Sales of sustainable fashion products in China
The Market - MU Sustainable Innovation

Human behavior, including consumption patterns, overcomes cultural filters and barriers and can remain unchanged in different countries. Consumers' sensitivity to sustainability reflects similar traits in Europe and China. Therefore, it would be wrong to interpret it only as an essentially Western phenomenon.


The key that explains the common traits in the two geographical areas are young people. The generations commonly referred to as the Millennials - born in the 1980s and 1990s - and the Generation Z - born at the turn of the century - show a concern for the fate of the planet both in Europe and in China. They share the values of sustainability with much greater intensity compared to previous generations.


At the end of 2019, Tmall, Alibaba's e-commerce platform known by most people as TaoBao, presented projections regarding China’s four consumer trends for 2020. One of these trends is called Impact and mainly focuses on the attention paid by young people to the principles of social and environmental sustainability. A Tmall’s statement reads: "In general, the younger generations are active in promoting socio-economic rights for their local communities and are calling for global companies to assume greater social responsibility. Sustainability is part of their lifestyle (...). Recycled materials, sustainable fashion concepts and vintage colors are key to attracting their attention."


In line with this approach of including sustainability as a key driver in consumer trends for 2020, "act sustainable" was one of the themes chosen by Alibaba for its annual 11:11 Global Shopping Festival 2019 - the most important shopping day for Chinese e-commerce platforms.


Shaway Yeh, Founder of the YehYeh agency and member of the K Generation Award jury panel, hosted by Kering during the Shanghai Fashion Week to award three Chinese startups that were facing the challenges of sustainability in a creative way, offers a couple of interesting remarks.


The first: for Chinese Millennials, the focus on sustainability is an expression of maturation and emancipation of consumer purchasing behavior. "Unlike their predecessors, who purchased goods based on needs or status, Chinese Millennials purchase goods based on quality, style and meaning. Sustainable products tend to be of better quality (...) and reflect positive values. However, consumers will not simply be ready to pay more just because something is sustainable, but will consider the value of all the characteristics of the product." This demonstrates that Chinese Millennials have developed a more competent and informed purchasing behavior compared to the "status symbol seeker" generation.


The second: "Chinese Millennials, especially those living in urban areas, are sophisticated (...) and highly aware of brand behavior, product quality and value. They expect, similarly to all young people around the world, to buy products in line with their lifestyle. (...) Chinese young people have a very strong social presence, ask questions and express bold opinions" and - we should add – are even more active on social media than their peers in other parts of the world. This factor results in deeper knowledge about brands, products and their characteristics, including sustainability.


This is an important signal, not just for brands. These changes drive fabric and accessory producers in the same direction, to meet the demands of both international brands and the growing number of local Chinese brands that consider sustainability a distinctive value.