The Chic fair in Shanghai

SHANGHAI — Buyers shrugged off China’s broader economic worries and focused on doing business with high-quality exhibitors at the spring edition of Chic Shanghai, which wrapped last week.

The fair registered more than 104,000 visitors from 68 countries and regions over its three-day run, a significant increase from the 55,000 visitors seen at the fall edition of Chic Shanghai, held last October.

High-quality products from Europe at reasonable price points proved popular, as did leather from Turkey and Brazil, as well as innovative and quality-focused local fast-fashion brands, which are currently attempting to pivot slightly higher on the quality spectrum in order to appeal to a maturing middle-class consumer base.

“Everyone is questioning the industry because it’s getting hard because of this ‘new normal’ economy and whatever, but for us it’s OK,” said Youmin Lu, chief executive of Peace Bird China, which operates out of Ningbo, near Shanghai, and is routinely among the country’s top ten garment companies by revenue.

“Actually I think it’s good. These Chinese consumers, the younger consumers are more dynamic, they are looking for innovative companies, more quality-driven products and more creative products, that’s the reason we are bring a creative collection to the younger consumers, to show them we can amaze them,” Lu said.

In total 1,300 brands exhibited their wares at the fair, with an increased presence from a number of European countries and national pavilions hosted by France, Germany, Italy, Turkey, Brazil, Peru, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan.

“It’s important for us to get bigger in China, we have opened one own-brand store in Qingdao and we want to wholesale here in China,” said Ferran Hofer, designer and partner of German brand Chafor.

“I think what we are offering, a German brand with a pricing that is between mid-range and luxury, this is what people are looking for now,” he added, also noting they had already made 10 to 20 department store and shopping mall contacts, a promising start for the brand at their first Chic Shanghai.

The fair, held in conjunction with the Intertextile apparel fabric fair at Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Center from March 16 to 18, took place at the same time as China’s national legislature was meeting in Beijing to decide the country’s economy direction for the next five years. But the focus at the fair was less on China’s poor recent economic data, and more on the growth of the country’s middle class, which is expected to propel consumption in the coming years.

One of the stated aims of the country’s 13th five-year plan, which was approved by the national legislature in Beijing during the annual “two sessions” meetings from March 5 to 16, is to double China’s per capita income from 2010 levels, by the end of the plan’s lifespan in 2020.

As Chen Dapeng, executive vice president of China’s National Garment Association and head of Chic, was quick to point out, the government’s drive to move the economy away from a reliance on exports, to more domestic consumption, is good for a market-driven industry like apparel.

“China is open, the industry is open. All of the countries, brands and companies from around the world want to come to China,” he said.

“The Chinese market is still increasing, the total demand is increasing, but the rate of this increase has slowed down, it’s not like five years ago, but it is still increasing.”

CNGA’s own statistics put the growth rate of China’s garment industry at 9.6 percent in 2015, outpacing the country’s overall growth. This being said, the first two months of 2016 have seen the growth rate slip slightly, to 8.4 percent for January and February — the most recent figures available.

Chen isn’t deterred by the slowdown, and is quick to point out the opportunities that are inherent in a maturing marketplace.

“The coming five or 10 years will be a time for China’s garment market and brands to mature,” Chen said.

“People say China is a bad market, I say it’s a great market. It’s the best market in the world.”

Though they didn’t break out percentages, organizers sited an increase in international buyers and talked up the number of orders placed at the fair, specifically saying French retailer Carrefour placed “an enormous order.”