Although he is the chairman of one of China's most well-known apparel brands, 52-year-old Zhang Jiangping still remembers and relishes the joy of having new clothes in the 1970s.
In the early years of New China, people would struggle to afford enough clothing for warmth. Chinese children born during that period craved the Spring Festival partly because it was one of the rare occasions to get a new set of clothing.
Urban residents spent about 33.1 yuan (about 4.65 U.S. dollars) on clothing on average in 1956, only enough to buy about 38 feet of cotton cloth, less than one foot of woolen and satin cloth and one pair of shoes. Farmers' average spending on clothing only stood at 7.8 yuan in 1954, data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed.
Patches were a common on clothes, while colors were rare. "Almost all clothes were in gray, blue and green," Zhang recalled. "We could only buy cloth with ration coupons."
Supply of clothing was boosted after China kicked off reform and opening-up in 1978, so was the taste for fashion. Overseas garment styles and fabric such as jeans were followed by avid Chinese fans.
Zhang began his apparel career by becoming an apprentice at a garment factory in 1984. At the call of the market economy, Zhang later left the factory to dig gold in the fast growing apparel market.
Starting from selling popular clothes at roadside, Zhang's business kept growing bigger amid surging demand for clothes of various patterns and fabric. Inspired by an overseas business trip in 1995, Zhang and his associates registered the brand "PEACEBIRD" to tap the country's emerging casual wear sector.
China's apparel market soared after 1978, becoming one of the world's largest garment producers and exporters. Urban residents spent about 1,808 yuan on average in 2018, surging 53.6 times compared with 1956, while that in rural areas reached 648 yuan, up 82 times over 1954, NBS data showed.
Powered by the country's continuous garment consumption upgrading, Zhang's company has risen to a fast-growing household Chinese apparel brand with more than 4,000 stores across the country and billions in annual revenue.
Besides rising purchase power, Chinese consumers are showing growing appreciation of domestic brands, which now boast innovative designs and creative storytelling of Chinese culture, tradition and history.
Three-quarters of Chinese consumers reported preferring or somewhat preferring local brands of apparel and footwear over foreign brands, a survey from McKinsey & Company showed.
Zhang attributed the preference shift to Chinese people's increasing self-confidence over the country's economic rise and profound history and culture. "Young Chinese are confident and open-minded."
After following suit for decades, Chinese garment brands such as Li-Ning are seeking spotlight on the global fashion stage.
PEACEBIRD made its first high-profile international appearance by attending the New York Fashion Week along with other Chinese peers in 2018. This year, the company attended the event and the Paris Fashion Week within just one month to break cultural boundaries and integrate the latest youth fashion trends to showcase "Chinese Design."
"China does not see its future in the lowest-margin parts of the value chain, acting as the factory to the world. It is moving up the ladder to more valuable production and broadening its focus beyond exporting finished goods to advanced economies," McKinsey & Company and the Business of Fashion magazine said in a joint report.
"I have confidence about that," Zhang said. "Someday our label will not be 'Made in China,' but 'Designed in China.' "