How luxury can woo China’s $6 billion swimwear market
As summer heat waves spread across China and many tourist destinations ease COVID policies, locals are escaping to tropical islands like Hainan or the white sand beaches of Xiamen. Where better to show off your new luxury swimwear?
According ChinaBaogaothe market size of swimming products in the country was $4.6 billion (RMB 31 billion) in 2019 and is expected to reach approximately $6 billion (RMB 40 billion) in 2022, indicating a margin of significant growth.
Luxury names like Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Dior, of course, are all pushing their resort collections. (Xiaohongshu user @Ttlee, who recently managed to get to Hainan, was spotted by Daily Jing sporting a Fendi monogrammed one-piece suit.) However, high-end houses face fierce competition from niche domestic players (and savvy contemporary Korean lines as well) who often have the edge over their global rivals .
To capitalize on the lucrative swimwear industry, there are a number of strategies houses can employ if they’re ready to dip their toes into this booming market.
Product fit and design localization
Flattering designs that reflect culture and tradition are essential. This was seen in the growth of adjacent areas, for example, underwear and athleisure. Both Neiwai and Maia Active adapt their fit to Asian sizes and rock their segments. The same rule applies to swimsuits.
“Fashionistas and younger consumers are willing to spend money on luxury swimwear with unique designs that flatter their figure,” said Amber Wu, account manager at digital marketing agency Emerging Communications. She pointed to Chinese and Korean brands (like Jinxueer, Barrel, and 5pening) that tend to understand locals better when it comes to product design.
In general, buyers tend to err on the side of being more conservative than provocative. “The beach and bikinis are not part of mainstream culture. Swimsuits or padded bikinis with tummy control are the preferred choices as mainland consumers tend to like to look sexy without being too revealing,” Wu added.
One-pieces fare better
Whether it’s her native establishment Jinxueer (which offers chic French one-piece swimsuits) or K-label barrel (who infuses an athletic aesthetic into his designs), these brands have one thing in common: all-in-one wetsuits. And when Michael Kors invited many KOLs to Hainan last October, what were they wearing? MK one-piece swimsuits, of course. See, again, the preference for being slightly more covered, rather than slightly more exposed.
In effect, Xuehua News reported that unlike the rest of the world, one-piece swimsuits are the best sellers here. “Even young girls rarely ask for bikinis” was The verdict from a long-time retailer in Jinan, Shandong province. Luxury groups must not only adapt their designs but also their visuals accordingly. H&M found out early on when they did two shoots for their 2013 campaign with Beyoncé: one showed her in a bikini and the other in a one-piece. The latter’s cover appeared on a billboard in Changchun City, while the two-part ad aired in Times Square.
Xiaohongshu is your friend
Mapping the consumer journey is crucial if you want to win over citizens who seek style inspiration in the Xiaohongshu lifestyle app. And there are many: on the platform, the hashtag #swimwearrecommendations reached 430,000 UGC instances. It is important to know and be present on their journey.
For swimwear, a viable option is to actively collaborate with platform KOLs to reach end consumers. According to Wu, British lingerie firm Agent Provocateur has done well to understand the nuances of this industry. While its main underwear line is provocative, its one-piece swimwear category fares better. Why? Monthly product priming with Xiaohongshu influencers. With young shoppers in particular relying heavily on the social app, such a strategy can maximize brand exposure.
Collaborations and recommendations
Other channels to increase product visibility and awareness include popular dramas and reality shows. Louis Vuitton’s bikini top, which appeared in the K-TV series “Singles’s Inferno”, is currently a hot item in the niche market. The pool scene in the first season of reality TV show “Viva La Romance”, where female celebrities showed off their swimsuits, has gone viral on social media. Impressed shoppers soon began searching for similar styles online.
Partnering with C-brands to create a capsule collection could facilitate luxury’s foray into the multi-billion dollar space. Today, local designers are taking advantage of this opportunity: like the luxury group Xu Zhi, which has teamed up with compatriot Neiwai, a lingerie company, to co-create a swimwear capsule for spring 2020.
To finish, if they can master all of the above, lesser-known emerging names have a real opportunity here too. A look at reviews on Xiaohongshu reveals how users actually show a greater preference for them. The hashtag #nicheswimwear has racked up over 10,000 UGC instances, compared to 700 UGC for #luxuryswimwear. Italian artisanal company La Reveche, known for adorning swimsuits with petal-shaped designs, is gaining popularity among netizens. And Canadian brand Visual Mood’s printed one-piece swimsuits are also becoming a favorite.
The right product — sow at the right time — and on the right platform. This is what is crucial for visibility. But to drive real sales, companies need to do their due diligence in gathering consumer feedback and designing culturally appropriate products.