If you had told me ten years ago that Chinese consumers were interested in buying second-hand products, I would have told you perhaps, if that second-hand coat had a Prada label and was previously worn by Lady Gaga. And yet here we are, exploring the reality that Chinese consumers are increasingly interested in ‘not-so-new-less-mainstream’ products.
We can recall that not too long ago a dark evil swept over our world, a wretched pandemic called COVID -19 that has brought most economies to a standstill. However, if we examine the luxury sector in China, sales have skyrocketed. This is largely due to the travel restrictions imposed by that the Chinese government as a measure to contain the virus. However, this rapid economic boom has come at a high price. More than ever, Millennials and Generation Z are keeping brands on their toes with their constant demand for unique, individualized products that fit their personalities. As this demand continues to grow, a new niche is emerging: the consumption of vintage products.
What could be more unique than owning a product that is a rarity and has been out of production for two decades? The desire to stand out from the herd is driving young consumers, on a quest to purchase products that tell a story. That’s why, especially in Tier 1 cities, we see a multiplication of second-hand stores with trained, smiling employees ready to tell you a story about every sweater, handbag or lamp they sell.
The most impressive store I discovered on my treasure hunt, owned by an Shanghai senior gentleman and his niece, is located in a newly developed area close to Suzhou Creek. It’s a new neighborhood full of restaurants and office buildings where everything seems to be enhanced: larger terraces factory-style offices and grandiose outlets filled to the brim with up-and-coming avant-garde Chinese designer brands.
This vintage boutique is bursting imported secondhand items, yet what caught my eye was their ingenious concept. First, you have to pay a 30 RMB fee to enter the boutique, then you can immerse yourself in the store flooded with dolls, clothes, furniture, toys, lamps, tableware and accessories. One of the most impressive items I spotted was a music box with 12 metal plates that looked like it had been salvaged from the Titanic. It came with a heavy price tag, yet for an extra 50 RMB, you can listen to a song without owning the product.
Talking to the friendly saleswoman, I learned that they started the business by creating a space office using vintage furniture and decoration. The office was flooded daily with people wanting to buy the articles displayed. Two year later, this family owns several stores throughout Shanghai, including a sophisticated restaurant in the same area, hat I highly recommend. It seems to me that the young Chinese generation is reinventing fashion trends by pushing the needle forward in the vintage niche. What started as a buzzword is actually converting into an actual trend.
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