By Adina Laura Achim
According to Hurun‘s Global Rich List 2018, Beijing is the “Billionaire Capital of the World.” China impresses not only through astounding growth in wealth (the country recently added 210 new billionaires to its UHNWI list) but also through the number of female billionaires: out of 184 self-made female billionaires in the world, 78 percent are from China. Stats and commentary indeed demonstrate that Chinese women are driven to work in high-powered jobs, they drive forward industries such as luxury cars, and according to a 2017 Mafengwo consumption report, are responsible for 4.6 times as much travel retail purchases as male travellers.
As stated by Swiss multinational private bank Julius Bär in the Wealth Report Asia 2018, the number of women occupying high-level positions in China is rapidly increasing. Moreover, Malaysia and China are the only countries in the region where 35 percent of businesses have women in senior management positions. Evidently, the evolving consumer landscape and the rise of the sheconomy are pressuring luxury brands to get off the beaten path and create innovative and unprecedented long-term strategies.
Women like China’s First Lady Peng Liyuan, Apple’s VP and Managing Director of Greater China Isabel Ge Mahe, CEO of China and Co-CEO of Asia Pacific for Morgan Stanley Wei Christianson, and CEO of Ctrip Jane Jie Sun are reshaping not only China but also the global market. They made history by breaking the glass ceiling and their leadership qualities and personal success transformed them into overnight celebrities. In fact, many of the items these women were seen wearing promptly sold out online. Additionally, they have the power to build or deconstruct brands. Chinese couturier Ma Ke became a household name after becoming the First Lady’s favourite designer while the “Liyuan-style” fashion has conquered hearts and gathered legions of fans.
While these powerful ladies have blazed trails, while it should be noted that female power-dressing has long-been present in Chinese society. Individuals showed their status and power through elaborate garments and unique styles, and in the new age of women empowerment female leaders could communicate their success through well-fitted designer suits, luxury accessories and business wear dresses. As The Wall Street Journal points out, “power dressing at the workplace has mercifully evolved since 1988’s “Working Girl,” in which Sigourney Weaver weathered Wall Street in heinous, shoulder-padded blazers,” and the evolution is even more striking in China.
Chinese businesswomen select Armani, Chengdu-born luxury womenswear designer Lulu Liu or luxury brands known for their feminist agenda but also for their sartorial skills such as Chloé, Celine, and Dior. Broadly, it’s well known that premium brands should focus on millennials and the rapidly expanding middle-class, but more specifically, what do powerful Chinese women want?
Jing Daily links the girl boss identity to media portrayals of strong female characters that “have been proliferating over the past few years, which has contributed to Chinese women’s expectations to want it all.” In fact, the recent release of Chinese historic dramas with powerful female characters such as Chu Qiao in Princess Agent, Bai Qian in Eternal Love, Fu Yao in The Legend of Fuyao or Sun Li in Empresses in the Palace created a media frenzy by promoting the image of independent, strong-willed and powerful women. Additionally, the success of social media campaigns such as “WoYeShi” (我也是) and #RiceBunny show that Chinese feminism is on the rise – in its own unique way. Taobao’s recent research shows that power suits for women have seen a 317 percent increase in the first quarter of 2019.
Luxury brands are ideally placed to speak to this demographic, with some cleverly linking fashion, design, and luxury together, such as Audi sponsoring authoritative events such as The Hong Kong Fashion Extravaganza.
Smart players in the beauty sector have realised that it’s not just about the look but about the attitude of accomplished women and their motivational stories. Procter & Gamble-owned SK-II started with the highly successful marketing campaign #changedestiny, which was famously followed by the Marriage Market Takeover, highlighting what it means to be a Sheng Nv or ‘left over woman’ in China. In the 2019 Timelines docu-series, SK-II discussed the idea of living a liberating existence and overcoming social pressure. The powerful ads support the emancipation of women while proving that SK-II is committed to feminism, and wants to build a community of emancipated, self-reliant women. It should be noted that SK-II’s inspirational testimony is in contrast to the femvertising or the selling of feminist concepts that became trendy in the #metoo era.
The jewellery industry is a segment attentive to the needs of the affluent female demographic, and according to De Beers, “female empowerment” now drives demand for jewellery. Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group’s spokesperson told The Luxury Conversation that after observing the growth in women’s purchasing power and the rise in consumer expectations, the group has extended the brand positioning and built a multi-brand strategy “to cater to different customer segments and deliver experience-driven retail offerings.” Nowadays, Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group carries female-specific brands, such as Hearts on Fire and Soinlove. Hearts on Fire is “a U.S. premium diamond brand with an exquisite craftsmanship that carries design-oriented fashion jewelry for our sophisticated women customers,” and Soinlove is an affordable luxury jewelry brand that targets the glamorous millennial consumer. As The Luxury Conversation explored previously, actress Yuqi Zhang (featured image above) grew her social media value not through her beauty, but through her financial acumen and investment smarts.
According to research by De Beers, in China, the female self-purchase trend “now accounts for around one-third (32 percent) of pieces acquired and more than a quarter (28 per cent) of value.” Furthermore, in the 2018 Diamond Insight Report, De Beers mentioned that younger diamond buyers have shifted their demand toward emerging brands because of “their desire to express their individual personalities through the products and services they buy.” As a result, jewellery brands that have an inclusive message and empower modern women to express their individual qualities are succeeding in China.
Evidently, the women empowerment movement presented an unique opportunity for traditional jewellery companies that were gasping for air. One company that jumped on the female self-purchase trend was New York-based jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. After years of disappointing sales and lower revenues, the American retailer found itself in distress, being in dire need of an upgrade; thus, it re-emerged as a company sensible to the women self-purchase trend. In fact, in 2018 Tiffany & Co chose actress and fashion sensation Ni Ni as an ambassador for the Paper Flowers ad campaign. The choice of Ni Ni, a driven and successful woman as a brand partner signaled the bond between the American jewellery company and independent, dynamic women. Tiffany & Co are in no doubt of China’s power now.
The jewellery industry is not alone in its quest to conquer the hearts of successful and independent women. Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba Group is world famous for being the biggest TechFin company in the world with a staggering $150 billion valuation. The Hangzhou-based company is also a real disruptor being ahead of the innovation curve and a leader in social entrepreneurship. In fact, Ant Financial provides inclusive finance services to individuals and SMEs, and is tirelessly working on empowering women around the world, especially in the areas of sports, Artificial Intelligence, and tech training. In July, the company announced a 1 billion yuan ($145 million) initiative to support the development of women’s football in China. According to a spokesperson of the company, Alipay wants to bring “technology, funds and resources to better support the development of women’s soccer in China.”
On a separate note, Alipay Foundation is also launching The Wind Rider Project, an initiative that endorses and supports girl’s soccer in rural China. Additionally, through the Alipay Foundation, and a joint partnership with Alibaba AI Labs and the China Women’s Development Foundation (CWDF), the company is bringing the “A-Idol Initiative” to underdeveloped areas of the country. Through this partnership, “participants are entitled to free training courses on labelling and curating data, which is imperative to machine learning and the development of AI.”
These female-centric philanthropy projects show a commitment to advancing women and speeding up their personal development, which in turn shows Chinese society’s advances in women’s rights and aim to grow the next generation of trailblazing, goal-oriented ladies through female-focused projects.
Back toward the business world, overall spending by Chinese women has grown by 81 percent in the past five years to $670 billion, according to Goutai Junan. This all culminates to show that now and in the future, the sheconomy will develop even further, supporting sustainable economic growth in China, and reinvigorating the global luxury industry. The future is female.