Emerging Asia’s role in the market for high-end luxury goods is mushrooming, reflecting a shift eastward in the global balance of spending power. This shift has crept along for years but has accelerated recently due to the global economic crisis, which has hampered economic growth in many countries. US consumers ended up living beyond their means by borrowing against asset bubbles – housing, stocks, etc. – which have burst and may be weak for years.

By contrast, household spending by Asia’s developing nations is expected to increase as continued growth, rising populations and improving health/retirement provisions reduce the need for families to save for the proverbial rainy day. This is particularly true in China – which, unknown to most US investors, is already the third largest luxury market in the world, behind only the United States and Japan.

The Chinese Dragon Goes Upscale

China has a rapidly growing number of rich people – 825,000 with a personal wealth of more than 10 million renminbi ($2.8 million) – according to The Hurun Report, a luxury-business research group. The rich in China love high-end brands and their love affair with luxury is just in its infancy.

But potential customers for luxury brands in China are not just the rich. Shanghai’s women office workers are renowned for spending a month’s salary on a handbag or a pair of shoes. In fact, a recent study by New York-based market research firm Pao Principle, found that almost 90% of well-heeled Chinese surveyed had purchased a designer handbag over the past year.

Luxury brands do have a lot to learn about the Chinese consumer. After all, more than 55 percent of Chinese consumers only started to buy luxury products in the past four years. In addition, the demographics for the luxury consumer in China is vastly different than in other countries. The wealthy Chinese consumer is 20 to 30 percent younger, for instance, than luxury consumers in Japan.

Here is the breakdown for how many consumers, who make over 250,000 renminbi or $70,000 per year, are in the 18-44 age bracket: In the United States – it is about 30%, in Japan – it is less than 20%, but in China – it is about 80%!

How to make money from this trend? Here are five ways, among many, for investors to profit from the rapidly growing luxury goods market in emerging economies such as China.

Some individual companies that will benefit from this trend include luxury handbag maker Coach (NYSE: COH), the auction house Sotheby’s (NYSE: BID), the provider of jewelry and other trinkets Tiffany’s (NYSE: TIF) and European eyewear maker Luxottica (NYSE: LUX).

Finally, there is an exchange-traded fund which offers investors very broad-based exposure to companies in the global luxury goods and services industry. This fund is the Claymore/Robb Report Global Luxury Index ETF (NYSE: ROB).