In Label Networks’ 3rd annual China Youth Culture Study 2009 covering 15-30-year-olds across key cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, despite the global economic downturn, there are new markets with great possibilities, especially for American brands that represent the essence of street culture, authenticity, freedom, and success. In the past 4 years, Japan, China, South Korea, and Taiwan trends have been leaning towards obtaining authentic Americana brands ranging from footwear such as the popularity of Red Wing and Timberland in Japan, as well as “workwear” such as Carhartt, Dickies, and even John Deere brands in Asia and parts of Western and Northern Europe. Even in the United States, the move towards old-school traditional brands is growing strong such as the new demand among today’s generation for Woolrich, Pendleton, Bass, Sperry Topsiders, and Lee.

One reason for this is that an entirely new generation of consumers are looking for what’s considered to be classic, rich in history, durable, and yet fashionable when worn with other pieces. And the worse the economy gets, the stronger this sort of movement takes shape -similar to the rise of vintage and thrift finds in America (which has not yet caught on in Japan and China for several reasons but may soon find a foothold). Another reason for this can be attributed to the rise in a Chinese version of rap/Hip-Hop and DJ culture. More closely associated with East Coast new-school than a historical ’80’s rap and excessive bling version, artists such as Jay Chow, DJ Wordy (a DNC Champion in ’05 and ’06), Nasty Ray, DJ Fat Jay, and others spinning at clubs like Yu Gong Shi in Beijing, have also contributed to the inspiration in styles among males, as well as females wearing more denim pants, denim skirts, American styles in T-shirts, jackets, and footwear. For the After %uFFFD80s and After %uFFFD90s gen, being street fashionable is key to one%uFFFDs identity and a symbol of the country%uFFFDs new middle class affluence–like drinking coffee at Starbucks or visiting internet cafes and working on one%uFFFDs avatar. Fashion is of course a key aspect to this relatively new lifestyle.

In China, while spending is much lower on many fashion brands on average than in America, even with lower price points paid on average for a pair of denim jeans, T-shirts, footwear, and other items (to be revealed in the China Study), the sheer volume of young people within these age groups of 15-30 mean that there’s a vast marketplace among today’s China youth culture. Economic reforms over the past two decades have resulted in an entirely new generation that has grown up in the midst of such reforms and are demanding more: More access to the Internet and information, electronics, sports, American-influenced music, fashion -and particularly for recognized Western brands. For American brands, especially those with online retail components, this represents one of the strongest and fastest growing new markets.

Chart from Label Networks%uFFFD China Youth Culture Study 2009

In this story, we take a fresh look at data from our China Youth Culture Study 2009 to be released in full in mid-January as it pertains to where young people are now finding out about new fashion brands and styles and how this can be an advantage for American brands seeking new market opportunities.

In our 2006 China Youth Culture Study, we asked “Where do you find out about new fashion styles and brands mostly?” That year, 24.6% of 15-30-year-olds found out about new fashion brands and styles mostly from TV. This was at the time, the highest in all of Label Networks’ Global Youth Culture Studies to respond with TV as a lead source of fashion. This was followed closely by 23.6% that said Magazines, 20.7% who said Friends, 16.3% Internet, 3.6% Stores, and 3.2% who said Music Videos. Interesting aspects of these results are that young people in China have a low percentage who find out about new fashion brands and styles from Stores (especially if compared with our European Youth Culture Study that name Stores among the top). As we noted in the Study in 2005 in the special Fashion Report on China, stores and store brand names are not often considered leading locations for finding out about trends. In addition, store loyalty and therefore remembering the name of the store is not as high in China, which is a similar trait as Japan. While of course there are some stores that have large followings and young people remember the name, in general, smaller shops and stores are not always associated by their name, but more by their location, as in, this part of the city is known for many stores that sell denim.

Fast forward to 2009 and when asked the same question, “Where do you find out about new fashion brands and styles mostly?” the #1 location is now Internet at 20.7%, followed by Friends at 18.9% followed closely by TV shows at 18.5%, Magazines at 17.9%, and On the Street at 10%. Stores rank at 3.2%, dropping still lower. Of course the most notable trait is that Internet is the primary location for young people today in China to find out about new fashion brands and styles, indicating the much greater opportunity for international brands to reach a new audience.

One great example of this comes from our China Youth Culture Study in 2006 whereby Footlocker was named as one of the top “stores” that young people liked to buy sneakers and shoes from -even though Footlocker at the time didn’t even have a store yet on mainland China. (A similar response happened with Vans among Brazilian youth culture when Vans started to showcase their surf footage online and suddenly discovered a vast new audience among young fans in Brazil.) With the rise in popularity of internet cafes, places such as Starbucks with internet access as key social gathering places, plus the wide range of video game players online in China (and other parts of Asia), this demographic is extremely internet savvy and if anything, craves more access to the greater world -including fashion brands and styles from other locations.

However depending on the demographic you’re trying to reach, there are differences by gender and age groups. For example, males seek fashion brands and styles in higher percentages online than females currently, whereas Magazines are the #1 source for young females in China. But this too is slowly starting to change. Overall, for even the most localized trendsetting brands, it’s of vital important to know what’s taking shape among China’s youth marketplace as the ripple effects from the sheer heft of their size despite the down economy continue to shape global economics and opportunities.

Label Networks’ 3rd China Youth Culture Study 2009 is free for Premium Subscribers of 2009. For more information, email; (323) 630-4000.