China — arguably the most targeted market in the fashion industry for the past two years is now taking center stage in the blogging industry as well. But what took so long?
China and the Fashion Industry
After Paris Fashion Week in March of 2012, it was evident that it was the Chinese who were the stars of the front row — not the Americans, British, Italians, Japanese, or the French. And it's no wonder, as the rich and famous of China become more interested in western fashion, the industry has molded to their culture by opening up more stores in their country, offering exclusives with Chinese designers (as the CFDA did), and placing Chinese models in their ad campaigns. Women's Wear Daily, a source for all things fashion news, even offers a column called “ChinaFile” penned by Huang Hung to cater to the growing interest in the east.
Daniel Kong of the Hong Kong-based fashion commentary blog The Black Renaissance, which began back in 2010, notes that, “Chinese domestic fashion lags slightly behind the rest of the world, partly because the country’s embrace of capitalism is much more recent. That said, I also think that China has had a greater interest in fashion much sooner than the rest of the world might have caught on.”
So if the interest has been around for some time, where do the Chinese fashion bloggers come into play?
China and the Internet
With over 513 million internet users in China, it's listed as the top country of online users in the world. However, China's government-implemented restrictions on the internet has caused fashion blogging to fall behind other countries in their prominence on the web.
While the Chinese have a wealth of online users, they only have a 38.4% penetration rate — meaning that yes, over 500 million users is a lot, but in the “per capita” of the overall population of China, it's not even half of the people living there (to put it in perspective, China's population is around 1.3 billion). The United States, on the other hand, has an estimated 245 million internet users and has a 78% penetration rate.
Furthermore, the blogging platforms we are so familiar with in western culture are mostly blocked in China. Christing Chang of Fashion Hedonism, a three-year-old fashion blog based in Hong Kong, notes, “Most social networking sites and blogging sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger are only accessible in Hong Kong and blocked in China, making Weibo the strongest platform to reach a wide variety of followers in China. It is especially popular amongst fashion bloggers who blog in Chinese.” Besides Sina Weibo, other popular platforms include Sina Blog, Diandian, Baidu, Sohu, and Blogbus.
Kong also believes such restrictions has caused a rift between Chinese bloggers and the rest of the world, “China’s great firewall means that whilst international bloggers are using platforms such as Tumblr, Blogspot and Twitter, China has their own blogging platforms like Diandian, Weibo, 163 etc. This has created a large social divide.”
He also determines language has played a part in the gap, “Language is also another factor that hinders people’s awareness of China’s fashion bloggers, especially since the West are much more likely to understand the English language.”
That being said, Kong gathers that the Chinese fashion blogging industry will eventually overcome these divides and continue to compete with western fashion bloggers, “If bloggers want to appeal to this international audience, they will have to find a way to overcome language barriers (such as bilingualism).”
Fashion Blogging in China, and Specifically Hong Kong
But even with web restrictions, the fashion blogging industry has followed suit with the consumer market surge, most successfully in Hong Kong (probably due to the fact Hong Kong has far less restrictions with online activity and a closer connection to western culture).
Chinese blogger integration with western brands is only growing according to Chang, “Most of the fashion market is looking to reach the Chinese consumer, with many brands opening their first stores in China or making sure their online sites have a Chinese version. Louis Vuitton recently opened their largest store in Shanghai showing how important China has become for the the fashion industry. Fashion bloggers have become integral in helping brands reach their target demographics, and understanding the Chinese consumer. This had made many fashion bloggers in China and Hong Kong become more noticed worldwide.”
Chang also has observed the rise of “celebrity blogger” types, much like the United States, “There is definitely an emergence of the ‘celebrity blogger' here in Hong Kong and China with many bloggers being photographed at high profile fashion events, and getting plenty of features in the local press. Because the concept is still relatively new to the fashion industry here it is still very difficult to make a full time career out of blogging, but I do believe it is changing and going towards the direction of what fashion blogging has become in the U.S.”
Kong has also noticed China's very own BryanBoy and Anna Dello Russo-type equivalents in the blogosphere, noting that, “Han Huo Huo is most definitely one [of the most popular], and has certainly worked very hard to get to where he is today. China also has a very popular media personality called Hong Huang (our version of Oprah and Anna Wintour) who has as popular blog. She was able to leverage on her past experience to achieve her online influence, and has used her fame to support China’s domestic creative industries.”
The “Sam” behind Sam is Home, a fashion blog that began in 2008 and is also based in Hong Kong, predicts that the fashion blogging industry in China is forming in a way similar to western cultures by, “growth in company-fashion blogger collaborations, a transitioning of fashion-turned-lifestyle blogs, [and] more niche clusters of bloggers coming together on a shared platform.”
What do you think about the rise of bloggers emerging in China?