There are plenty of Chinese consumers who lap up big-name labels, but then there are the style mavens who can rattle off those indie brands you've never heard of with the ease of picking out a Gucci bag. It's these guys and gals that flooded #REVOLVEsocialclub on June 15 to 17, the Shanghai debut shopping event for Revolve, an online multi-brand store founded by a Los Angeles-based duo with one eye on the trends and a knack for growing a business—the company brought in more than $400 million in sales last year, beating leaders in the industry like Nasty Gal and Farfetch.
Revolve carries about 600 independent shoe and clothing brands that resonate with L.A. trendsetters and span a huge range of well-known designers including Free People, Lovers + Friends, Calvin Klein, Alexander McQueen, Zac Posen and Alexander Wang. Its emphasis on inspiration-driven shopping has amassed a steady following in the United States since its founding in 2002, but China is gaining ground as it has become their second-biggest market.
The interest from China has developed organically since 2008 when the company first offered international shipping there. “The consumer came to us before we invested [in China],” said Revolve co-founder and co-CEO Michael Mente. “And they were really engaged,” he added.
Engaged is somewhat of an understatement. Mente and the company’s VP of brand marketing and strategic partnerships Raissa Gerona said their Chinese shoppers are extremely active on social media and well-versed in the brands. They especially know their stuff when it comes to Revolve's seven exclusive brands, which make up about 15 percent of their overall sales in China and also took up a large portion of the clothing racks at their Shanghai pop-up.
“The fact that the Chinese consumers are really getting it and are right on the edge of the American consumer was really enlightening to me,” Mente said. “They really are similar. That's really encouraging.”
To make it easier for Chinese fans to shop, Revolve made major logistical changes this year. It replaced two-week shipping to China with five-day, free shipping. Because 42 percent of its transactions from China in Q1 of 2016 were done on the phone, it created a mobile-optimized Chinese site. It accepts Alipay and is in the process of allowing their consumers to pay using WeChat, and in March, it gave shoppers access to toll-free customer service. It also has accounts on all of China's major social media networks, which has been especially important for it—social revenue share in China is 10 times higher than the United States, and Chinese consumers are using social media to post campaign pictures and tell their friends that Revolve is a website they can trust.
“They're way more in tune here with how to shop,” Mente said. “That's a big difference compared with the U.S. There they aren't as concerned about fraud, whereas [in China] they're really concerned about fraud and return policies.”
Hosting an event in Shanghai was a natural next step for the brand. The Revolve pop-up played out very similarly to its L.A. events. KOLs and high-value customers made appointments to come shop the highly curated racks, socialize, and enjoy Champagne and pork belly sandwiches. All the while, they took photos on their phones for Weibo and WeChat in their newly created outfits in a space designed so that “in every corner, you want to take a selfie.” The goal: to create an offline shopping experience that would resonate with millennials, a trend that's gaining steam not just in China, but around the globe.
“Now is when we see what they really want,” said Mente who, along with Gerona and their team, spent several days in Shanghai meeting fans that had flocked from as far away as Singapore and Australia to attend the three-day event.
What they gathered thus far is that there's a budding courage in young Chinese consumers when it comes to creating their own style. “When I first started working at Revolve, I felt like it was too sexy for China,” said Head of Greater China Jessica Shen. “But the message we're trying to spread is that being sexy is actually about confidence.” Shoppers are focused on expressing themselves by getting dibs on a brand that no one else has—they go for trending looks, but want to tell their own story, Shen said. While Revolve's brands range from the accessible to the high-end, Shen said the average spend in China is about US$220.
“Right now, girls are more confident to actually mix and match,” Shen said. “She can pair a $10 t-shirt with a $400 pair of jeans, and she feels good about it. These are the girls we are looking for. They make effort to be effortless.”
Revolve is currently gearing up for its next event in New York, and while there is no set date for its next China event, the team is already thinking about how it will expand they next time it arrives. Mente said it hopes to add a male component to the event as menswear makes up 30 percent of the business in China, compared to single digits in the United States. And they'll certainly be trying to get more legs out of Chinese shoppers' keen eye for independent labels—they’re currently on the lookout for China-born brands to add to their collections.