H&M and Zara might be winners in the competitive fashion market in China, tells author Shaun Rein of “The End of Cheap China” to the BBC. But brands like Gap, Marks & Spencer, American Apparel, Abercrombie & Fitch and Banana Republic belong to the majority of the losers.
Shaun Rein, managing director of Shanghai-based China Market Research Group and the author of the “The End of Cheap China”, says that fast fashion retailers like H&M and Zara that quickly churn out affordable copies of runway designs are most likely to succeed.
He says brands like Gap, Marks & Spencer, Abercrombie & Fitch and Banana Republic will find it difficult to gain any traction in China because they fall into a middle-class image trap, where the product is fairly expensive for the local market, but carries little prestige.
“The middle class in China – they trade up or trade down and anything in the middle will struggle,” he says.
“That’s why I am very bearish on M&S as their DNA is very middle class. You buy our clothes because you want to present yourself as middle class – that’s not something that any Chinese person I’ve ever met wants.
“When we interview Chinese who are middle class, they really think they are on the way to riches because everyone knows someone that 15 years ago was a dirt-poor farmer but now is driving a BMW.”
Branding has also presented challenges for some players in China.
US retailer American Apparel found that its overtly sexy marketing was not to local tastes and ultimately had to close down some stores.
Gap promotes its 1969 jeans, but in China the year is associated with the violence of the Cultural Revolution not flower-power nostalgia, Mr Rein notes.
And even the foreign fashion brands that have the biggest market share in China are not yet household names that trip off local shoppers’ tongues