Austin Li has brought domestic cosmetics brands like Perfect Diary and Florasis to new heights with his knowledge of makeup and cosmetics. But he is not as experienced in fashion marketing, so it has been challenging for him to launch Chinese designer labels on his livestream.
High prices for independent designer labels are, to a certain extent, inevitable. They can be attributed to limited production and complex techniques. So although these designer labels usually employ small teams, their operation costs are exceptionally high.
Though her labels all presented distinctive collections, Viya chose more practical styles for her audience than Austin Li did. Viya also offered better bargains, with prices around a few hundred yuan.
Five years ago, as a staff member at Maybelline New York, Austin Li attended Shanghai Fashion Week for the first time, working backstage for the Chinese designer label Mukzin’s runway show. He would never have thought that one day he would be chatting about Chinese fashion design with Kate Han, the founder of Mukzin, on his Weibo livestream. On April 10, Mukzin’s dresses were presented on Li’s livestream, priced at 799 and 659 RMB, respectively. With Han smiling beside him, Li sold a total of 5,000 dresses.
Li undoubtedly deserves credit for bringing domestic cosmetics brands like Perfect Diary and Florasis to new heights with his knowledge of makeup and cosmetics. Yet Li is not as experienced in the fashion arena. So it has been very challenging for him to launch Chinese designer labels on his livestream.
Li was extremely active during the recent Shanghai Fashion Week. On April 6, he picked 11 fashion designer labels for Tmall’s list of Treasured New Brands. He also recently launched a Lookbook Fashion Show for the Shanghai Fashion and Lifestyle Carnival at the Sun Ke Villa at Columbia Circle. “I think the most challenging thing for the show is to present Chinese designers’ works to consumers in a simple and accessible way and tell a great story for each brand,” said Li to Jing Daily. “I want to express this niche type of beauty more universally.”
On that night, Li and LABELHOOD launched a special livestream show for Chinese design. Tasha Liu, the founder of LABELHOOD, shared how the collaboration with Li started, saying, “Austin Li approached us saying that he would like to promote Chinese fashion design. I believed it would be a great opportunity. At the same time, a lot of consumers have already been actively promoting new domestic brands. So I think Chinese fashion designers is a great entry point for Austin as he shifts from promoting general consumer goods to domestic brands.”
As Li started making his pitch for these garments, some viewers commented that the clothing looked “really ugly” or was “too expensive.” That prompted some heartfelt words from Li. “This time for Chinese fashion designers is not easy,” he said. “It’s OK if you don’t want to buy them, but please show respect for these Chinese designs.” Li’s first livestream of Chinese designs might not have been impressive sales-wise. However, he is hoping for a little bit of progress each time. But why do these designs deserve to be priced so high? “Through Austin’s livestream, that becomes a topic worth discussing amongst the public,” said Liu. “It is indeed a way to promote the whole industry.”
Compared to mass-market labels, independent designer labels communicate more unique ideas. By targeting a niche group of customers, these labels appeal to a minority population, so they are not mass-produced. But, independent designers usually adhere to high standards, prolonging production time. In fact, when Li interviewed the designer from Warm Studio on April 10, he complained that even though he would love to sell their handbags, they were always out of stock. But at the same time, his audience was astonished and puzzled that these products come with such hefty price tags (over a thousand yuan each).
High prices for independent designer labels are, to a certain extent, inevitable. They can be attributed to limited production and complex techniques. So although these designer labels usually employ small teams, their operation costs are exceptionally high. Plus, their expertise is primarily design, and they often lack business planning skills to project to a larger market. That means it can be very difficult for their works to gain international recognition. And with limited budgets, consumers are going to opt for well-known labels.
Although Li’s livestream was the first collaboration between a Chinese livestreamer and Chinese fashion designers, it concluded with a satisfactory amount of transactions. The whole livestream generated 10 million RMB in sales revenue and attracted an audience of 10.5 million. In contrast, sales of UMA WANG’s toeshoes exceeded 1.8 million RMB, and the deepmoss organza rosette T-shirt had over 1.3 million RMB in sales.
Statistics reveal that the more marketable brands are the ones that have already found some brand awareness among the consumers. Yet, based on viewers’ cynical comments on these labels’ pricing and styles, the Chinese fashion industry still has a long way to go.
Propelled by the pandemic, Shanghai Fashion Week has been moving online more in the past year by collaborating with top livestreamers. In addition to Li, another top livestreamer named Viya has also become actively involved. Unlike Li, Viya is experienced in the fashion industry and more advanced in her product selection and sales techniques.
On April 12, Viya, together with the famous fashion designer Frankie Han, commented live online during the 2021 International Top-tier Innovation Business (ITIB) joint fashion show. During the event, they initiated a new sales model called Show Instantly, Buy Instantly.
Two days before the official livestream, Viya invited three pioneering fashion designers to the livestream: brand manager of ANNAKIKI, Anna Yang; famous fashion designer MASHA MA; and the brand manager of Lost General, Xiang Li. Together, they chatted as Viya showcased some garments.
On the day that sales started, the five-hour livestream collected a total of 20.5 million viewers, a transaction volume exceeding 410 million RMB, and a turnover of over 1.6 million items. The 15 collaborating designer labels included ANNAKIKI, BAN XIAOXUE, JAWEL MAO, YOUWEI, and streetwear brand OGR.
The biggest difference between Li and Viya’s livestreams could be found in the clothing value Viya offered. Though her labels all presented distinctive collections, Viya chose more practical styles for her audience. Viya also offered better bargains, with prices around a few hundred yuan for items priced much higher on other platforms.
Take the print chain split niche T-shirt Viya was wearing, jointly designed by MASHAMA, for example. It was selling at 1,480 RMB at the ITIB platform, and it cost only 429 RMB at Hey, Box! of Tmall, and if the customers got a 200 RMB discount coupon, they could have it for only 229 RMB. As it’s wearable and of good value, the shirts sold out in a flash.
Shi Chang, owner of the Chinese independent designer label NOSENSE OFFICIAL, said to Jing Daily: “The reason these clothes are so cheap is that they are co-branded by the designer and Viya, like many brand collaborations by designers and other brands. And the bargains Austin Li offers are usually popular styles of past seasons, not the current collections.”
But the reason for the huge amount of viewers both Austin Li and Viya achieve on livestreams each day is the discounted products their platforms offer. Some brands believe that even if they suffer a deficit on the livestreams, it is still worth it. The issue of underselling will remain a challenge for both Chinese independent designer labels and the livestream platforms. “At the moment, the biggest issue for the Chinese designers is about making a living,” said Shi Chang. “On the one hand, we need to take into consideration how the industry values us. But on the other hand, we need to make a living. After all, our staff needs to make money. Designers are the backbone of the industry.”