In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Jing Daily is placing an emphasis on profiling the movers and shakers that together build the luxury industry. Our profiles are highlighting the individuals who contribute to the fashion community, from consumers and behind-the-scenes employees to business executives and influential creatives.
Mia Kong, Dazed China’s newly appointed Style Director, built a following of 900,000 on Weibo in just two years — after working in the fashion industry for ten years — which led to her becoming one of China’s top fashion influencers.
While studying fashion design at the Academy of Arts & Design at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Kong began an internship at Harper’s BAZAAR China, where she dealt with a variety of industry projects. After graduating from the college in 2012, Kong officially joined Harper’s BAZAAR China as a fashion editor, eventually moving to Instyle China.
Those years were a golden age for fashion magazines in China, with readers’ exposure to fashion, beauty, and luxury largely coming from fashion editors of leading publications. But her rise to the top of the fashion food chain didn’t quell her curiosity about the future of fashion media.
Quickly-changing technology brought huge challenges to the publishing industry over the past decade, and fashion publishing groups felt the pressure to switch to Omnimedia channels. Meanwhile, “we-media” started disrupting readership as well as the fashion world’s hierarchical structure. It was then that she decided to leave the dying legacy media field and introduce something novel.
In 2017, she kicked off her self-supporting business as a freelance stylist by taking to social media outlets like Weibo and Instagram to share fashion-related opinions and inspiration. While Kong’s focus was still on styling for brands and magazines, she developed an interdisciplinary skill set by dealing with a range of industry participants — a standard process for today’s fashion creatives.
After nearly ten years of working behind the scenes, her move into the spotlight happened almost by accident. In a moment that seemed straight out of a movie, a photographer asked her to pose in front of the camera, and she’s been successfully modeling ever since. “More collaboration opportunities approached me since then, as brands have shown interest in casting amateurs who have strong personal statements besides professional models,” Kong said about her path toward becoming an influencer.
In Kong’s opinion, the influencer industry has been evolving ever since she entered it in 2017. Back in the 2000s and early 2010s, ‘influencers’ or ‘KOLs’ were still known as fashion bloggers who posted texts and images on individual sites or BBS (bulletin board systems). Today, influential creatives can express themselves and communicate with followers through a variety of social media platforms and interactive approaches such as vlogs or short videos. Kong notes that this has helped “the industry get on the right track to being more transparent.”
While brands and consumers usually rely on an influencer’s follower count to gauge their prowess, Kong has developed her own definition of success. “Each influencer has to find their niche to survive in the competitive fashion industry,” she said. “I see myself as an influencer who shares personal takes on fashion, beauty, and youth culture rather than a fashion journalist or reporter.” She has a precise understanding of her followers on different social platforms, and to her, success depends on the uniqueness of her perspective.
But Kong has really been able to showcase her creativity and savviness with new media during the COVID-19 epidemic. Like many other Chinese designers, celebrities, and influencers, her fashion week schedule was disrupted by the virus. “I planned to attend New York Fashion Week right after Chinese New Year, and everything was well-prepared: outfits confirmed, hotels reserved, and cars rented,” Kong said, acknowledging the huge loss last-minute cancellations brought. Yet despite her absence from the 2020 fall-winter runway shows, she managed to cope because of some innovative approaches. To make up for her unavailability, she chose to curate a series of runway looks on Weibo that were consistent with her tastes.
But she didn’t stop there. Inspired by her virtual communications with friends while under quarantine, she launched the Dazed China Online Chatroom series. “The editorial team of Dazed China came up with the idea to record video calls with my friends who work in the fashion industry to catch up with how their workflow has been impacted,” she explained, also saying that there will be more exciting conversations between her and fashion insiders to come.
So far, the series has featured Chinese designers Angel Chen and Percy Lau as well as photographer Jumbo Tsui. Kong said her dual positions as both influencer and media professional have allowed her project to have broader dimensions, stating that “our goal is to engage audiences who are interested in youth culture, art, fashion, design, and more extensive subjects beyond outfits.”
She believes this virus epidemic is emphasizing the important place new media has in our future. “All offline campaigns and photo shoots have been halted, but new media is resilient,” she asserted, adding that influencers who are versatile and more creative can stand out during this challenge. “This situation actually brings more opportunities to influencers, as celebrity brand collaborations have halted. [Now] they are eyeing social-savvy influencers to maintain connections with consumers.”
In China, the number and scope of influencers are expanding aggressively, and MCNs (Multi-Channel Networks) are also multiplying. As such, Kong suggests that brands should make sure an influencer’s personality is in line with the brand philosophy before working with them. According to her, only an influencer’s authenticity and creativity can resonate with followers or brands.
While brand collaborations are a fundamental component of the influencer economy, many influencers remain tight-lipped about them. Yet Kong is open about the topic, saying that “a brand collaboration is a mutual choice between both parties.” She said she chooses to collaborate with brands that share her values and a vision, like Fenty Beauty and Burberry, stating that she admires the inclusivity and diversity Fenty Beauty embodies and the creativity of Burberry’s monthly, online-only B series, which has adopted the streetwear-drop model. “It’s good to see brands are more innovative and inclusive than before,” Kong said. She believes quality collaborations between influencers and brands can educate local consumers and open up more market possibilities.
But this flourishing digital landscape, with its organic synergy between influencers and brands, didn’t spring up overnight. People working in the fashion industry — including Kong herself — were dedicated to elevating fashion to a high level of exclusivity that consumers perceived as inaccessible. But with the rise of social media and subculture-inspired styles like streetwear, the ultimate authority of fashion magazines was soon diluted, and both Chinese influencers and their followers relished the diversity. “At the end of the day, consumers are expecting sincerity and authenticity from the industry,” Kong added. And if influencers can keep convincing consumers to trust brands, the industry will surely reach even greater heights.