Luxury Brands Become Synonymous with Sneakers in China

Gucci sneakers, known as the “little white shoe” in China (source: shutterstock)

According to global research institution Gartner L2’s Luxury China: Streetwear Insight Report released on September 19, 2019, luxury brands are among those most associated with sneakers on Chinese social media.

Four out of the top five most-mentioned brands associated with the “sneaker” hashtag on social shopping app RED during the study period were luxury brand names, the report finds.

Coming in behind Nike, Louis Vuitton was the second most popular brand mentioned in association with the keyword as its Archlight sneaker earned the most buzz for the brand. Chanel, Dior, and Hermès rounded out the top five. Other luxury brands, meanwhile, became synonymous with specific sneaker styles: with its popular Ace sneaker, Gucci was the number one brand mentioned in connection with the term “little white shoe,” ahead of second-place Adidas. The “little white shoe” is especially popular among Chinese celebrities including pop singer Chris Lee and actress Yang Mi.

“The ‘it sneaker’ has emerged as a status symbol used for self-expression and is the key gateway luxury purchase for young shoppers in China,” said Danielle Bailey, Managing Vice President for APAC Research and Advisory at Gartner L2. “Luxury brands have supported their development of youth-oriented product categories like sneakers and streetwear items with innovative e-commerce models and celebrity-driven activations on relevant digital platforms.”

In China, the rising middle class largely contributes to the prosperity of the luxury goods market. According to the McKinsey China Luxury Report 2019, the annual consumption of Chinese luxury consumers has exceeded 500 billion yuan, accounting for nearly one-third of the global luxury goods market. Take Gucci for example, 62% of the consumers are millennials, among which 35% are Chinese consumers.

In addition to the already phenomenal fan base of those brands, Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) on platforms including Chinese microblog Weibo, WeChat public accounts and lifestyle guide app RED, also augment their popularity. The online KOLs help create daily life scenarios for luxury goods, allowing the top brands to portray a more down to earth and accessible tone to the targeted consumer group. For example, the American low-end luxury brand Michael Kors cooperated with Douyin influencers, and produced a series of streetwalk videos, that attracted over 200 million views.

Micheal Kors working with Douyin influencers (source: fengsong.com)

Key findings from Gartner L2’s report include:

Chinese consumers are still searching for streetwear. Streetwear brands are experiencing double the growth in online search volume that traditional activewear and luxury fashion brands see. The Baidu Index for streetwear brands, on average, increased 12% year over year for a 12-month period ending in March 2019, compared to 6% for activewear and 5% for fashion.

Luxury brands turn to Tmall for casual items. Pure luxury fashion brands are most likely to use Tmall to highlight casual items like sneakers, hoodies and t-shirts: 73% feature athleisure content on their Tmall shops. In addition, 27% of pure luxury brands have at least one athleisure category on their Tmall store menu bar, while only 10% feature these categories on their DTC sites. Valentino, for example, has categories for sneakers, t-shirts, and sweatshirts on its Tmall store.

Streetwear-luxury collaborations are on a roll in China. Streetwear collaborations can serve as significant sources of buzz on Chinese social media. Rimowa’s collaboration with Off-White received the most Weibo engagement among all luxury collaborations during the study period, including both cross-brand and celebrity product collaborations.

Luxury looks to Gen Z platforms. The report finds that 18.6% of luxury brands posted partner promotions with China’s largest streetwear platform YOHO! on their Weibo accounts during the study period. One example was Montblanc, which teamed up with YOHO! to produce a special-edition backpack unveiled at YOHOOD in Shanghai, China’s largest consumer-facing streetwear trade show.