Sustainable Fashion in China: What Are the Challenges and Opportunities for Brands?

Sustainability is no longer a trend in the West, but a new way of thinking about your business, your consumption, and your lifestyle. Launching sustainable fashion brands or additional clothing lines in Europe or in the US is highly common. But, what about China? Every week, we receive several fashion projects for China with a sustainable purpose. The insights we are sharing with them are food for thought for any eco-friendly brand looking for entering the Chinese market.

Is it an important criterion in today’s world? Yes. Is it your unique selling point in China? No. Here is the first disclaimer before reading this article, sustainable fashion in China is not a mature market yet. In a country of 1.4 billion people, changing long-term habits and consumption preferences takes more time. But as you will discover, China is taking many actions and the country should soon become one of the leading actors in terms of sustainability and green fashion.

China is Expanding its Sustainability Efforts

Chinese consumers are more exposed to environmental issues than their Western counterparts. What’s the reason? Well, first of all, China has developed a higher rate in pollution-generating industries such as steel production or automobile manufacturing compared to other countries like Japan, which took early steps towards reducing its reliance on these dirty sources of power decades ago.

Consumers now feel they lack resources. Clean air to breathe, water from which to drink, and any resources that are considered necessary for everyone. On the other hand, China is the world’s largest populous country. With 1.4 billion inhabitants, it greatly contributes to more waste and pollution.

China: A Country Trying to Reduce its CO2 Emissions

In the news, China is often depicted with its high pollution rates and grey skies. You have probably seen these pictures showing the sky of big cities in China such as Beijing or Shanghai. Chinese citizens are now more aware than before that pollution can have a disastrous impact not only on the environment but also on their health.

Thus, this situation could change quicker than expected. With increasing awareness among Chinese citizens, they are ready to reduce their consumption of polluting goods and shift toward more eco-friendly products. Today, China is taking concrete measures to preserve the environment and fight against climate change. Such evolution is a combination of personal lifestyle switch from the population and concrete actions taken by the government.

The Sustainable Fashion Market in China: A Promising Industry for a Society Shifting Toward Eco-Friendly Products

China’s vast population and rapid economic growth have resulted in significant environmental impacts. As a result, China needs to change its unsustainable habits. Public interest is on the rise for sustainable lifestyles and people are receptive to sustainability initiatives. But it seems that the sustainable fashion trend hasn’t caught up with Western countries yet since these trends seem new in Chinese culture.

Secondhand apparel in China (© Redress)

Nevertheless, we should underline the fact that Chinese consumers tend to notice their environmental footprint more nowadays. If you try to convince Chinese consumers of the benefits of purchasing sustainable apparel, you may find people who listen. Brands are thus encouraged to follow this path, giving the opportunity to consumers to purchase eco-friendly, recycled, and sustainable products. The famous chain stores H&M and Zara have already started to implement their green strategy in China, wanting to become sustainable fashion brands leading the market in the next years.

H&M #Conscious campaign on WeChat

The following statistic shows how well the sustainable development sector is doing in China. In 2015, it reached a worth of about 14.9 billion yuan which represents a significant success for such as young field given its brief history (less than 5 years). It was predicted to reach 21.8 billion yuan by 2020 and even more by the end of 2021 if current trends persist. Needless to say, there are many reasons these numbers should be taken into account when exporting goods to China.

Chinese consumers are more aware of their environmental footprint

Due to rising awareness among the Chinese population as well as several submissions about climate change worldwide, Chinese consumers are more aware than before of their environmental footprint.

When we look at this chart from Statista, we can see that China is the second country after India for which sustainability matters. In fact, 60% of Chinese respondents considered sustainability somewhat important. While only 26% considered that it was very important. Before launching your brand in China, you should take into account that sustainability is not common yet. Especially in rural cities where people are far from being preoccupied with that.

Now if we look at this data based on Ipsos’ survey, we can see that Chinese consumers have changed their habits due to climate change, with around 51% of Chinese respondents stating that they had changed the way they traveled and go to work, out of climate change concerns. 51% reduced the amount of water they were using, and 42% of respondents claimed that they reused products. On the other hand, 29% of them claimed that it has impacted their purchasing habits in terms of the apparel industry.

Impact of Covid-19 on Eco-Friendly Consumption

The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly contributed to making us realize that our over-consumption was bad for our society. Indeed, the pandemic increased the interest in health and wellness consumption. Chinese medicine has always been about preventing the body and health from any disease. With this unexpected virus, it was time to care about our lifestyle to avoid any negative outcome. In brief, Covid-19 could be a major turning point in the success of sustainable development goals in China.

According to Statista’s 2020 survey in China, around 56% of respondents confirmed that they were more inclined to buy sustainably sourced products after the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, around 55% of respondents said they were also more likely to buy products from Chinese brands since the coronavirus outbreak. With this shift in consumption, it is easy to realize that the Covid-19 pandemic has really changed Chinese consumers’ perceptions. They are shifting toward more eco-friendly and sustainable products than before.

New Policy Shifts from the Chinese Government

The Chinese government has recognized the need to pivot toward more sustainable economic growth and consumption habits. China’s rapid population growth, coupled with the over-consumption of resources within its borders has created a toxic environment for future generations. The public interest in sustainability obviously increased combined with positive attitudes among consumers. Especially towards green fashion products from recycled materials, there are some signs of change happening – even though sustainable fashion is not widespread across China yet.

The country also experienced a rise in consumer interest in environmental products. This major shift has led to accelerating sustainable consumption and production patterns. One of the first major acts going toward this was in 2017 when Chinese President Xi Jinping announced goals of driving green development to restore a “Beautiful China” (美丽中国). The objective? For China to be clean, prosperous, and developed by 2035.

Optimism for a Positive Impact on the Environment

As part of several regulations in China, Chinese people are very optimistic about the outcome of eco-friendly brands and sustainable products. It is indeed part of their culture to believe in a positive evolution of their society. This can also be linked to the fact that China has economic growth and a low unemployment rate, which is positive for China’s fashion market.

For example, around 73% of China’s population supports a post-covid green recovery, compared to 49% in America and 57% in Europe, according to the European Investment Bank (EIB) Climate Survey 2020. The report also stated that 80% of China’s population felt that climate change and China environmental damage is reversible, pointing to sustainability as a key consumer consideration.

A recent survey showed that 55% of Chinese consumers purchased products from sustainable brands to reap the benefits, like better quality. Approximately 35% of respondents stated that they decided to purchase sustainable products because it’s trendy. As the secondhand market is growing, many famous people and influencers push for the trend of buying secondhand clothing, so it’s becoming ‘a new thing’ among young consumers, even when it comes to luxury brands.

On the other hand, according to Ipsos‘ data, about 71% of Chinese respondents intended to avoid purchasing overpacked products in order to limit their own contribution to climate change. About 64% of respondents said they were willing to walk, cycle, or take public transport instead of driving to protect the environment. Meanwhile, 59% said that they were avoiding buying new goods but used one instead, which is extremely promising for the sustainable fashion industry in China.

What is the Main Segment to Target for Sustainable Fashion Brands?

China is an interesting place to observe the ever-changing fashion market as it develops. There are many challenges and opportunities for brands working with China, which will be covered in this article; one of these is that Chinese consumers want sustainable clothing but they also like flashy designs.

China has been a hotbed for evolving markets since before its time because there’s always something new happening here, and the sustainable fashion movement is one of those new trends. One thing you might have noticed about how people dress in China is their affinity toward having clothes made up from organic and recycled materials. They favor bamboo fiber or hemp. Those are both very eco-friendly choices when compared to cotton, polyester, nylon, and other synthetics used today by most big-name fast-fashion retailers worldwide.


Millennials: The Not-To-Be-Missed Consumer Group in China

It is estimated that 80% of China’s population felt climate change was reversible, which points to sustainability as a key consumer consideration. In particular, younger demographics are more likely than their elders to believe it’s up to one person at a time to make changes happen on an individual level rather than wait for governments or corporations to react.

On top of that, it is even more important as Millennials are extremely active on social media, and are more aware of international news than elderly people. Therefore, if you want to sell sustainable fashion in China, you should target Millennials. They are the younger generation of Chinese consumers and the key to future sustainable consumption in China. Same with Gen Z, that are shaping new trends in China, one of which is green fashion.

Vegans: The Niche Consumer Segment to Know

The Chinese society is building an eco-wellbeing by multiplying small daily actions. For the population, a clean environment contributes to an increased quality of life and a healthy body. For instance, more and more Chinese people are becoming vegetarians reaching over 50 million people. The country is no exception to the worldwide vegan movement since it is led by young people, including the Millennials and Generation Z.

International brands are entering the market to meet this new need and Chinese people favor meat alternatives with the same purpose to preserve their health and the environment. In the meantime, the local population is looking for plastic alternatives, eco-friendly activities… and sustainable fashion lines among foreign and Chinese fashion brands.

Successful Marketing Strategies to Launch Your Sustainable Brand in China

Chinese citizens are quite cautious about online news and things they have heard. It is thus essential for brands looking to enter the Chinese market to understand Chinese consumers’ habits as well as how to promote effectively more sustainable consumption in China.

The survey conducted in December 2020 revealed that many Chinese respondents seem to believe exposure to negative environmental news is the most effective way for promoting sustainable consumption. In addition, around 40% of those surveyed believed family and friends are best at persuading people to sustainable shopping.

Social Media: The best way to promote your brand and increase your visibility in China

The best way for any company to enter the Chinese market and attract customers there, especially when it comes to Millennials and Gen Z, is through social media platforms. They help you build an online presence and good branding in China while gaining e-reputation from user-generated content.

When it comes to the most popular social media platforms in China, we would advise starting official accounts on WeChat, Xiaohongshu (especially important when it comes to the apparel industry), Weibo, and Douyin (perfect for younger generations). If you need help when it comes to setting up these platforms, please contact us.

Prada on Wechat
Prada on Wechat

Influencers & KOLs campaign: Communicate about your sustainable fashion brands in China

After China’s rapid digitalization, Chinese consumers are now more than ever connected online. Social media is an integral part of their daily lives. It has changed not only the way they consume but also how brands advertise to them. One of the most profitable marketing solutions today, especially when it comes to fashion, is collaborating with Chinese influencers, that are experts in their niche topics and can attract big amounts of potential consumers to your brand.

Farfetch influencer marketing

PR: Determining tools that you must not neglect

One of the most important aspects for any company wishing to expand into China is having a firm grasp on how Public Relations are seen in this society. They’re not only used as tools for increasing your brand awareness and reputation. They are mandatory to develop an image that will resonate with Chinese consumers.

Reasons why you should use PR in China:

  • Chinese press releases are an excellent way to increase your visibility and reach a wider audience.
  • News outlets love publishing stories, that’s why the majority of them accept Chinese PRs nowadays
  • Developing your SEO: Press releases can be a great way to increase traffic for websites by showing off what makes you unique – especially on social media platforms
  • Brand awareness and reputation: Informative news releases build up business trust because they show off who you are a company which helps create connections between companies, partners etc

E-commerce: The way to go if you want to sell sustainable apparel in China

Over the years, the surge of e-commerce platforms in China is undeniable, attracting millions of netizens every day. With this tech-savvy population, it is thus crucial and essential to sell your products online.

Using the most popular Chinese e-commerce platforms such as Tmall,, Taobao, Pinduoduo,, Kaola, etc is key. But please take in consideration, that before entering those platforms, you need to build strong branding and reputation, because Chinese people don’t buy from brands they don’t know there.

Gucci Store on Tmall

Events: The Best Interactive Way to Attract Chinese Fashionistas

Events are particularly important when planning to enter the Chinese market and promote sustainable fashion and green products in China. For example, Shanghai’s Fashion Week is looking to make eco-friendly clothes more accessible. Shanghai’s vice secretary-general, Lv Xiaolei has partnered with the founder of the Green Code showroom Candy Li for several seasons. The objective was to provide a place where people can find sustainable clothing that fits their lifestyle needs.

Read: Fashion brands should organize sustainable Events in China

Find the right partner to market your sustainable fashion brand in China…

In China, you cannot assume your sustainable brand will meet the same target and consumers’ expectations. The efforts made by the country for sustainable development are recent. It is fundamental to understand your Chinese clients will not look after the same products as their Western counterparts. If you want to perform well in the Chinese market, you need to adapt your brand, products, and communication.

At Gentlemen Marketing Agency (GMA), we gather 75+ digital experts in our Shanghai headquarters. We are always in quest of new brands looking for entering the most promising market in the world, China. If you want to expand your business or receive strategic recommendations to boost your brand in China, you can contact us.

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