Chinese brands lean into fashion limelight

With more Chinese clothing brands appearing at the big four fashion weeks, the image of "made in China" is starting to be interpreted in a new light.

China is making a name in the world of fashion, with a number of brands and their pieces becoming favorites of Hollywood celebrities and the big four fashion weeks, flooding the pages of Instagram, and showing the international stage that "China Cool" is only just warming up.

Chinese sportswear brand Li-Ning last Tuesday debuted its fall and winter 2019 collection at the ongoing New York Fashion Week. It is the second time the brand has showcased there.

After a model presented a new design featuring bold Chinese characters reading "China Li-Ning" at the 2018 New York Fashion Week, the namesake brand, founded in 1990 by the world-class athlete with 106 gold medals, became popular worldwide.

As the Chinese leader in athletic apparel and footwear, Li-Ning showed a reinterpretation of Chinese design, catching eyes by redesigning Chinese red-and-yellow Olympic uniforms and the noticeable logo of "China Li-Ning" in the fashion world.

After its first launch internationally at New York Fashion Week, Li-Ning turned to the French fashion capital to continue its global push, with its latest gym suit and sportswear honoring the 1990s.

A model presents a new design by Li-Ning during the 2019 spring/summer Paris Fashion Week on June 21, 2018.

A T-shirt with a portrait of Li Ning became a bestseller of the brand, after famous American model Bella Hadid wore the T-shirt, accessorized with large, silver hoop earrings and tiny sunglasses. 

American model Bella Hadid steps out wearing the T-shirt.

The collection, centering on the theme "travel," explores three dimensions: the city, the country, and the journey between the two. Chen Lijie, the brand’s chief apparel designer, said his designs were inspired by traditional Chinese philosophy: Man is an integral part of nature.




While still focusing on sportswear with the iconic logo of "China Li-Ning," Li-Ning's latest collection also features laudable outdoor clothing, multi-pocket design, and fluorescent and earth tone colors, which makes it a big hit on the street. At the same time, Li-Ning pays tribute to China's most magnificent national parks, such as Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province and the Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province, by rendering their images as bold graphics on T-shirts and sweaters, with a strong touch of Chinese landscape painting.

The collection offered up a solid 80s-inspired sportswear slash streetwear vibe that successfully blended true athletic references with retro graphics that worked best in tracksuits with colorful paneling. A similar sensibility was applied to the tailored pieces, which were updated with back drawstrings on navy pinstriped jackets that served to create great visually appealing effects. But the highlight came in over-sized utility anoraks and parkas that projected a street hiker look and gave the athletic message a cool, globe-trotting direction.

The new decoration, featuring Chinese landscape paintings on the sleeves of outdoor clothing, together with the logo, may become the new visual label of Li-Ning outdoors.

Chinese actress Kan Qingzi wears the new collection of Li-Ning 2019 fall/winter.

The debut of Li-Ning at New York Fashion Week was part of "NYFW: China Day," which was originally established by Chinese e-commerce giant Tmall. Besides the success of Li-Ning, Chinese brands Peacebird and Bosideng have also won public praise overseas after being presented at NYFW.

"We are seeing a dramatic rise in creativity in China," said Jessica Liu, president of Tmall Fashion and Luxury. "While China used to look to the West for the latest in fashion and design, we are seeing the phenomenon of 'China Cool,' as young creators incorporate authentic and traditional Chinese elements into their designs, setting major fashion trends in China."

Tsingtao Beer × NPC hoodie showed on "China Day" at the 2019 fall/winter  NYFW on February 14, 2019.

Laoganma sweatshirt and Yunnan Baiyao hoodie showed on "China Day" at the 2019 spring/summer NYFW on September 10, 2018.


As one of the leaders of Chinese fashion, Bosideng delivered its new brand message on the second "China Day" at NYFW last September. Although being advertised to "sell in over 72 countries and regions," it was a real debut for Bosideng internationally.

Lots of Hollywood stars were invited to the show of Bosideng. Hollywood actress Anne Hathaway, wearing Bosideng's new collection featuring the long silver garment splashed with purple and white blossoms, sat in the front row of the fashion show with her husband Adam Shulman. Hollywood actor Jeremy Renner sat on her other side.

Anne Hathaway wears a floral, down feather garment as she appears at the event.

The new collection of Bosideng presented at NYFW broke the stereotype of the brand that it was only for middle-aged or elderly Chinese people. A new haute down jacket for the outdoors was launched last November. The jacket, priced at over 2,000 yuan (US$297.70), used the world’s top fabric, GORE-TEX. The new jacket is lauded by many Chinese fashion critics as more valuable than Canada Goose, which is also known for its feather jacket, generally sold at over 10,000 yuan. The Chinese haute down jacket has now become the favorite of many fashion icons.

Chinese Olympic champion Yang Yang (L) and fashion icon Han Huohuo in the Bosideng haute down jacket for the outdoors.


Chinese brand Peacebird showcased their heavily charcoal-toned fall/winter collection at this year’s NYFW as part of "China Day," one year after its overseas debut. "Sesame Street" characters were printed on T-shirts and sweaters for the show, after its successful collection collaborated with iconic American brand Coca-Cola last year. The co-branded line has sparked a flurry of street snaps on Instagram.

"Peacebird’s fascination with youth culture as its main inspiration may have been the reasoning behind introducing the non-specific Sesame Street characters Oscar and Elmo on a T-shirt. It also may have been why nearly all the models were wearing identical black slim sunglasses, or a hat to cover their faces. Not to mention the Made in China statement, a precedent for a new and evolving country. Overall, Peacebird proved why it’s one of the fastest growing fashion brands in China, and the potential for it to become one elsewhere too.", a fashion website featuring men’s clothing

Looks from NYFW18 Peacebird show

Peacebird Men x Coca-Cola

A fashion trend led by Chinese brands, known as guochao, started unexpectedly last year. Many young Chinese people turned back to original Chinese sportswear brands like Li-Ning, instead of Supreme and Champion, two powerful athletic brands from the US. Millennials are the loyal followers of these Chinese labels, with a brand-new look featuring oversize cutting and bold Chinese characters on T-shirts. Many of them post their looks on Instagram, tagging themselves "guochao youth."

Zhang Xincheng, a Chinese actor born in 1995, wearing Li-Ning

The first 500 pairs of Li-Ning Men NYFW Wade Essence II Basketball Culture Shoes, priced at US$150, were sold out within seconds on Tmall last June, and so were the 1,500 pairs launched by the brand days later. That demonstrated the vigor of Chinese brands, once stereotyped as "old, cheap and flat."

More time-honored Chinese brands have become involved in the trend of guochao. Two Shanghai brands, White Rabbit (a Chinese candy brand established in 1959 and known for its creamy candy) and Maxam (a beauty brand created in 1962, known for producing the first hand cream in China), launched a joint product last September, White Rabbit candy-flavored lip balm, which was sold out within seconds.

"Everything has to be good on an international level and only then will we be able to stand proudly and say 'this is Chinese made,'" said fashion designer Edison Chen at the US-China Entrepreneurship and Leadership Development Forum. Chen is the founder of CLOT, a clothing company geared toward youth culture.

Special Reports