9 Mar 2018

The Rise of Chinese Brands: Discuss it’s Effect on the Lolita Community


It’s a very nice coincidence that this week’s Lolita Blog Carnival prompt is so closely linked to what I had wrote about on Tuesday. We have indisputably seen Chinese brands rise and become a strong entity in its own right – gone are the days of Taobao platform being associated exclusively with cheap knock offs and dodgy purchases. But let’s look at the effect of that rise in a bit more detail.




Chinese Brands Made Lolita More Accessible

Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the biggest effect the rise of Chinese brands has had on the fashion and its community. It’s also what I touched upon when comparing Taobao with Bodyline for beginners. The sheer volume of Lolita pieces – not loliable, but specifically and directly Lolita – sold at low prices means that it is now easier to get into the fashion than ever. Moreover, one doesn’t have to settle for a style they’re not too fond of either, which was the case when the options were limited to Bodyline (poor range) or saving up for brand (pricier, as well as size restrictions and not all minor substyles are represented). If you want to start off with a Qi Lolita or a Steampunk piece, you can do that, no need to start off with Classic, Sweet or Gothic, if you’re not digging that. And I have seen more and more Lolita newbies and first coordinate posts with some lovely pieces obtained via Taobao, so Chinese brands have definitely allowed more people to participate in the fashion who otherwise wouldn’t have done so or not at that point in their lives.

Skirt and shoes are from Chinese brands, together
couldn't have been more than about £50 plus shipping!

Chinese Brands Made Lolita More Innovative

On top of producing vast amounts of clothing, Chinese brands have also risen above producing knock offs and are now the driving force behind innovation in the fashion. While many of their ‘typical’ Sweet/Classic/Gothic pieces are very reminiscent of designs we see from Japanese brands, they also produce some of the wackiest new prints and designs around which you’d struggle to find anywhere else (soldier cats in gas masks anyone?). Not only that, Chinese brands are increasingly producing cute original designs for shoes and bags, items which are easier to forgive purchasing replicas of since Japanese brands don’t produce that many new designs anyway and have a poorer size range. So not only is Lolita fashion more accessible thanks to Chinese brands gaining momentum, people now have a wide variety of garments with budget-friendly non-replica options available even amongst items previously difficult to get original designs for, such as shoes. While this is predominantly driven by the domestic demand in China, it greatly benefits all of us.

Hate it or be confused by it, but not even
Meta, known for madness, would release
a biliard print.
Photo from Lolita Updates.

Chinese Brands Contribute to the Saturation of Second Hand Market

They’re not the sole contributor to the second hand sales market being saturated, but they have played a significant part in it. Since Chinese brands make it easier to get into Lolita, they also make it easier to leave it: the financial commitment isn’t big, so if someone decides the fashion isn’t for them, they would find it easier to part with their purchases and sell them on. As more items are bought (because of their affordability and/or range of innovative designs), more are also eventually being sold, thus entering the second hand market. While tracking down a particular design second hand is very difficult, if you’re after something generic that’s cheap or available locally, you are sure to find plenty of dresses and blouses from Chinese brands for even less than they were when they were new (with the added perks of cheaper shipping and/or no shopping service/custom fees). Personally, since the biggest consumer of Chinese brands are still Chinese Lolitas, I don’t think we’re seeing the full extent of this and I can imagine that the Chinese Lolita second hand market could be absolutely bursting with clothes – nonetheless we’re feeling the impact of intensive buying of cheap stuff outside of China too.


The fact that Lacemarket has a separate category for Chinese
brands speaks volumes. That there are currently over 200 active
listings in that category only further proves the point.
Screenshot from Lacemarket taken on March 7th 2018.

Chinese Brands Have Shifted the Centre of Lolita Fashion

Because of how much is produced in China and how large the demand of the domestic market for Lolita fashion is, the Lolita fashion’s centre has shifted somewhat away from Japan. Yes, both us and the Chinese Lolitas still look to Harajuku and the Japanese brands for inspiration, purchases and respected figures within the fashion. However, even the Japanese brands acknowledge the contribution of the Chinese markets in their own profit by opening more branches, throwing elaborate and expensive tea parties in China, to the extent that they do not in their other overseas branches, Chinese brands are opening branches in Japan and are being included in Japanese publications. We’re inviting Chinese brands to Western events and they’re as much of a celebrity and are welcomed as warmly as guests from Japan or Korea are. Whilst the access to internet has generally turned Lolita fashion into something that doesn’t rely on physical location anymore (the majority of our interactions with the fashion take place online and thanks to various indie brands and the second hand sales market we’re less reliant on shopping in Japan), the fact that Chinese brands have grown so big, so widespread and so popular implies that if we were to look at the new hub for Lolita fashion, China is a strong contender for that. The fashion’s centre isn’t definitely in China and it doesn’t lie solely with Taobao as a selling platform – but they have had an impact we can’t ignore and when talking about Lolita fashion we are putting China on the map as much as we put Japan.

Have you seen anything even half as
elaborate at an AP SF or AP Paris
tea party? Ever?
Photo from Angelic Pretty website.

Chinese Brands Help Us Enjoy Just Wearing Clothes Again

When you ask Lolitas why they don’t wear their frills more often, typical responses will include worry over care maintenance of expensive clothing and damages that can happen during prolonged, day to day wear. However, since the garments produced by Chinese brands are often cheaper as well as mostly machine washable, Lolitas feel more comfortable taking those pieces out on a regular basis, saving their more expensive/cherished pieces for special occasions. And while people time and again prove that an Angelic Pretty print is often just as machine washable and durable as those bought on Taobao, there is a psychological effect to it as well: we simply don’t feel like it’d be such a big loss to accidentally damage or overwear a piece of clothing we know retails at a lower price. Being able to have inexpensive, durable and cute Lolita clothing for day to day wear that Chinese brands offer has brought Lolita fashion closer to its roots as a street fashion, i.e. something to be worn every day, not just once a month. Of course, at an individual level other aspects need to be considered, such as practicality or even the possibility of wearing Lolita daily, but that applies to all brands of Lolita clothing equally and will remain to be up to the individual to decide what they wear outside of meets and tea parties.

Have I told you that I wear this skirt a lot? This
is just one occasion where it was turned into an
actual Lolita coord!


Those are the effects that I could think of. If you think about this subject deeply and long enough, you will come up with all kinds ways it has impacted our community, from personal (savings) to community (are Chinese brands fighting or creating a new kind of elitism within our community  discuss) to global (think about the environmental impact of such wide-scale online shopping on Taobao, for example). To me personally Chinese brands have enabled me to access the items that I felt were needed without compromising on my budget or on quality. And along the way I’m sure I made a contribution to someone’s livelihood in China via my custom and the need for a shopping service.

At this point it is important to notice that throughout this post I have been using the phrase 'Chinese brands' when the original prompt and many Lolitas say 'Taobao brands'. This label is really problematic once you stop to actually think about it deconstruct it – luckily, Raine Dragon has written a fantastic short post to explain exactly why. We cant just say that we now Taobao is more than just knock offs and cheap lace and then call the brands that produce these clothes in a patronising, racist way. We need to put our money where our mouths are and the least we can do is by starting to say Chinese brands and recognise them as more than just the platform they use and as much as possible not lump them all together as if the selling platform itself is an indicator of anything. It won’t be easy, habits are difficult to break, but it’s important. After all, the negative connotations we associate with the phrase 'Made in China' once applied to Japan, when Japan was the source of cheap factories to outsource manufacturing to. But now 'Made in Japan' is synonymous with quality, so let’s speed up the transition phase for China and Chinese manufacturers: both within and outside of Lolita fashion.

What do you think the rise of Chinese brands has meant for Lolita fashion and the Lolita fashion community? Do you think the effects of that rise are mostly positive or negative? Definitely check out what the other participating bloggers have to say about this, this is such an interesting topic to debate and I myself would love to read more opinions on it.


6 comments:

  1. I couldn't handle putting in the brain power to blog on this topic, so I'm glad to see that you did! I'm of the general feeling that the more the merrier, but that we do lose a bit of our cultural touchstones when dilution occurs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I still think that you could cover this topic in a lot more depth than I have here (it could be interesting to really look at the environmental and elitism aspects I mentioned briefly at the end), but that could end up being a whole academic paper which no-one would read.
      I get what you mean about things getting a bit diluted. On the one hand, it makes room for innovation and pieces that could be worn a bit more casually and daily, but on the other - it can take Lolita fashion into a place where it stops being Lolita anymore. It probably won't happen soon, but could potentially happen down the line.

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  2. A good follow up on your former post about which choice is best for beginners. Taobao is dangerous place for being on bugdet, because everything is cheap, you want to buy it all. However the good thing about taobao that it legalimate wearing indie brand and itsn't just because you can't afford brand. Still we need to learn people to call it by the brand and not just from taobao.
    Unless people can't remember the name.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. What I started doing and try to remember (which is a lot easier when writing than talking) is to say "an item that I bought on Taobao" or "a brand that is on Taobao". That brings Taobao back to being a shopping platform rather than implying that it's a brand in its own right, and helps when you can't remember or don't know the brand's name. It will be a while before all of this will become a habit, but hopefully if we all start checking ourselves on that, we'll get the community to a place that recognises how much we've been dismissing Chinese brands up until that point.

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