The history of Off-White: The streetwear brand from Chicago going global
Off-White was founded by Virgil Abloh in the United States in 2012 and became a globally famous streetwear brand within a few years. Off-White in China has gained a lot of attention as streetwear is becoming more popular in the country. The brand entered the Chinese market in 2017 opening a few physical stores. The reason for the creation of this brand is that Virgil Abloh wanted to make up for the lack of combination between street trends and high-end fashion. He not only owns his own brand, but is also the founder of Chicago’s trendy store RSVP Gallery. Its boutique brands include Givenchy and 3.1 Phillip Lim. Before launching the brands, Virgil Abloh was a styling consultant of Kanye West, a famous American rapper.
Source: The Guardian, Virgil Abloh and Kanye West
The name Off-White means to start from the beginning (off to), starting from a pure white, and it also shows the determination to create the new brand. Virgil Abloh, with a tendency to be unconventional, first launched his spring and summer collection of 2014 on the Internet.
Off-White: promotion by world celebrities
Off-White is actively promoting its clothing by collaborating with international celebrities such as Rihanna and Kanye West. Off-White posts photos of celebrities wearing the brand’s clothing to its Instagram and has acquired 11 million followers.
Kanye West has become the main promoter of the brand, and Off-White’s first major public project with West was artistic direction on a collaborative album with rapper Jay-Z “Watch the Throne”. This project brought Virgil Abloh into the commercial hip-hop community. From there, another famous American rapper A$AP Rocky took part in the promotion of Off-White.
As for Off-White in China, celebrity endorsements is also the main marketing strategy. The famous Chinese model Liu Wen appeared in the outfit of this brand at the Met Gala. She has never worn denim at the Met Gala before, but her bold move impressed the Chinese fashion critics.
Source: Luxuo, Liu Wen wearing Off-White at Met Gala
Collaboration with other famous brands as an Off-White marketing strategy
Off-White collaborates with many well-known brands in order to promote their products. This includes brands such as Champion, Le Bon Marche, Selfridges, Timberland, Jimmy Choo, Rimowa, Ikea and many more. For example, the 2017 collaboration with Nike was particularly exclusive. Off-White has partnered with Nike on a series called “The Ten” – a reimagining of 10 classic Nike sneakers. Off-White now prefers selective collaboration with partners which build a brand’s cultural capital rather than just using its logo.
Source: Medium, Nike x Off-White collaboration
One such collaboration is the 1980s-inspired Sunglass Hut sunglasses collection. In 2018, the two brands introduced round frames with the Off-White logo. Another significant collaboration was with IKEA. Virgil Abloh presented this as an opportunity to create a series of millennium-style furniture.
How Off-White attracted Chinese consumers
In 2019, Off-White attracted Chinese consumers by partnering with the premium luggage brand Rimowa, a brand with 120 years of history. In 2016, Rimowa sold 80% of its shares in the LVMH Group at a sky-high price of 640 million euros. In recent years, China has become one of the fastest growing markets for Rimowa. In 2017, the brand’s global sales grew 40%, of which a quarter came from the Chinese luggage market. Chinese consumers have become the largest Rimowa shopping group in the world. This collaboration helped Off-White gain more attention from the Chinese customers.
Source: Hypebeast, Rimowa x Off-White collaboration
Love of Chinese consumers to streetwear and luxury brands contributes to popularity of Off-White in China
Which consumers does Off-White in China chose as a target?
The appearance of streetwear brands on various Chinese KOLs on reality shows has sparked a frenzy among fans who want to copy their looks. Over time, young Chinese have developed a deeper understanding of the stories and styles that underlie each streetwear label and have become their frequent customers. Chinese millennials account for 48 percent of the streetwear market in China and often spend 60 to 80 percent of their income on streetwear brands. This fact attracted Off-White to promote their brand in China.
Data Source: Hypebeast, How much on average Chinese customers spend on streetwear
For example, in 2019 Off-White launched a special Lunar New Year capsule collection to celebrate the coming year. This included men’s and women’s clothing, as well as accessories emblazoned with the symbol of the year on T-shirts, sweatshirts, bags and hats. Virgil Abloh chose to use red as it symbolizes good luck and joy in China, with peach as a compliment, which represents wealth and longevity.
The women’s collection features an elegant black pleated skirt with a red Off-White logo, as well as red leather bags with the “Good Luck” word-mark. The men’s collection features T-shirts and hoodies, as well as a red leather wallet with “Good Luck”, and red skinny jeans in denim with “Good Luck” printed on the knees.
Source: Hypebeast, Off-White Lunar New Year collection
Streetwear is gaining attention from Chinese youth
The street fashion phenomenon emerged in the US in 1980s and 1990s in the subcultural groups of the time, including graffiti, hip-hop, skateboarding, and surfing. The target group of buyers is young people, most of whom are under 25 years old. Streetwear in China bypasses traditional retail channels, undermining the long-standing definition of coolness in the fashion industry. At the beginning of its development, streetwear was very simple and became an antidote to the complex fashion styles of the time. The secret to streetwear is also very simple: T-shirts and hoodies are comfortable ways to dress that reflect your personality.
Both hip-hop and rap advocate unconventional methods of seeking inspiration. Naturally, streetwear is close to street performers and hip-hop musicians. Today, luxury streetwear brands have become a hotspot and the boundaries between original streetwear and luxury goods are gradually blurring. Most major fashion brands, whether luxury or casual, include streetwear in their collections. For example, brands such as Off-White, AMBUSH and Vetements focus on the “authenticity” of streetwear.
Digital strategy of Off-White in China
Sales through WeChat Off-White store
Source: Off-White’s mini-program on WeChat
Off-White in China actively uses online sales channels. For example, in 2020, Off-White in China launched a jeans collection on its WeChat Mini Program. This series includes denim jackets, trousers, hoodies and AirPod cases. The cost of goods ranges from 2960 to 9140 yuan.
Off-White’s official WeChat account was launched in August 2020 and posted a teaser two days before the official launch of its capsule collection. This teaser gained about 700 views in the first day. Off-White plans to regularly release special collections for WeChat in the future to attract Chinese customers. It has chosen the perfect time to launch its WeChat collection, with two of China’s biggest street fashion conventions taking place in December 2020: Innersect and Sneaker Con. Off-White’s drive to create special capsule collections for WeChat gives the brand an opportunity to appeal to street fashion lovers in China.
Off-White’s official Chinese webiste
In addition to a store on WeChat, Off-White in China has a website with e-commerce features. Buyers can see the latest innovations and product availability in physical stores. The streetwear brand has 16 stores, five in Hong Kong, three in Shanghai, two in Beijing, and outposts in cities such as Hangzhou. For Off-White, the Chinese market and Chinese consumers are very important. Over the years, China has been a key market for its’ business growth.
Label-obsessed Chinese consumers will embrace Off-White even further
China is the main growth engine for luxury apparel brands. It is becoming increasingly difficult to surprise young Chinese consumers. This explains the numerous collaborations between luxury brands. For example, Jimmy Choo with Off-White. More and more luxury brands are pushing their boundaries collaborating with other trendy brands.
Source: Elle, Jimmy Choo x Off-White collaboration
Strong interest in streetwear brands will encourage Off-White and other brands to focus on trends in Chinese retail, such as expanding online shopping and collaborating with Chinese KOLs.