Estimates of just how big China's middle class is range widely from a low of 157 million (which would be second only to the US) to more than 800 million. With such a large middle class driving consumption, China has seen an average 15 percent growth in retail sales in recent years and is already the world's largest market for cellphones and cars (in 2009 passenger car sales increased 53 percent). India's middle class is projected by the NCAER to grow by 67 percent in the next five years, to 267 million people, or nearly a quarter of its population.
What's driving this bulge? State policies such as Brazil's increased minimum wage and India's reduced tax rates have boosted incomes. Foreign investment is giving more people salaried jobs, and those in turn are driving demand for everything from mechanics to more fashionable clothes, says economist Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution in Washington. And more are getting better education.
That presents opportunities both for local entrepreneurs and multinationals – and could change the products available to the West.
Last year, Levi's specifically targeted Asians with its launch of dENiZEN, a new line for the "global citizen" complete with pink T-shirts that say "Chase Your Dream." In a reversal of the usual currents of global markets, dENiZEN will come to the US this summer, where Target will carry a line adapted for Americans.