Why China’s Hanfu Trend Won’t Cool Down – Jing Daily

The central theses:

  • Hanfu has grown from a niche Gen Z hobby to a huge consumer market of 400 million people in just a few short years.

  • The rise of Hanfu is being driven by a mix of rising nationalism, savvy local brands, and increased social hype among the Chinese generation.

  • For brands, Hanfu’s continued popularity among young Chinese proves that consumers want brands to recognize their cultural heritage and break away from a Western-centric standard of beauty.

In recent years, young Chinese people have elevated Hanfu – traditional Han Chinese costumes – from a niche hobby to a generation cultural expression while turning it into a consumer market of 400 million people. Fueled by a mix of rising nationalism, skillful local branding, and KOL-driven hype, the rise of Hanfu is a telling example of what young Chinese consumers today expect from brands – an appreciation of their cultural heritage and a post-hegemonic approach to style manufacturing.

Alibaba said over 20 million people bought hanfu on the Taobao shopping site last year. In July 2019, Alibaba launched its Gutao app, a social platform devoted to Hanfu shopping to meet skyrocketing consumer interests. Shisanyu, a DTC Hanfu label founded in 2016, climbed the site’s top ten best-selling brands list last year and is now worth $ 16 million.

Gen-Z China’s passion for Hanfu has also turned this trend from being a pure internet phenomenon to one of the hottest cultural topics in the country. At the SS21 Shanghai Fashion Week last year, Hanfu shows were a central part of the program. Since 2018, the annual Hanfu Festival in Xitang has been attracting more than a hundred thousand visitors every year to meet with other enthusiasts and look for new trends.

A Hanfu show from Shanghai Fashion Week SS2021. Photo: Weibo

But despite Hanfu’s mega success in young China, only a few international luxury and fashion brands have started to participate in this trend.

There are real reasons brands shy away from it. First, Hanfu is a culture-specific costume. Hence, it is difficult for brands to incorporate the aesthetic dissonance and dressing difference of Hanfu from Western fashion in designs intended for a global audience. Second, as consumer boycotts accusing brands of “cultural appropriation” become more prevalent in the industry, brands may want to avoid meddling on a high profile topic due to abandonment culture fears.

As irrelevant or difficult as the Hanfu trend may seem for luxury and fashion brands, it still offers valuable insights into the industry’s most sought-after consumer segment: young, affluent Chinese Gen Zers who pride themselves on their cultural heritage. The rise of Hanfu signals a shift in the way they define what’s cool and how they build their self-image in a country that is becoming increasingly resistant to Western cultural power.

The trend of incorporating traditional Chinese elements such as hanfu into the daily fashion routine is sure to stay with the Chinese youth. On the most popular social platforms of the Gen Zers, Bilibili and Douyin, KOL content like “Everyday Hanfu Guides” and “Genderless Streetwear Hanfu” has gained in importance as more and more young people combine Hanfu pieces with Balenciaga sneakers and Supreme hoodies. Travel vlogs with titles such as “Wearing Hanfu in Rome / London”, in which young bloggers make Hanfu their uniform in western tourist destinations, have also become a popular genre.

“Genderless Hanfu Lookbook”, a story by Bilibili blogger @Li YiRu. Source: Bilibili

Referred to as “洋 洋 折衷” (the middle ground between Chinese and Western style) in the Hanfu community, this term perfectly sums up the new golden formula that looks cool for young China today: combining traditional Chinese culture with a little Western flair – and add a lot of loot.

@ 喵 爷 碎碎念, a Hanfu KOL on Bilibili, told Jing Daily that consumers are expecting a more modern, well-made Hanfu in the next few years. “(Consumers expect) designs that fit a modern lifestyle better without losing respect for traditional forms of Hanfu. And as young people learn more about Hanfu over the years, they become more demanding and demanding, ”she said. The historical accuracy of the pattern making, the craftsmanship of the embroidery, and the hours of manual labor are all important metrics in evaluating the quality of a Hanfu.

Aside from the increasing role of heritage-inspired styles in the Gen Zer’s fashion routine, the rise of Hanfu also shows their interest in traditional Chinese culture as a whole. On the Chinese Tiktok (Douyin), the hashtag #hanfu is a megatrend site with over 300 million hits. But Hanfu Mode content is only a small part of it. Most of this trend consists of posts about traditional cultural hobbies that people practice while wearing Hanfu, such as martial arts or finger dances.

Hanfu KOLs have therefore expanded the content of Hanfu fashion into a comprehensive revival of Chinese traditions. @Shiyin, who appeared on the cover of the March issue of US Vogue as the figurehead of the Chinese Hanfu movement, was busy launching a video series entitled “What is Luxury” to showcase Chinese luxury traditions in front of Louis Vuitton. @Gu Xiaosi, another big Hanfu KOL, turned their usual Hanfu beauty content into introductory videos about Chinese tea ceremonies and art history.

For many young Chinese, wearing Hanfu was a powerful gesture that reminded them of their cultural identity and inspired them to delve deeper into that legacy. This heightened cultural awareness will inevitably raise the bar for international brands looking to bring Hanfu-inspired or China-inspired products to market.

“I think it’s good for western brands to get involved in and promote the Hanfu culture. After all, the Chinese culture of luxury is reflected in Hanfu manufacturing, where precious fabrics such as Gambier Guangdong silk and cloud brocade are often used. But brands need to have a deep understanding of Hanfu culture first and not just post some Han elements and use them as a marketing tool, ”said Hanfu KOL @ 喵 爷 碎碎念.

When the Hanfu craze first came into view in 2018, most international news viewed the trend as a symbol of young China’s growing cultural trust. Three years later, the trend not only refused to wane, but is now reaching the masses and growing faster than ever.

For brands, Hanfu’s enduring appeal has more far-reaching implications than evidence of China’s growing pride. Instead, it suggests that China’s younger generation wants a sense of freedom of choice. They want to wear something that is in keeping with their own traditions, outside of the consolidated western standards of beauty. Their opposition to homogenization, not politically fueled patriotism, lies at the center of Generation Z’s attraction to Hanfu.

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