While wealthy Chinese women are purchasing Ferraris and Maseratis, their men are buying moisturiser and man-bags.
Chinese men avoid losing face with boom in sales of male grooming products
BEIJING // Mao Zedong's famous saying that "women hold up half the sky" may not be reflected in the highest echelons of the Communist Party, which remain male dominated, but the sexes are approaching equality in a way that seems highly appropriate for modern-day China: as consumers.
In car showrooms, posh stores and, perhaps even more surprisingly, in the beauty-product aisles of supermarkets, the spending of men and women appears more equal than in many more developed nations.
Sales of male grooming products in China are set to increase by almost a third each year until 2014, growth that is five times as fast as in North America, according to Euromonitor, a market analysis company. This year alone, total sales of male grooming products in the country are expected to reach nearly 1.75 billion yuan (Dh993.9 million).
That boom has been fuelled by men such as Wang Yabin, 31, whose face is impressively unlined for someone who has entered his fourth decade, possibly because he has smeared moisturiser on his skin twice a day for the past nine years.
Mr Wang, a resident of Beijing, happily shells out 350 yuan every few months for moisturiser.
"If I have a beautiful face, maybe I will find a beautiful girl," he said with a laugh. "It's to keep my face looking young, so that if people look at me, they will feel I have the energy to handle life."
The Chinese men who are using specialist skincare products are mostly aged from about 20 to 40, he surmises.
"In this age they try to find a girlfriend or a wife and so they want the best face," he said. "Chinese young people like to test the new brands or new technology for your body or for your face."
Hou Haiyan, 50, a sales assistant in an eastern Beijing supermarket, said it was becoming "very common for men to buy these products".
In a promotional brochure produced by Nivea and distributed in Beijing supermarkets, two of the six pages are dedicated to products for men. Stores have special displays of L'Oreal's "Men Expert" products. Even neighbourhood stores sell "Icy Charcoal Face Wash" and "Moisture Veil".
Zhang Yueqiang, 29, who works at a financial company and uses face creams, said: "Everybody cares about their looks and health. Men want to feel confident, that's why they look after their skin.
"Nowadays, with the improvements in the economy, so many more men can afford these, and there is more pressure on men than before. That's why a lot of men care about their face."
Men in China have also been buying "man bags", which their counterparts in western Europe or North America may be more hesitant to carry.
Victor Luis, president of the bag manufacturer Coach Retail International, told the Los Angeles Times that 45 per cent of the $1.2bn sales in the Chinese luxury handbag market are to men, more than six times sales in the US.
Just as men are encroaching on what has been female purchasing territory, women are splashing the cash on items that traditionally men take an interest in, especially cars. According to Forbes, women buy one fifth of Ferraris sold in China and almost one third of Maseratis, against less than one in ten in Europe, statistics that are less surprising when you consider that a third of China's millionaires are women.
John Zeng, director of Asia vehicle forecasting for the consultancy JD Power and Associates, said: "In the big cities, the social status of females is pretty much equal to the males, so I don't see any difference or hurdle to prevent the females from buying cars."
Indeed, such is the importance of women car buyers that several years ago the manufacturer Geely launched a model, the Haixuan, that was marketed as designed by, and aimed at, women. There was even a cut-out so the brake pedal could be operated by women wearing stiletto heels.
Zhang Liqing, a customs official and the wife of a businessman, is the kind of wealthy female buyer carmakers are keen to attract. She drives a Mercedes. "The women decide what to buy. We make our own decisions," she said, clutching a Hermes handbag and wearing a Frank Muller watch.