When I arrived in Shanghai one decade ago, the digital habits I saw in China… were rather avant-garde. As an American coming in from a mature economy, the wide variety of established communication channels, media and habits that were found back home made what I was seeing across the Pacific… unfathomable.
QQ, a domestic version of AIM was always open enabling my colleagues to maintain real-time communications in our office and with external vendors. Because… why email when you can live chat?
During that time, drop down text readers for translating English to Chinese for work research were about as common as having a web browser. As far as I know, language translation extensions such as Zhongwen remain relatively unheard of in English speaking countries to this day.
Fast forward to 2018, which is year No.7 for WeChat. Despite being one of the world’s most popular apps, in Q3 of 2017 the app reached a reported 980 million monthly active users, this Tencent creation continues to be a familiar stranger in Western countries. As anyone living or working in China can attest though, there really is nothing quite like WeChat in the West. The channel feels as if Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Paypal and Slack got together and made a genetically modified designer baby with all of their functions available in one place.
Nevertheless, things don’t end there.
As China’s fascination with all things digital permeates the first layer of fashion through its imagery this raises the question, what does the future hold?
Digital wallets such as WeChat Pay and Alipay have become so ubiquitous that swiping or paying with cash can feel… embarrassingly prehistoric. Friends and colleagues more often that not will chuckle at you if you mai dan (“pay the bill) with one of these old school payments. Put in concrete terms, China’s mobile payments market in 2016 was approximately 50 times that of the United States.
By all means, let’s not forget the fact that if you don’t want to shop for groceries or cook you can have either cheaply and quickly delivered.
Which brings us back to the question, what does this mean for the future of Chinese fashion? While the digital savvy habits found in China are just a given, when you really stop to consider them, they hold many an implication.
With the country’s tech habits a good half a decade ahead of those found in Western countries, as China’s style barometer continues to rise these two factors make the world of fashion one particularly interesting industry to watch.
On China’s closed platform WeChat branded digital merchandising and content marketing has already integrated GIF based lookbook imagery. It can feel quite Gen Z, but is as relevant to millennials and Gen X as it is among young audiences. Here we have tech divergence that feels like Harry Potter newspapers come to life.
Designed by Will Quinn, Shanghai-based brand Ratpack S/S 18 season’s lookbook, as featured throughout this snippet, also reflects this digital fixation with its “Social Obsession” themed imagery. On the label’s Instagram, behind the scene photos shot by Robert Nilsson feature the epically familiar screen face found throughout China. Similarly this imagery is explored by Hong Kong’s I.T. through its Lunar New Year WeChat content.
In sum, as China’s fascination with all things digital permeates the first layer of fashion through its imagery this raises the question, what does the future hold?
We’re not sure yet but with Prada, Gucci and Moschino all dropping smartphone designer cases for Chinese New Year and internet slang such as danshen gou (“single buying”) being adopted as print and graphics by major Chinese retailers such as Metersbonwe and Urban Revivo, there’s no doubt this online orientation will affect the country’s fashion designs as we know it.