brand at a much lower cost than investing in advertising.

Trying to keep interacting with as many users as possible can not only increase the visibility of a brand but can also attract potential customers as well as gain a good reputation.

Combine your Marketing with Press Releases (PR) in China

french brand fashion china gentlemen marketing agency gma

For sustainable fashion brands, social media branding is extremely important because no other branding channel can spread so fast as social media. In the meantime, it is important to combine social media with e-reputation, especially PR. If you focus on social media only, you will not help the word spread. If Chinese consumers want to reach out to you on social media, they need to have heard of you before.

For this, the best strategy is to use PR. With the right digital magazines from Sohu Fashion to Vogue China, you can benefit from institutional communication and gain attraction for your unique concept. It will also solve the “invisibility issue” and the “badvertising issue” that many fashion brands face in China. The negative impact on the e-reputation can last for a long time even leading to a boycott of the brand. So, finding the right partner for your Chinese social media and your PR is key to growing in China.

Cooperate with the True Expert in the Chinese Fashion Market

Major differences between the Chinese market and the western market resulted from a lack of understanding of local habits and preferences. Brands and their leaders need someone who know the Chinese customers and the local market to help them enter the Chinese market fluently and successfully.

Based in Shanghai, GMA has gathered experts in marketing and branding in different industries. Trusted by hundreds of brands, we have more than 10 years of experience in the Chinese market with case studies.

If you want to enter the Chinese market, you can contact us to discuss your project

Regardless of your business size and stage of development, we always have the key results-driven strategy that fits you the most.

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