China consumers born before 1997 are an increasingly powerful cohort of luxury consumers. It’s a demographic that sees brands as lifestyle platforms, providing experiences, activations, and collaborations beyond their core product offering. For retail, understanding what makes Chinese Generation Z tick is crucial.
The rise of boundary-breaking concept stores in China’s retail landscape, such as ENG Concept, CanalStreet坚尼街, Das Lab, and CLAP, demonstrates that classic multi-brand stores with indulgent architectural interiors are not enough to turn heads.
With two physical stores in Shanghai and a third in Hangzhou’s IN77, ENG Concept is a leading name in disruptive retailing in mainland China. Featuring indie fashion favorites like Aries, Casablanca, Misbhv, Rui and Martine Rose, alongside esteemed tastemakers Helmut Lang, Eckhaus Latta and Mugler, it serves up a selection that epitomizes the taste of fashion-forward Gen Z.
Spring 2021 saw ENG promote Mugler’s Spring 2021 collection, hosting a launch party for the brand’s Chinese consumers. The innovative retail space also hosted an art exhibition at the store’s official opening in 2019, and opened with an in-store party featuring a live performance by British rapper Lancey Foux.
From pop-up displays to star-studded parties, Gen Z wants more from retail than just photogenic settings and good customer service. It is about taking advantage of the subcultures that derive from fashion and contributing to its growth.
To find out how to get China’s youth into stores, jing daily spoke with ENG Concept founder Sherry Huang and the co-founders of an artfully alternative Chinese sunglass brand A societyKenny Kowk, Victor Chu and Dee Lam.
1. Independent labels
Currently, there is a lack of retailers acquiring independent brands in China, but they are the pioneers of the Instagram generation. A London Fashion Week 2023Independent designers like Dilara Findikoglu and Richard Quinn were the best at capturing the attention of Chinese netizens, even though none of them were available on the mainland.
Kwok, the co-founder of A.Society, said it’s the small, independent labels that really attract young Chinese shoppers. “The new generation appreciates storytelling enhanced by craftsmanship and strong brand values,” he said.
For ENG Concept, that has been one of its main unique selling points. As Huang explained, “Considering the number of retail businesses opening in China and their rapid development, I think coming up with something unique or different from the regular offering on the market is more than crucial.
“Chinese consumers get bored very quickly, so we have to constantly come up with something that is attractive and at the same time different, that’s how we have amassed a huge crowd since our opening.”
According to the A.Society team, young Chinese consumers are developing a greater interest in pre-loved garments. “Chinese consumers are expanding their awareness of streetwear, including the growing popularity of vintage clothing that is actively shared through Xiaohongshu,” Kowk said.
The co-founder pointed out that China is experiencing a revival of vintage and retro styles that reinforces nostalgic aesthetics and Chinese heritage. Kowk added that the decline of the sneaker market is even due to “major fashion brands constantly introducing new drops to bring freshness to everyone’s wardrobes”; according to him, that is not necessarily to the taste of Generation Z. Inside the old, outside the new.
Stores that launch collaborative collections are not revolutionary, but it is the expansion of artistic collaboration and experiential offerings that are making retailers stand out right now. For A.Society, collaboration is a crucial part of its youth-focused strategy. as lam said jing daily, “From art and fashion to music, we’d like to harness the minds of like-minded visionaries to create designs that reflect the desires of the new generation.”
Partnering with artists for exhibits or C-pop stars for events is one way to present a store’s subcultural identity. As ENG’s Huang said, “It’s not just about proposing something different, but also educating our audience about the products we’re proposing in the store. We not only sell garments, but also the image that accompanies them”.
Damon agrees that the collaboration shouldn’t be limited to capsules and other clothing lines. Instead, it’s about working with talent that can attract an art or fashion fan base to catch the eye of a desired target consumer.