Shifting Mindset of Chinese Consumers on Sustainable Fashion


Retykle Founder Sarah Garner was recently invited by Jumpstart Magazine to contribute a written piece for their online platform. For the piece, she explored the “Shifting Mindset of Chinese Consumers on Sustainable Fashion”. Having worked in the luxury fashion world for many years and now running the largest children’s luxury clothing resale platform, she's seen first hand how consumers in Asia and particularly China have evolved and in particular what drives them to think as more conscious consumers.

The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world, second only to oil. In recent years, this has been one of the more prevalent catalysts thrusting the world of resale into the spotlight. 

The fashion resale market is exploding, and has grown 21 times faster than the retail market over the past three years, according to research from retail analytics firm GlobalData. The research also suggests that the resale market, worth US$24bn, will mature to $51bn by 2023 and could be bigger than fast fashion within ten years. 

In Asia, the luxury resale market has been slower to emerge, mostly due to the barrier created by cultural superstitions surrounding secondhand clothing, which can be seen to carry bad luck. This is all changing, as young Chinese consumers have been driven to adopt the resale market by other factors. According to McKinsey’s 2019 State of Fashion report,  the shift to new ownership models for fashion is driven by growing consumer desires for variety, sustainability and affordability.

An appetite for affordable luxury 

With the cost of living soaring in China, Millennials are looking for new ways to achieve the luxury lifestyle they seek without the steep price tags. Across multiple industries, consumers are choosing to rent rather than purchase new goods outright. This has caused a surge of interest in alternative fashion models like rental and resale, with consumers looking to feed their hunger for the new and shiny whilst also taking the opportunity to act sustainably. 

China is recognizing the growing secondhand market and investors are starting to funnel serious capital into platforms that facilitate the rental of secondhand goods, including apps like YCloset and MSParis. These have now become two of the most popular China-based platforms for renting luxury fashion, which by nature of rental is all secondhand. 

YCloset’s service is a subscription model, providing an array of options which are also available for purchase. MSParis has rolled out accessory rental and informal dress hiring. These models appeal to tech-savvy Millennials. Accessing luxury goods has never been so easy and affordable. 

What’s more, thanks to the growing spending power of the Chinese population, they continue to be the most powerful consumers of luxury goods in the world. The supply of goods is ripe for entrance into the secondhand market with value creation for sellers and buyers from otherwise idle items sitting in closets.

Another driving factor that is contributing to the shifting mindset towards resale and secondhand is the desire for increased transparency and deliberate sustainability. China is responding to this, and according to McKinsey, their goals include making production more technologically sophisticated and more environmentally sustainable. Each new item of clothing purchased required chemicals and excessive water at some point of the production process, and ultimately ends up in landfills if not transferred into the resale market. This information is affecting the way consumers consider their initial purchases and the afterlife or circularity of goods. With increased transparency, Chinese consumers are looking to make choices that are sustainably driven. 

The children’s clothing market is even more ripe for disruption, as on average, a child outgrows 1700 items of clothing before they are fully grown. With the resale market, we have the opportunity to not only avoid increasing volumes of discarded clothing in landfills, but to give parents the chance to avoid overspending. This is where Retykle comes in, offering parents a convenient alternative for how to relieve their children’s wardrobe of these outgrown items but also to give them a chance to buy quality, long lasting pieces at a price that won't break the bank. Parents also have a desire to be part of a movement whereby they can shout about how the choices they make for their children are also benefiting the world around us. 

The future impact of Chinese consumers goes far beyond just making the switch to secondhand, stretching back to the start of the production process. Considering the proximity of Chinese companies to manufacturers, they have the ability to make significant changes to the life of an item of clothing, right from the beginning. They have an advantage because they can manage and implement strategies at each stage of the production process. It is in this instance where we might see China ultimately driving the most change in the field of sustainable fashion.

This paradigm shift around consumption in general has driven a global movement for people to opt for secondhand, whether that’s to save money, save the earth, or simply to declutter in a time where living space continues to shrink. The future of secondhand fashion is evolving in China and Asia as a whole, with Millennials abandoning the notions of generations before them. They have spending power and are more conscientious of quality, design, cost, and more importantly, the environment. Having more say in what we consume and how it is made could be the key to changing the current narrative to something more conscious and informed, especially for the younger generations to follow. 

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Written by Sarah Garner on Oct 2, 2019

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