Brands are cashing in on Lunar New Year — and working with Asian-Canadian creatives is key

Canadian brands like Holt Renfrew and Nobis have released Lunar New Year collections, as many luxury brands eye China's growing consumer market. But how do companies create long-lasting community relationships while commercializing the holiday?

Purchasing power of Asian Canadians on the rise and brands are noticing, says marketing professor

Owners of a store selling Lunar New Year decorations are pictured in their shop in the Chinatown neighbourhood in Vancouver on Feb. 1, 2022. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

For Asian communities around the world, Lunar New Year — which marks the first new moon in the lunar calendar — is a holiday not to be missed.

And for Chinese communities in particular, "it is the biggest time of year for us," said Trevor Lui, the co-founder of Quell Now, an advocacy organization that elevates BIPOC voices in the food, drink and lifestyle industry.

"It's a time of celebration, reflection, looking about the future, talking about prosperity and health, gathering, eating and cooking together. So it's not a one-day thing; it's generally two weeks and in some instances, as long as a month."

Lunar New Year has become a lucrative commercial holiday for Western brands, with storefronts around the world adorning their shops with bright reds, golds and tiger motifs in celebration of the holiday. Canadian brands from Holt Renfrew to Roots to Aritzia are offering special edition Lunar New Year collections.

It gives companies a chance to invest in Asian communities — hiring Chinese-Canadian designers, illustrators and creators to work on their Lunar New Year campaigns — but it's also a business opportunity that's hard to pass up. 

Some are pushing brands for a more thoughtful approach, as they monetize a holiday celebrated by more than one billion people worldwide.

How Lunar New Year became a major commercial holiday

Luxury designers such as Balenciaga, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Versace and Burberry are all releasing capsule collections adorned with a tiger motif or print, in reference to the Year of the Tiger, this year's Lunar Zodiac sign.

The Chinese consumer market is set to become the biggest for luxury goods by 2025, according to a fall 2021 report by Bain & Company, a U.S. consumer research firm. In fact, China's luxury market has virtually doubled since 2019, and it now accounts for 21 per cent of the global market, second only to the United States.

LISTEN | The comercialization of Lunar New Year: 

The purchasing power of Chinese Canadian consumers is on the rise and brands are taking notice, said Eric Li, a business marketing professor at the University of British Columbia Okanagan.

"That's why … we've seen more and more customized advertising campaigns targeting these particular populations in Canada," Li said. "For many firms, these are the markets you would like to go after, because they see the revenues, they see the business opportunity there."

Canadian brand Aritzia partnered with Chinese-Indonesian illustrator Debbie Tea to create Lunar New Year designs on a new line of clothing. And the Vancouver Canucks were on board, partnering with the organization Elimin8Hate and designer Trevor Lai to create a special edition warm-up jersey for their annual Lunar New Year game.

Roots and Lululemon are both currently displaying Lunar New Year-themed collections on their websites, as well. They did not respond to a request from CBC News asking how and by whom the collections were conceived.

How can brands do it right?

Holt Renfrew's Lunar New Year campaign looked a little different than those by other fashion retailers this year. The brand commissioned Toronto children's author Sennah Yee and Vancouver illustrator Elaine Chen to release a children's book called Lin's Lucky Red Envelope.

The book, about a Chinese girl who has immigrated to Canada and is celebrating Lunar New Year away from her extended family for the first time, was meant to be a celebratory project with an educational component, said Yee, who is Chinese-Canadian.

The campaign was a standout for her because 100 per cent of its proceeds go to Project 1907, a Vancouver-based grassroots organization led by Asian women.

Sennah Yee, a children's author from Toronto, wrote a limited edition storybook in honour of Lunar New Year for retailer Holt Renfrew. (CBC)

 "I want to make sure that all these efforts are going to the right place and benefiting the community that we're trying to reach out to," Yee said.

"I think what's important is making sure to create these long-lasting, meaningful connections with artists and communities themselves."

Nobis, the Canadian outerwear company, commissioned Toronto photographer and film director Justin Wu for its first Lunar New Year campaign. Their three-piece collection — replete with tiger stripes and plum blossoms — is a collaboration with Fête Chinoise, a cultural arm of design firm Palettera.

Wu, who has been working with Nobis for years, said that while companies are profiting from these campaigns, the recognition of different cultures and traditions is welcome.

And it has been a particularly difficult period for Asian communities in Canada: last year, the Vancouver Police Department released data that the number of anti-Asian hate crimes rose by more than 700 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

Canadian photographer and director Justin Wu collaborated with outerwear company Nobis on their Lunar New Year campaign. Wu said that while companies are profiting from these campaigns, the recognition of different cultures and traditions is welcome. (CBC)

"When companies are able to not only pay tribute to, but actually create products and services that are made in celebration of a particular community, that to me symbolizes a greater appreciation of all the different beautiful aspects of our society," Wu said.

'Not just for one month or one day'

"I think where people are missing the mark, or maybe where consumerism is missing the mark, is we want Asian culture … to be celebrated for 12 months of the year, not just for one month or one day," said Lui.

Sharad Mohan, a brand manager at Nobis, said that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of how brand allegiance communicates their stance on social issues. Products become an extension of who they are as individuals, he said.

Asian culture should be celebrated all year, says Trevor Lui, the co-founder of Quell Now, an advocacy organization that elevates BIPOC voices in the food, drink and lifestyle industry. (CBC)

"How they choose to represent themselves out in the real world is reflected quite often by the things that they wear and the brands that they support," Mohan said.

In some cases, companies are perceived as having appropriated the holiday, particularly if they don't consult with or offer support to Asian communities while bumping Lunar New Year-themed products. 

"I think there are still businesses that are still being performative and saying, 'This is hot, let's put money behind it so it shows that we're doing it,' " Lui said.

"But there are businesses that are working out there, that we've worked with, that have come to us and said, 'We want to do this properly and we want to do this for the long term. How can you help us and how can we have those very difficult discussions?' " Lui said.

"And that's what it starts with. I think it's about understanding that it's going to be a little difficult in the beginning before it gets a little easier."


  • A previous version of this story stated that the Lunar New Year marks the first full moon in the lunar calendar. In fact, it marks the first new moon in the lunar calendar.
    Feb 04, 2022 5:53 PM ET


Jenna Benchetrit is a web journalist for CBC News. Based in Toronto and born in Montreal, she holds a master's degree in journalism from Ryerson University. Reach her at or on Twitter @jennabenchetrit.

With files from Lien Yeung