· Traditional hanfu clothing is enjoying a renaissance among millennials and Gen Zs
· E-commerce is enabling enthusiasts to buy their supplies despite niche status
It is becoming more common in recent years to see people in China wear traditional hanfu that date back centuries in fashion.
Hanfu — which translates literally to “Han clothing” — refers to ancient attire worn by the ethnic group that makes up the majority of the Chinese population today. Think long flowing robes, wide sleeves and crossed collars. Throw in a paper umbrella to complete the look. If scenes from the latest Mulan trailer come to mind, you are not far off.
Wearing traditional dress that hark back thousands of years might seem bizarre, but hanfu is enjoying something of renaissance among a small group of young people. It’s estimated that more than 2 million consumers are into hanfu, most of them born after 1990. These young people are also driving a several-fold increase in industry sales.
While hanfu’s rebirth may find its roots in factors such as a desire by young people for self-expression and growing interest in ancient history and culture, niche subcultures are thriving thanks to the development of e-commerce. Unlike brick-and-mortar stores, sellers can reach buyers who live beyond the geographical proximity of a physical store through e-commerce platforms like Pinduoduo (PDD), which has more than 600 million users.
PDD recently partnered with Cao County, famous for producing hanfu, to introduce a line of clothing inspired by the wall paintings at Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And to think that for almost 400 years during the Qing dynasty, hanfu faced the threat of vanishing from Chinese society. It was outlawed when the Manchu ruled China from 1636 to 1911, and fell out of favor thereafter as Chinese adopted modern dress. It wasn’t until the early 2000s when interest in the traditional clothing began to revive.
Today, hanfu associations are found in many Chinese cities. There are hanfu clubs in universities. Interest in hanfu has spread beyond China’s borders to places like Singapore, where a band of young women have formed what they call the Hanfugirls Collective.
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It has also been a way for people to find community. Every year, tens of thousands descend upon the canal town of Xitang in Zhejiang province for a gathering of hanfu enthusiasts.
There, strangers from all walks of life, brought together by a common passion, call each other tongpao — people who share the same robe. It is a fitting way to address one of their own.