As recent as two years ago, the growth of China’s luxury goods market seemed unstoppable. In 2011, CLSA, a brokerage and investment group, predicted sales of luxury goods in China would grow 25% a year and account for 19% of global demand by 2020. The prediction didn’t seem off the mark—China was already Louis Vuitton’s largest market at the time, while luxury jeweler Richemont saw a 57% increase in Asian sales in the fourth quarter of 2010. In December 2012, Bain & Co. reported that Chinese consumers accounted for 25% of global luxury sales, making them the world’s biggest purchasers of high-end goods.
But fashion is a fickle industry, and so, too, are Chinese consumers, it seems. Fast fashion—the name given to retailers like H&M and Zara, who turn around runway-inspired looks at record speeds—is a phenomenon that may be on its way out here, but not so in Asia. According to CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm, fast fashion retailers are expanding more quickly than Asia’s once predictable luxury goods market, aided in part by an emerging middle class and a growing online fashion community. Elsewhere, the Financial Times has an early look at a forthcoming Ledbury Research report on luxury markets, which confirms that demand for pricey goods in China has slowed. “Uncertainty of the Chinese situation is definitely key– it’s unknown whether it’s temporary…or the beginning of a longer-term shift due to changing consumer tastes,” a Ledbury representative tells the FT.
But if the interest in China’s new First Lady, Peng Liyuan is any indication, the decline may not be so temporary. After all, another factor contributing to the slowing growth of Asia’s luxury goods market, comprised mostly of European brands, is a growing interest in Asian designers, according to CBRE. Peng, whose fashions during an official state visit last month commanded national news, has been heralded for championing Chinese designers—a black coat she wore during the trip was quickly knocked off and sold online for a mere $80. Copycat coats, and even a fashionable new First Lady who favors no-name brands, aren’t likely to pose a serious or lasting threat to big conglomerates like LVMH in Asia. But they are shaking up luxury’s once solid grip on the market, and that’s exciting—for consumers and retailers alike.