When temperatures in China started to cool down in early October, one of the biggest fashion trends to return was the puffer jacket.
Alongside higher-priced brands like Canada Goose — which saw 20 percent higher sales compared to the previous year — homegrown puffer jacket labels such as Bosideng, Xue Zhong Fei, and Yaya all reported that their gross merchandise value (GMV) growth rate on Tmall exceeded 100 percent. Meanwhile, European brand Moncler sold out of its classic Maya coat on the first day of its debut on Tmall Luxury Pavilion in October.
With an improving standard of living in China, local shoppers’ appetite for premium down jackets has increased in recent years. The average retail price of a puffer jacket now exceeds $140 (1,000 RMB), and items priced $280 (2,000 RMB) or above account for nearly 70 percent of overall sales.
Compared with the US, where the down jacket penetration rate is between 30-70 percent, China’s penetration rate is less than 10 percent — with domestic demand expected to grow rapidly.
In recent years, the entry of luxury players into the market has also driven the demand for upgrades. Moncler and Canada Goose sell to educated Chinese consumers with a new understanding of the quality and price of puffers and parkas. “Young consumers increasingly want products that combine functionality with fashion, and as with other luxury sub-categories, a higher price indicates more prestige,” says Jacob Cooke, co-founder and CEO of WPIC Marketing + Technologies agency, specialized in the Chinese market.
In light of this, the aforementioned homegrown players — Bosideng, Yaya, and Skypeople — have also undergone price-boosting makeovers. Bosideng’s coats recently hit the thousand-dollar benchmark; emerging brand Skypeople positioned itself in the $420-$980 (3,000-7,000 RMB) price range; and this year Yaya launched its new “Goose series” — offering 95 Goose Puffer Coat priced at $363 (2,599 RMB).
And these strategies have worked. “C-label” puffer brands are snapping up shares from their international competitors. “They are succeeding largely because they offer a quality, luxury down jacket at a relatively lower price than Canada Goose,” points out Cooke.
Chinese shoppers’ rising winter budgets for warm outerwear are also attracting new luxury players into the race: Canadian brands like Mackage and Moose Knuckles are making headway in the market. The competition is fierce. But who will claim top spot?
International players enter the arena
With the rise of cultural confidence and guochao, global names are securing partnerships with promising local talents to create cultural relevance. Take Canada Goose’s collaborations with a plethora of up-and-coming domestic designers, including Angel Chen, Feng Chen Wang, and artist Xu Zhen.
Tapping into locals’ enthusiasm for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Mackage designed an exclusive capsule collection inspired by this grandiose moment for its Chinese customers. “Whether it’s through our collaborations with local tastemakers or athletes, it’s about planning unique brand moments that tell a story about who we are, while staying relevant and memorable to our Chinese audience,” shares Tanya Golesic, CEO of Mackage.
Meanwhile, Moncler was the first luxury brand to partner with Molly, Pop Mart’s Mega Collection Space’s much beloved Chinese figurine. On January 1, 2022, the Italian house announced the news via Weibo, causing a frenzy in China. Excited fans and art toy collectors rushed to the store to get a piece of the exclusive collaboration.
“With Chinese consumers becoming more sophisticated, brands who want to establish themselves as premium cannot purely rely on [building] a ‘luxury image.’ Instead, they are expected to bring added value to their consumers,” comments Arnold Ma, founder of the Chinese marketing agency Qumin. “Associating products and services with lifestyle could be an effective way to penetrate target audiences.”
Domestic names are stepping up
While international names are partnering with local talents, Chinese outerwear brands are outsourcing and collaborating on their designs.
Bosideng, for instance, launched a limited edition series with Jean-Paul Gaultier — the former creative director of Hermès. The tactic helped the domestic player to morph into a desirable outerwear name among young local shoppers and foray into the luxury sphere. (Previously, Bosideng’s coats were priced below $100.)
“Even as Chinese consumers increasingly embrace local cultural aesthetics, foreign brands still enjoy a reputational advantage in luxury and in other sectors where product quality is a top consideration. Bosideng already has local cultural relevance, but needs to bolster its credibility as a luxury brand by collaborating with international designers,” notes Cooke from WPIC. Likewise, 50-year-old Chinese puffer brand Yaya has updated its business strategy to elevate its image and grow its fan base by leveraging overseas designers.
Beyond partnerships, Chinese establishments are showing up at international fashion schedules — such as New York Fashion Week — to increase their global presence and exposure. Qumin’s Arnold Ma believes that the move speaks to growing cultural confidence at home. Their appearance on a worldwide stage satisfies young natives’ national pride and benefits the brand’s globalization efforts too.
Diverse digital and offline strategies to attract Chinese shoppers
Brands need to choose proper channels to reach their desired consumers. Canadian brand Mackage firmly believes in the importance of connecting with local consumers through brick and mortar experiences. “Customers can directly touch and feel our craftsmanship and have that world-class shopping experience in our stores,” states Mackage CEO Tanya Golesic.
This year, the business is opening two new boutiques in Shanghai Réel and Chengdu SKP as it continues to expand in the domestic market.
Online platforms and interest-based commerce are also presenting a potential gateway. During the Lunar New Year, Canada Goose launched an animated filter with paper-cut tigers jumping on people’s shoulders and created branded digital red envelopes. Larry Li, president of Canada Goose China, tells Jing Daily, “China’s diversity and flexibility in digital ecosystems allow us to produce rich, vivid content that illustrates our brand in innovative ways.”
Short video app Douyin is also rapidly rising as a viable option for brands to speak to a young clientele. “Big-ticket luxury might not be moving much inventory on Douyin right now since lots of purchases on Douyin are more spontaneous, but it has become perhaps the most important digital marketing channel for brands looking to reach young consumers,” says Cooke.
Naturally, functionality plays a vital role in the purchasing decision of an outerwear piece. To showcase their expertise, brands can creatively tap emerging trends and subcultures that young Chinese engage with. Ma suggests marketing products that cater to varied scenarios such as hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities popular among Gen Z.
And finally, it’s not just about price hikes: the premiumization process of a down jacket company involves crafting a sophisticated brand narrative and enhanced experience throughout all its touchpoints. “The brand is expected to bring continuous innovation and improve consumer services to align with the upgraded brand image,” concludes Ma. As the high-end realm becomes saturated, brands must constantly reinvent themselves to win over ever-demanding shoppers.