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    A Shanghai Startup’s Fashion Twist: Matching Outfits for Pets and Owners

    When GIGIWAWA was founded in 2020, matching outfits for pets and their owners was largely unfamiliar in China. But now, this niche market has seen a significant surge, with even established brands expanding their collections.

    SHANGHAI — In 2019, Lu Yangyang, fresh out of grad school with a fashion degree, was searching for her niche in the business world. That’s when she saw an untapped opportunity in China’s booming pet market: While pets were often dressed fashionably, their owners lacked the option to coordinate their outfits.

    One year later, Lu launched her fashion brand GIGIWAWA in Shanghai, designed specifically to fill this gap, offering matching clothes for pets and their owners. 

    “The term ‘gigiwawa’ expresses the intimacy between pets and their owners,” 30-year-old Lu told Sixth Tone. “It’s like a ‘parent-child’ relationship. People love their children unconditionally and give without expecting anything in return. The same is true for pets.” 

    And in Shanghai, a city buzzing with fashion trends and pet-friendly spaces, GIGIWAWA found its perfect audience. The brand quickly resonated with young, stylish pet owners, who saw their pets not just as companions, but as integral parts of their lifestyle and personal expression. 

    When Lu launched GIGIWAWA in 2020, the concept of matching outfits for pets and their owners was largely unfamiliar in China. But now, Lu says there are over 10 new brands in this sector, predominantly small businesses. Other brands that initially focused only on pet apparel have even expanded to include coordinated attire. 

    Moreover, established brands such as Muji and Bananain have also entered the niche, introducing pet lines that complement the owner’s attire. “Having more players in the market can enhance consumer understanding of pet fashion,” Lu says. “We can’t do this alone. It requires a collective effort from the entire market.”

    The idea for GIGIWAWA stemmed from Lu’s personal experiences. In Shenyang, her hometown in the northeastern Liaoning province, her family’s Pomeranian was regularly dressed in stylish outfits and accessories. And among her friends, Lu recognized a growing enthusiasm for pet fashion. 

    But while pets had a variety of clothing options, there were no matching alternatives for the owners. “I saw there was a need, not just among my friends but for many pet owners,” says Lu. 

    Lu relocated to Shanghai in August 2019 and, with support from a startup subsidy provided by the Shanghai government, launched GIGIWAWA in 2020. Currently, the firm has four employees and sells their merchandise on e-commerce platforms, in pet stores, and at conventions. 

    While pet-owner matching outfits represent a specialized niche, Lu says Shanghai’s welcoming environment for innovative concepts proved beneficial. The city hosts large pet-related expos and exhibitions annually, and the increasing number of pet-friendly malls and facilities has earned it a reputation as a pet-friendly city in China.

    The pet market in urban China has seen significant growth in recent years. In 2022, the number of pets reached 116.55 million, with the consumer market size surging to 270 billion yuan ($38 billion), an 8.7% increase from the previous year. 

    The pet clothing market has expanded as well, exceeding 3.5 billion yuan in 2020. With more Chinese families owning pets and an increasing demand for personalized and customized pet clothing, industry analysts expect continued growth in both market size and rate.

    This surge in the pet market reflects changing lifestyle preferences. Young Chinese increasingly prefer living independently, opting for pets over traditional milestones like marriage or having children. 

    Similarly, many older adults are turning to pets for companionship after their children move out. Lu sees this demographic shift as a key driver for the growing demand for pet products and services. 

    Building a brand

    Despite the thriving market, Lu admits that venturing into a new niche business wasn’t easy. “The most challenging part of entrepreneurship was finding a designer who could really bring the brand’s soul to life,” she says. 

    And after multiple interviews with prospective candidates that didn’t lead to the right fit, Lu turned to a friend. “At the time, she worked for a well-known clothing company, but after hearing my idea, she quit and joined me,” says Lu.

    Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck shortly after, leading to delays in fabric exhibitions and a scarcity of materials that met Lu’s high standards. 

    Adapting swiftly, she traveled to the southern city of Guangzhou in search of suitable fabric suppliers. “We believe pets deserve the same quality of life as their owners, as they are part of the family,” says Lu, adding that the final products are all made in Shanghai. 

    GIGIWAWA’s primary market includes fashion-forward pet owners aged 25 to 35, who enjoy socializing with their pets and are willing to invest in a shared lifestyle. These consumers not only seek new experiences but also demand high quality and aesthetic appeal in products.

    To this end, the brand releases its matching pet-owner series biannually, in March and September, offering 10 to 40 new designs in each collection, with each set of matching clothes costing, on average, around 700 yuan. 

    One particular customer that stood out to Lu was a retiree in her 60s from Shanghai, who enjoys traveling with her poodle and was looking for matching outfits. “In the pictures she posted, I saw them wearing our matching clothes as they traveled across the country. Seeing her so energetic and full of life in our designs was truly inspiring,” says Lu. 

    Zhang Jianing discovered GIGIWAWA at Pet Fair Asia. “I finally saw the matching outfit I’ve always wanted,” says the 29-year-old. While acknowledging that their clothes retail at a higher price range, Zhang underscores the quality, saying: “It symbolizes a strong bond between owners and pets.” 

    In October, GIGIWAWA showcased its designs at Shanghai’s pet fashion week. Before that, they organized an independent fashion show at the Bund Financial Center. And, beyond clothing, the company also organizes events that cater to pet lifestyles, hosting over 30 such events this year alone. 

    Lu hopes to transform matching clothes for owners and pets from a novel idea into a widespread lifestyle. “We aim to demonstrate how our outfits can be a part of everyday life for pet owners, suitable for various occasions and scenarios,” she says. 

    Throughout her venture, Lu says her family and friends have always offered strong support. Her parents, who run a construction company, provided valuable insights on starting a business, while her husband, a financial investment professional, has also invested in the pet industry.

    Despite having just three years of experience, Lu says she’s already gained a better understanding of the pet market. She says China’s pet market, still in its growth phase, has yet to reach saturation and is evolving in terms of norms, standards, and accessibility. 

    “The market is flourishing and expanding rapidly,” she says. 

    Contributions: Liu Shuhuan.

     (Header image: A pet dog at Lu’s office in Shanghai, Dec. 15, 2023. Wu Huiyuan/Sixth Tone)