It wouldn't be a stretch to say that China’s fast fashion market is uniquely competitive, if not deeply illusive. In fact, in recent years brands such as Gap, Forever 21, and even Zara’s three sister brands—Bershka, Pull&Bear, and Stradivarius—have all exited the market. Uniqlo has survived as one of the best foreign brands, though H&M has struggled, and Zara has only just managed to wade through murky waters following the Xinjiang cotton controversy.
However, one brand has managed to evade the challenges that seem to be plaguing its competitors and rise to the top spot: Urban Revivo (UR).
Dubbed as "Zara’s apprentice" in China, UR has not only surpassed its supposed guru, but twice-scooped the trophy as the top womenswear brand at the Tmall 618 mid-year shopping festival in China in 2022 and 2023.
Founded in 2006 in Guangzhou, Urban Revivo has since successfully exported its fashion and concepts to overseas markets, including 360 stores across including locations in Singapore, Thailand, London (including a physical store) and The Philippines, along with world-class design centres in London, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. In 2021, Urban Revivo also officially launched urbanrevivo.com to give their customers the ability to shop digitally worldwide.
However, inspite of its exponential growth, the challenge still remains for the brand to sustain its rise in its competitive local market and continue further expansion in overseas ones.
Analysts from the Chinese media observed that even though before the Covid-19 pandemic, UR excelled in the domestic supply chain, despite facing the paradox of production and logistical costs. Whilst this may have slowed down its brick-and-mortar story expansion, especially in European markets, the brand has pivoted to DTC to reach overseas markets, increasing traffic from the likes of YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest.
Additionally, UR has also successfully leveraged the strength of the Tmall platform to tell its brand stories through live-streaming and Super Brand Day events. Dao Insights’ editor and writer Qing Na noticed Urban Revivo’s sudden and phenomenal success a year ago in China’s digital landscape.
In 2023, Qing gave a new interpretation of UR’s online strategy, “UR conducted a series of live sessions, including designer interviews and an immersive experience of its fashion runway show titled 'MY UR MY WAY,' which took place in Shanghai.”
As a key indicator of UR’s strides in China, she believes that leveraging the powerful engine of Tmall’s ecommerce mechanism, such as Super Brand Day and the 618 shopping festival, to conduct a 7-hour-long UR Super livestream, drive up online traffic and GMV for the brand.
“This illustrates Tmall's significant role in strengthening brands' digital presence, a critical consideration given the importance of social commerce in China. This timely step also generated buzz for the brand, increasing awareness of its new release during the promotional season and setting the stage for sustained sales momentum.”
In this edition of Brand Health Check, Campaign asks Qing and other marketing and branding experts about Urban Revivo's rise to the top, and what awaits the brand domestically and globally.
UR carves out a unique space in China’s fashion scene with its “fast luxury positioning”, through which it claims to find a balance between existing fast and high-end fashion. Under that principle, it seeks to provide consumers with the fast turnaround of designs that fast fashion is appreciated for.
Meanwhile, it “upgrades” the traditional practice of fast fashion with a quality standard that is close to accessible luxury and with more sustainable offerings, addressing the key pain points faced by traditional fast fashion while also aligning with the overall market trade-up, and a more environmentally conscious consumer cohort. Such a positioning helps the brand remain a strong foothold in China, while fast fashion is seen to have been experiencing a downswing, resulting in the scale-back of global labels, including H&M, Forever21 and Zara.
The brand Is also shrewd in crafting “individualised” storytelling to engage Chinese consumers, responding to the generations’ pursuit of individuality. That has been executed through either collaborations that bring out some rather “unfamiliar” or even “quirky” experience or products, like the one with Andrew Yang (an American doll designer). They also leverage social topics such as “social phobia” and “workplace drama” that normally spark heated discussion on social media amongst China’s Gen Z and millennials. Through content that reflect the mentality of today’s young consumers, UR is able to resonate with its target consumers more effectively.
We Red Bridge
Urban Revivo represents the quintessential success formula of a fast-growing local Chinese brand—adapt, evolve, dominate.
Adapt: It firstly incorporates key operational components of global fast fashion brands but adapting it precisely to the Chinese consumers’ taste and behavioural preference through product mix, marketing, distribution and pricing.
Evolve: It then continues to evolve to the fast-changing young consumer needs. Whether it is new brand crossovers or fresh offline brand pop-ups, they maintain super agile by responding to market demand at a rapid pace.
Dominate: Upon successfully trading on China’s main e-commerce channels and gaining a solid follower base, it shifts focus to develop a comprehensive private platform which allows it to re-direct third-party e-commerce platform traffic and build up its own customer database that it can then effectively analyse, retain and upsell to.
What latent problems do you think UR needs to fix for its future success?
As a variant of fast fashion, UR is also vulnerable to accusations of plagiarism, particularly because the brand has heavily relied on 'inspirations' from classic designs of global luxury labels, as well as those created by independent designers.
In fact, the brand has been embroiled in such controversies over the past few years, with several independent designer brands calling out UR for plagiarising their original designs. Additionally, netizens have uncovered instances where UR produced imitations of luxury brands like Chanel, Dior, and Hermès.
While its affordable alternatives have managed to capture consumer interest due to their price advantage, the brand must intensify its efforts in self-driven innovation to ensure long-term business sustainability. This effort is crucial not only for maintaining consumer confidence but also considering the brand's active pursuit of global expansion.
We Red Bridge
The future question would be around the challenges of winning over a global audience. As much as the brand is successful in China, understanding and adapting effectively to key global markets would be another ball game. Urban Revivo will have to figure out the right balance between behaving like a global brand and constantly changing gear to appeal to its home market, Chinese customer demands.
The other they will need to consider is how to build a global brand story that gains global audience acceptance of their China heritage and manage the myriad of Western perceptions about brands from this market.