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Fashion

Why founder of the Chinese Hypebeast thinks next global streetwear wave will begin in China

  • Style-savvy, high-spending Chinese millennials are eager to define their own streetwear style, says CEO of Yoho!, a major influence on the culture
  • Since it began importing streetwear in 2005, Yoho! has seen a surge of interest, and thinks it’s time the flow was reversed and China set tone for the world
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 8:47am
UPDATED : Saturday, 15 December, 2018, 8:19pm

In China today it’s impossible to miss the new wave of young, hip streetwear devotees spreading their influence.

From hip-hop culture, fuelled by celebrities such as Kris Wu and the Higher Brothers, to a slew of luxury brand collaborations aimed at Chinese millennials, the signs are everywhere – but before all of that, there was Yoho!

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Some insiders consider Yoho! the birthplace of alternative fashion and youth culture in China. Launched in 2005, Yoho! was the definitive source for all things trendy in the celebrity-driven fashion world. Today, its influence is far from underground, spanning a WeChat platform, an e-commerce site, Yoho! Buy, and Mars, a lifestyle app spotlighting China’s hippest cafes, bars, and boutiques. It generated more than three billion yuan (US$431 million) in revenue in 2017.

Yoho! has been a key resource for importing streetwear culture from the West and other parts of Asia. This includes collaborations between the platform and a wealth of streetwear icons, from the founding father of Japanese streetwear NIGO and American rapper Pharrell Williams to graffiti artist Futura and Justin Bieber’s stylist Karla Welch.

The turning point for Yoho! came in 2013, when it introduced female-focused fashion magazine Yoho! Girl, bringing women under 25 into a space that had previously focused on men, much like Hong Kong's streetwear resource Hypebae. The magazine is now a space for KOLs (key opinion leaders) and fashion designers such as Wenjun Lau and Angel Chen.

That same year, Yoho! opened its doors to an international audience with its business-to-consumer Yo’hood trade show, a three-day mecca for all things streetwear in Shanghai. Since its first edition, Yo’hood has seen significant growth. Attendance and brand participation at the three-day event have nearly tripled, with more international brands joining in on the action and hoping to get a slice of strong millennial spending power.

Dubbed a “global fashion carnival”, the latest edition of Yo’Hood was full of Weibo-friendly backdrops and immersive experiences fit for internet celebrities set on sharing the streetwear lifestyle, not just fashion, with their fans.

“Yo’hood has become more than a streetwear trade show,” Liang Chao, Yoho! founder and CEO, tells the Post.

“It’s also a social-worthy retail space composed of popular shows, a food market and an art exhibition, encouraging digital-obsessed Chinese millennials to clock in and communicate.”

This social side is just one part of Yoho!’s growing retail and communications operation. The group recently secured a US$25 million investment from C Ventures, the venture capital fund co-launched last year by the cultural entrepreneur behind Hong Kong’s K11 Art Mall, Adrian Cheng. Yoho! joined a millennial fashion portfolio that includes Moda Operandi, Flont and Bandier, as well as media platforms Dazed and Nowness.

Cheng and C Ventures co-founder Clive Ng plan to leverage K11’s reach to strengthen Yoho!'s retail strategies. They recently hosted a three-week Yoho! pop-up in Shanghai, “bringing in local and international brands that were lesser known or unknown in China”, Ng said.

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Yoho! is also exploring an expansion of its stores. It has a boutique in Nanjing called Yoho! Store, as well as a smaller retail space in Shanghai that opened in September, called Yoho! Blu. The Yoho! group has plans to expand its physical footprint to 100 stores in first-, second- and third-tier cities over the next three years.

Plans for bolstering Yoho!'s editorial message are also in the works. “We will be reaching out to our portfolio companies to integrate both media and editorial as well as other e-commerce platforms like Moda Operandi,” Ng said.

“We will also be open to working with our own portfolio companies like Dazed and Galore, but also with HighSnobiety and Hypebeast. I believe partnerships and cross media platforms are positive for the streetwear culture.”

Ng also hints that it will be looking to “reverse the social e-commerce flow towards the West”.

The strength of China’s streetwear scene is telling. According to a joint study by Nielsen and Chinese fashion buyer shopping platform OFashion, growth in spending on streetwear was nearly four times higher than that on non-streetwear fashion brands between 2015 and 2017, with Off-White and Supreme seeing the fastest growth – even though Supreme does not officially have retail channels in China.

Liang said overseas streetwear brands such as Vans and Nike, and high-end streetwear brands such as Human Made, A Cold Wall and Undercover, are trending in China today.

On the Yoho! platform, international labels such as Stussy and Human Made, as well as sportswear labels such as Adidas Originals and Converse, perform particularly well.

But local flavour is starting to mix in, with celebrity-owned brands such as Madness (owned by Hong Kong actor and singer Shawn Yue), SMG and Stay Real, and brands such as Attempt, FMACM, and Random Event.

Yoho! hopes to continue fostering this diverse mix and is two years into its streetwear brand incubator Yo'Hope, which was launched “to help young designers and start-up brands solve marketing and supply chain problems with our one-of-a-kind business strategy”.

As the global fashion industry debates where streetwear heads next, China’s affluent, style-savvy millennials just might be the driving force of its next iteration.

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“The target audience of the streetwear industry, Chinese millennials are becoming more and more international and [individual],” Liang says. “They've got their own philosophy, concept and lifestyle. That’s why they are more eager to define their own streetwear style than ever before.”