This summer, the bag and accessories label BY FAR took Chinese social media by storm despite the COVID-19 pandemic. As Chinese fashion influencers brought the Instagram darling to China’s Weibo, WeChat, and Little Red Book platforms, more millennial and Gen-Z customers have become loyal fans of the niche Bulgarian brand.
BY FAR is known for its unique designs and vintage details. Every season, the brand always offers customers some classic IT bags and leads trends on fashion-featured social media. According to the brand’s founder, BY FAR’s aesthetic is inspired by styles from the late-eighties, the nineties, and the early 2000s. For example, its Mini Rachel bag, which is now one of the most popular bags by the brand, was smartly based on the style of the character Rachel from the nineties sitcom “Friends.”
“BY FAR has got this era’s social media DNA,” said Martha Tu, a fashion researcher at Central Saint Martins College. She said the brand knows how to connect with the local social atmosphere, such as with the branding of its “armpit bag” on e-commerce platforms in China.
Recently, BY FAR launched a WeChat Mini Program in China that serves as a shopping space on the social messaging app WeChat. It is currently one of the most effective tools for brands to set up e-commerce functions, as it directs their WeChat followers to buy products and make payments.
For niche brands, WeChat and other social media will be the top battlefield of luxury marketing in the foreseeable future. High-end luxury brands like Cartier, Bvlgari, and Dior already have a heavy presence on WeChat, yet BY FAR’s social marketing in China has shown the best path to converting online traffic — a quick way to expand a customer base.
As the top social media app for Chinese consumers, WeChat accumulated more than 1.15 billion monthly active users in 2019 and has become the most strategically important space for marketing campaigns. Much in the way many emerging designer brands use a “mood” to succeed on Instagram, brands can use WeChat Mini Program to mimic that success. The social DNA of brands like BY FAR is useful for winning over young customers, creating purchasing motives, and enhancing brand consistency via images.
BY FAR’s ambitious commercialization can also be seen in its naming of celebrity KOL Grace Chow as its new face. The influencer had an affair with a famous Chinese singer months ago but then found fame among younger women. The constant news about Chow has helped BY FAR win over some new followers, but the controversy might be problematic for the brand in the future.
Luxury brands love to collaborate with high-profile stars and bloggers in China, but controversial influencers usually aren’t a top choice. Some fashion critics believe that after seeing huge potential on Chinese social media and catering to the country’s mass-market, BY FAR could lose its niche positioning.
Yet the company’s founders — Ignatova, her twin sister Sabina Gyosheva, and their lifelong friend Denitsa Bumbarov — still plan to expand the brand’s physical presence in China. When asked about their future vision, Ignatova stated, “We believe this is just a start, and the future will show our true potential.”
For brands like BY FAR, signature products are good, but they aren’t enough for achieving long-term success in China. For a niche brand, its designs should be worth the money and have customers raving about them. “Chinese consumers are the early adopters of the e-market and can have a big impact on a brand’s growth and success in the longer term,” said Marble Xia, a senior fashion editor at Elle. “After all, niche brands’ value will be judged by online traffic and sales profits here in China.”