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Chic Shanghai: 3 Youth trends prevailing in the Chinese fashion industry

By Rachel Douglass


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Shi San Yu, Chic Shanghai AW23. Image: FashionUnited

From Shanghai Fashion Week to Chic Shanghai, the Chinese fashion industry is getting back into the swing of things just weeks after it opened its borders again for foreign visitors. The city itself is currently leading the way as well, championing local design and leaving a strong influence on the rest of the country’s fashion scene. Both events are taking place simultaneously this week, however it is the trade show Chic that is providing a wider scope of perspective on how China’s market is fairing under current conditions.

Spanning March 28 to 30, the event has welcomed nearly 1,300 exhibitors across its expansive 117,200 square metre space, housing brands, distributors and supply chain companies, among other sectors. It is the first time the trade show has taken place since 2019 after the pandemic forced it to keep its doors firmly closed until the crisis died down. However, now it is back, and it is clear that its influence has remained intact.

Exhibiting brands are also taking the opportunity to show off their wares in full throttle. It is here that we not only see how the past three years have influenced the industry, but also how design and customer values have shifted in light of the trying period. For young people in particular, who are at their most influential age, this stretch of time has been a one in which they have either moved towards expressing exactly who they are or who they desire to be. Trends descending from this group have been heavily influenced by what the pandemic has shredded from them, leading them to return to their roots or explore the wider world.

FashionUnited has highlighted three of the most prominent trends that could be spotted among the stands at Chic Shanghai, each defining the Gen Z audience in China and their values today.

China-chic or Guochao

Shi San Yu, Chic Shanghai AW23. Image: FashionUnited

Guochao – also known as ‘national trend’ – initially burst into the youth scene around 2020, but has since taken on a new shape as consumers look more and more into themselves. While initially starting out as a trend that was linked to older generations, Gen Z and Millennials have started to take it under their wing as they begin to become one with their own identity. The term itself refers to clothing that holds the traditional Chinese design aesthetics, albeit in modernised forms, and has seen consumers turn to brands and values that bear stronger links to their own culture. In the past Guochao appeared closer to historic design techniques. However, under the eyes of younger consumers, the trend has shifted to more subtle forms of traditional design, with products that exhibit modernised details that allow pieces to be incorporated into a contemporary wardrobe.

Hua Mu Shen, Chic Shanghai AW23. Image: FashionUnited

This new iteration of the trend, brought on by generational shifts, links to younger consumers leaning towards domestic brands as they try to present who they are through their culture, directing them away from global, big-name labels and towards locals that can encapsulate their ideals. Brands that do so were highlighted in a specified section at Chic, right at the front of the venue. Across the 13 exhibits, a range of labels and retailers specific to this trend were on display, offering up highly elaborate and technical garments with rich embroidery and classic silhouettes. Among them were Shi San Yu and Double Seventh, which both boast significant social media followings and whose stands were frequented by a slew of young visitors. Notably, brands in this sector rarely have a physical presence, instead opting to operate online only as they still aim to act in a niche.

Double Seventh, Chic Shanghai. Image: FashionUnited

Laid-back womenswear or songchi gan

Calm Breeze, Chic Shanghai AW23. Image: FashionUnited

Another trend resonating strongly on social media is songchi gan, or ‘laid back’, a womenswear trend that links closely to the stay-at-home lifestyle. In fact, its Chinese hashtag has accumulated over 35 million views on social platform Xiaohongshu, according to the World Platinum Investment Council (WPIC). The term actually refers more to an attitude over clothing, typically adopted by younger consumers who are looking to dismantle rigid beauty standards and step into a more relaxed, self-aware mindset. This has naturally been translated into fashion through effortless wardrobes, with looks that are more reliant on comfort than style. It can be seen in the increased use of oversized and relaxed fits, muted tones, minimalist details and monochrome colour palettes.

Calm Breeze, Chic Shanghai AW23. Image: FashionUnited

A cohort of brands took on this trend at Chic, however no more so than Calm Breeze, which suitably boasts the mission of bringing people and nature together in harmony. Among its collection of loose-fit clothing and comfy attire, the brand utilises various traditional Asian production techniques that further enhance its stance. This includes the likes of tie-dye, uragiri – the “carving” of materials – and wabi-sabi, the Japanese philosophy of finding value in imperfections and repairing objects. Another brand taking on the songchi gan trend was bag label Wow-In. Its selection of accessories are created with the idea of providing easy-to-use, lightweight products that are both practical and simplified.

Wow-In, Chic Shanghai AW23. Image: FashionUnited


Tiform, Chic Shanghai AW23. Image: FashionUnited

As seen among the rest of the world, the pandemic has brought out consumers’ desire to get out into the natural world and be free from the restraints of their home. This also rings true for those in China that are sifting out of lockdowns with the mindset of exploration. In response to this, city-based consumers in particular have begun to combine their urban lifestyles with that of their need to be outdoors. The result? A blend of utilitarian or outerwear styles with fashion-forward statement pieces. Gorpcore sees garments that could be once deemed impractical take on a more functional form, allowing them to be worn both daily and for specific outings. This trend is just as much about performance as it is about style.

While it was initially brought on by the growth of large scale brand collaborations – such as between the likes of The North Face and Supreme – brands at Chic Shanghai took the trend one step further, incorporating a higher level of fashion element to the looks. This could be seen at Tiform, a brand which drew crowds throughout the day, all encapsulated by its entry display – a dress with a netted crinoline skirt merged with a waterproof outerwear jacket. The aesthetic was carried throughout the rest of the brand’s collection, where various outdoor silhouettes took on new shapes in the form of trend-led fashion statements. Guan Xuan similarly combined styles, matching its puffed up outer coats and lined jackets with flowing floral and silky skirts, once again changing up the perception of nature-proof attire.

Quan Xuan, Chic Shanghai AW23. Image: FashionUnited
Chic Shanghai