Hardcore style
By Elsbeth van Paridon  ·  2022-12-26  ·   Source: NO.52 DECEMBER 29, 2022
Skiing aficionados contrast and compare the best related apparel brands on popular Chinese lifestyle and e-commerce platform Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book), from luxury labels to those dedicated to extreme outdoor sports (SCREENSHOT)

December is the most wonderful time of the year—to flip through the pages of young China's "2022 lookbook" and remember the trends that made up the year in fashion. Flashing before the eyes: a barrage of fishnet—though not tights—and other gauzy fabrics, all-weather-proof outerwear that lets one blend in with one's natural surroundings, and many more items that seemed to be pulled straight from the wardrobe of British adventurer and TV presenter Bear Grylls. Given these style statements have been spotted not only in the great outdoors but also throughout the nation's urban jungles, the question is: What has inspired China's sudden lust for layers?

A hike in hashtags

Earthy-tone safari jackets, multi-pocket vests and drawstring bucket hats... These made up the typical mood board of the fall season's mainland mode. Referred to as shanxichuanda (literally, mountain-style outfit) or mountaincore, this look, which weaves together camping-inspired utility wear with urban chic, was one example of how the outdoor activity boom was reflected in young, happening China.

Apart from winter sports, which skyrocketed in popularity during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics—we'll slalom back to that shortly—stringent COVID-19 control measures throughout the year left more and more people craving a breath of fresh air outside their homes' four walls. Chinese Gen Zs and millennials have increasingly turned to open-air activities and sports like hiking and frisbeeing for physical and spiritual wellbeing and reconnecting with nature.

Though the term already existed in the early 2010s to describe Japan's urban outdoor trend yama style—yama meaning mountain in Japanese—mountaincore didn't hit China's mainstream until COVID-19 drove millions of young Chinese to spend their holidays hiking and camping outside their own cities instead of holidaying in other parts of China or abroad. Searches for "glamping" surged 623 percent year on year in April 2022, according to Chinese e-commerce platform Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book). A November report from the platform also listed shanxishenghuo (mountaincore life) as one of this year's top 10 emerging lifestyle movements, Jing Daily, the leading digital publication on luxury consumer trends in China, wrote that same month.

Today, Little Red Book's "mountaincore" hashtag is filled with over 30,000 aficionados and aspiring influencers graciously sharing with followers how to combine utility shirts, stretchy jeans and logo caps to create looks that can be worn at home, on camping weekends or to strut your stuff through any megacity's coolest neighborhoods. Often mixed with streetwear and a genderless vibe, the style resembles many young Chinese's ideal selves: nature-loving, relaxed and free. Funnily enough, this appears to be precisely in line with how the powers-that-be envisage ideal members of the nation's younger generations.

On November 21, China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued a national development guideline on camping, a first for the sector. The guideline encouraged cities to designate public green spaces for camping, while rural and sightseeing areas were encouraged to establish larger camping bases.

These most recent public sector initiatives show the government is beginning to explore the lucrative potential of these alfresco lifestyle trends, mostly fueled by demand from young Chinese consumers. And fashion has simply followed suit. The "outdoor outfit" and "camping outfit" hashtags on Little Red Book had garnered 37.9 and 24.5 million views, respectively, as of late November.

Of course, there are always those who like to lift the stakes to the next in-vogue level…

Screenshot taken on December 20 shows content under the "what to wear when skiing" hashtag on Little Red Book, a source of inspiration for those seeking to stand out on the slopes this winter season (SCREENSHOT)

The outdoor glow-up

Enter: gorpcore—think mountaincore after one too many matchas. If you're wondering what on Earth that is, you've come to the right place.

The term first appeared in the United States in 2017 to describe the rise in popularity of functional gear normally only seen on hikers and mountain climbers. Named after the colloquial term for trail mix, good ol' raisins and peanuts or GORP for short, it elevates practical items to stylish must-haves.

Technically, when discussing gorpcore, you're talking about items designed for extreme outdoor activities such as skiing and hiking—not voguish outdoor wear for glamping. They've been used to keep wearers warm and dry rather than showing off their fashion credentials... until now.

Largely thanks to high-profile celebs and influencers posing and posting in their oversized fleeces and gilets on social media, gorpcore has now become one of China's hottest fall/winter wardrobe trends.

The best shackets (a crossover between a shirt and jacket), the finest winter hats, thermal socks and nylon bags… it's all about function first. Gorpcore is also very much a genderless look, which means that you can shop from all categories to mix and match to your fad-driven delight.

Of course, many brands soon took advantage of the opening to snuggle up to young Chinese consumers. Take the example of gaming console brand Xbox and Chinese gaming platform GameCores, which teamed up to release merchandise made exclusively for Gorpcore-lovers. Released on Alibaba's online shopping mega-platform Taobao on October 18, the collection features fashionable outerwear from windbreakers to anorak jackets and functional accessories in shades of green, black and white. And fans are game for this. Beijing-based Song Yishan, one of this author's artist friends with a proclivity for multiplayer online battle arena adventures, said, "The whole layer-upon-layer trend is very straightforward. It's tomboyish, but not overly masculine. A bit of a Western '90s grunge vibe with a warmer twist. Plus, I think GameCores releasing an outerwear-inspired collection was something cool and new, not just a ruse based on a trending whim to seduce consumers."

Song also happens to be an avid snowboarder; a rather unsurprising fact given China's snow sports sector is another fashion game changer that has been reaching new altitudes.

The cool crowd

Double 11, which ran from October 24 to November 11, 2022, is China's largest e-commerce shopping festival. According to Tmall, a Taobao spin-off, last year's edition saw four major growth categories: outdoor sports, pet supplies, collectible toys and jewelry. Under those four categories, the sales of 385 brands were worth over 100 million yuan ($14 million).

During just the first hour of Double 11 on Tmall, sales of running garments increased by 45.2 percent and that of camping equipment by 115 percent. Sales of ski equipment and apparel went up by 61.9 percent.

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, held in February, created a pulsating winter apparel niche market in China for novice adrenaline seekers. The nation's budding winter sports devotees hit the slopes because of an amplified and advertised awareness of open-air sports. And they did so with flair.

For branded ski apparel, opportunity runs rife in this young fashion sector. The winter sports boom has also come at a time when status and style deliver cool statements and related products cater to consumers beyond the ski slopes—enter après-ski outfits, suitable for mountain chalets or just an average minus-6-degree afternoon spent in the capital's hottest districts.

And as Beijing's suburban ski slopes opened up again on December 6, 2022 for a new season of chic shenanigans in the snow, the Little Red Book numbers reflect the passion for pizzazz: As of December 18, the "what to wear for skiing" hashtag featured over 136,000 notes, tips and tricks to cut the most fab figure that will leave everybody in your powder. In Song's words, "If I'm gonna take a tumble, I'd prefer to do so in style." Now that's hardcore. 

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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