Jia Zhang Explains Why Luxury Brands Need Chinese KOLs Overseas

Toronto-based Chinese fashion influencer Jia Zhang is next to be welcomed into the Jing Daily community of individuals shaping China’s booming luxury industry. These profiles highlight industry leaders who contribute to the national and global fashion communities, from creatives and influencers to business executives and entrepreneurs.

From students pursuing degrees in colleges and universities to ultra high-net-worth individuals, the Chinese diaspora has been an important consumer base for international brands. Given their shared cultural backgrounds, overseas Chinese influencers are one of the most prominent factors that influence this demographic.

Advantages in languages and overseas locations mean these bloggers — based in North America, Europe, Australia, and other countries in East Asia — have a unique role to play in connecting domestic audiences with international lines under the pandemic’s travel restrictions. This surging demand for niche labels and shifting cultural appetites have inspired overseas influencers like Jia Zhang (@JZ on Xiaohongshu)’s many-sided content.

Distinct from typical influencers who focus on one area in particular, Zhang’s content can include hip-hop, outfits, grooming and fragrance products, style tips, and even tutorials in English slang. His swag and personality have lured 336,000 followers to his Xiaohongshu account in just two years. From vlogs to product recommendations, his videos have helped contribute to a more dynamic male consumption landscape while sparking opportunities for companies to leverage this newfound openness.

To understand the unique panorama of overseas Chinese influencers, Jing Daily caught up with Zhang to hear about his journey to becoming a fashion and lifestyle name, as well as brands’ opportunities in partnering with overseas KOLs.

Jia Zhang’s swag and personality have lured 336,000 followers to his Xiaohongshu account in just two years. Photo: Xiaohongshu screenshots

How did you start your business and why did you choose Xiaohongshu as the main content publishing platform?

I have been in the fashion industry since I graduated, but it was basically behind-the-scenes positions like creative direction, even during the heyday of Instagram in 2015 and 2016. Back then, I was an “Instagram boyfriend” (a loose term for the invisible person behind the Instagram photos). Though there were few fans of my personal Instagram account at that time, I liked to share my daily routines or what interesting things had happened recently. 

As I began to feel increasingly comfortable in front of the camera, I started to think — why not make an appearance in the videos? And when the COVID pandemic hit in early 2020, it was so boring being just stuck at home. This was also the period when Xiaohongshu was gaining recognition in the overseas market and many Chinese living abroad were starting to browse the platform. So I decided to share my knowledge of oral English and my favorite products. That’s basically how I got the ball rolling. Xiaohongshu houses the users sharing similar tastes and values to me. I think it’s important to find the cult followers that my content can resonate with.

How do you see yourself as distinguished from other influencers with a similar style?

I would say it’s my personality that makes me different. Many insiders in the influencer industry say that making content dedicated to one area, or labeling the KOL with a particular image, makes it easier to build up followers on Xiaohongshu. In this case, I am my specialty. 

English tutorials were the first kind of content I posted, but that’s not my everything. My interests also include enjoying fragrance, scented candles, and skin care, listening to hip-hop, wine tasting, as well as exploring luxury houses. I want to share everything I find useful and interesting with my followers. 

I’m a multidimensional person, as everyone is. That’s why I haven’t found any influencer or MCN (multi-channel networks assisting content creators to improve their monetization capability) featuring a similar style to me.

What traits are unique to overseas Chinese influencers? 

First of all, influencers based outside of China usually create more practical and authentic culture-related content. Take my English tutorial videos as an example. I am not a professional English teacher. Topics like the coolest hip-hop slang, how to pronounce luxury brands authentically, and how the upper-class overseas group speaks English are very popular. You cannot find the content in English textbooks, but it is very useful for users who are in the fashion industry.

Secondly, it’s easier for us to interact with overseas brands. We can basically learn everything about brand history and culture through texts, images, and videos, but nothing can compare with real experiences and in-person meetings.

However, at the end of the day, competitiveness is all about raw talent. Without fancy events or brand connections, as we experienced during lockdowns, influencers are engaged in a contest of knowledge, creativity, and talent. That’s why I consider the pandemic an opportunity for fair competition.

What’s the most challenging part of running an influencer business?

Feeling uninspired. This problem occurs when you stay in one place or work in the same mode for a long time. In creative industries such as art, fashion, and music, creativity comes first, and hard work second. Only with new experiences and new insights can content creators impress their audiences. Online traffic always comes from how unique a player you are.