China’s influencer economy is growing at lightning speed, outpacing the rest of the world. The National Bureau of Statistics estimates that the KOL (key opinion leader) market size will surpass $1 trillion (6.7 trillion RMB) by 2025, growing fivefold since 2020’s $210 billion (1.3 trillion RMB). These numbers are impressive, considering that the US influencer market stood at only $4.14 billion in 2022.
KOLs are a key way for brands to market to local consumers and drive sales in the world’s second largest economy. According to Chinese data and influencer platform PJdaren’s 2023 report, despite a challenging macroeconomic environment and multiple lockdowns in China, 58 percent of the surveyed brands claimed to have spent more on KOL marketing in 2022 than the previous year. Additionally, over 35 percent of the brands interviewed said they put more than $240,000 (3 million RMB) towards their KOL marketing budgets in 2022.
Today, influencers are an indispensable vehicle for brands to strengthen their image, build trust with consumers, drive awareness of new product launches, and generate sales conversions. Here, Jing Daily presents some luxury and fashion influencers exemplifying China’s influencer market trends in 2023.
Savi Sui (@Savislook)
Weibo: 4.2 million followers
Xiaohongshu: 413,000 followers
Douyin: 200,000 followers
Instagram: 265,000 followers
Known for her vintage, effortless, no-nonsense look, homegrown influencer Savi Sui has built a strong visual identity that distinguishes herself from other fashion KOLs. “For those who want to be bloggers, one thing to consider is whether you are irreplaceable,” Sui tells Jing Daily. Although her following is not as big as some international stars, she is favored by many leading luxury houses and niche fashion brands because of her unique, nonchalant style. In recent years, niche names such as Nanushka, Ganni, Mansur Gavriel, and Missoma have partnered with the KOL for their debut Chinese campaigns.
Verdict: Micro influencers are entering the arena and taking market shares from established mainstream names. “Brands are relying on KOCs (Key Opinion Consumers) more than ever before. Attracted by their reliability, affordability, and performance, most brands increased the proportion of influencer marketing programs featuring KOCs in 2022,” notes PJdaren’s report. Additionally, 71 percent of surveyed brands responded that they integrate new KOCs with each campaign.
Meng Zhang and Pablo Zhang (@ahalolo /@ahalolomay)
Xiaohongshu: 236,000 followers
Bilibili: 1 million followers
Youtube: 163,000 followers
Instagram: 70,500 followers
Distinct from typical influencers who acquire fame by posting stylish looks or impressive shopping hauls, the popularity of Chinese fashion influencer duo Aha Lolo can be largely attributed to their fashion runway reviews on YouTube, Weibo, and Bilibili. Their videos challenge traditional fashion criticism — which often uses obscure or flowery rhetoric — making luxury houses more accessible through gossipy, casual discussions. So far, renowned houses like Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, and Balenciaga have all been featured on their channel.
Verdict: Interest-driven platforms such as the short video apps Douyin and Kuaishou, lifestyle applet Xiaohongshu, and vlog portal Bilibili are taking over from traditional social and messaging sites Weibo and WeChat and becoming brands’ most preferred channels for influencer collaborations. Over half of PJdaren’s surveyed brands shared that they will increase their total influencer investment in the above channels.
Cici Xiang (@空蛹出蝶 / @cici_xiang)
Weibo: 2.5 million followers
Xiaohongshu: 279,000 followers
Instagram: 360,000 followers
Chinese supermodel and influencer Cici Xiang’s natural good looks makes her one of fashion’s most in-demand faces, recently featured in Gucci, Prada, and Chanel’s campaigns. During the Spring 2023 Fashion Week, Ferragamo flew Xiang to Milan to watch Maximilian Davis’ debut show. Besides modeling and social media, she has another identity: an art curator. After graduating from the University College of London in 2019, she launched a “C for ABC” project working with galleries and institutions. Her different roles, interests and liaison with art make her a choice multi-faceted ambassador for high-end names.
Verdict: “Brands rely on brand affinity and engagement rates to determine which influencers to work with,” states Pjdaren’s report. Although niche influencers have a relatively limited fan base, they can help brands to reach hyper-targeted followers who appreciate their aesthetics and are highly loyal.
Zola Zhang (@原来是西门大嫂)
Weibo: 6.1 million followers
Xiaohongshu: 735,000 followers
Douyin: 2.87 million followers
Thirty-five-year-old Zola Zhang is a top WeChat KOL who has successfully integrated influencer marketing with WeChat e-commerce sales. She has also established a strong presence on Weibo and Douyin, boasting nearly 10 million followers across the platforms. She is known for collaborating with fashion and beauty brands Ports, Valentino, Guerlain, and Lancôme. According to data agency Launchmetrics, her social media post on Weibo for Guerlain made $192,000 (1.3 million RMB) in Media Impact Value.
Verdict: China is expected to become the biggest beauty market by 2023, surpassing the US. In light of this, brands are attempting to carve out spots in the burgeoning market with the help of crucial drivers: KOLs and KOCs. “The domestic beauty market and consumer behavior have shifted to possibly the most well-informed, sophisticated, and demanding in the world,” states Lin Lin Jacobs, CEO of the mainland’s largest international beauty fair CIBE. The boom of beauty influencers has allowed Chinese consumers to educate themselves through online content. Before buying a new product, they check online reviews from their favorite KOLs and KOCs.