A recent article in the China Daily by Liu Jie addresses one of the most visible and prominent issues among the wealthy Chinese upper class today: the idolization of mass-market luxury brands. In the past few decades, China has consistently achieved high GDP growth. The resulting unequal distribution of wealth because of its focus on development in coastal areas has facilitated an exponential growth in its coastal, urban upper class. China now has the second most billionaires in the world, just behind the United States. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for mass-market luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Prada to target this new consumer base in China. The majority of upper class Chinese shoppers have responded positively to their advertisements, using easily visible brand logos to show off their wealth. However, these Chinese shoppers blindly idolize these brands to flaunt their newfound social status, not as a way to represent their distinctive tastes and characters. This attitude towards brand name goods is very superficial, especially compared to knowledgeable wealthy consumers in the world who seek quality and individuality from tailors on Savile Row and perfect cut and fit from world renowned Napoli tailors.
I firmly believe that the new generations of wealthy upper class Chinese consumers will change their current consumer attitude, and not solely buying products released by the popular luxury brands. They are transitioning away from this trend to discovering what they want in a piece of clothing or even in household appliances. This new upper class has considerably higher incomes, excellent educational backgrounds (usually in top local or international schools) and has experience abroad (usually in western countries). Their experiences cultivate more worldly views, and alter their consumer culture. They will start factoring in the quality of materials, the cut and workmanship of the clothing and the exclusiveness of the brand. They now seek individuality and uniqueness. These upper class consumers have their own definitions of success and look for brands that accommodate their lifestyles, not the other way around. Many more low-key luxury brands are thus emerging in the markets of the major Chinese metropolitan cities.
I myself have experienced such an epiphany. Before attending Phillips Academy Andover, I, similar to other Chinese consumers, was drawn to the mass-market luxury brands by their lavishly decorated stores and tall marketing billboards. I never bought anything from them, but was captivated by the thought of owning an Armani jacket. Then, Andover hit me. I learned from my friends that true clothing quality lies in the fabric, the tailoring, the workmanship and the colors. I switched to clothing that was functional and yet elegant. I now look for a refined look and subdued colors, avoiding loud pieces that attract too much attention and big brand logos that make me look like a walking billboard for the brand. Innovative products made by passionate workers in humane working environments appeal to me.
Low cost mass-market brands like Wal-Mart have already successfully implanted themselves in the Chinese market. Mass-market luxury brands like Gucci have captured thousands of loyal followers among the Chinese upper class. Now is the time for the rise of a new generation of luxury brands, those that focus on the consumers’ values and needs. I am confident that more and more affluent Chinese consumers will see the benefits in buying products that represent themselves instead of blindly following the universal luxury consumer trends brought about by the mass-market luxury brands.