Taobao Maker Festival 2018 got off to a glamorous start Thursday, with models in the latest creations from China’s top young designers strutting across Hangzhou’s iconic “Broken Bridge,” which was transformed for the night into a high-fashion catwalk.
With the West Lake as the backdrop, the fashion show spotlighted 20 of China’s most-promising fashion innovators, including Esa Liang, Grace Deng and Veeco Zhao. For many, participation in the show, which was broadcast live online, was a fast and direct way to show off their designs and engage with customers nationwide.
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The audience, watching the show at home or on their mobile phones, could purchase the pieces they saw on the runway with just a few swipes and taps on the screen, thanks to Alibaba’s “See Now, Buy Now” technology.
“Taobao helps ignite the creativity of designers, as well as meet consumers’ demands for quality, individuality and beauty. From meeting demands to creating demands, Taobao has been witness to the rising influence of original designers among the new generation of consumers, shaping their trends and tastes,” said Jiang Fan, president of Taobao.
Taobao Maker Festival 2018 At-a-Glance
The interactive fashion show was just one of many first-time features at the third annual Festival, which was the largest event in Taobao history. Looking to celebrate the young, homegrown innovators and designers selling products on Taobao, Alibaba put them front-and-center. Their products range from traditional handcrafts, cutting-edge gadgets and trendy fashion pieces to pet products and vintage trinkets.
The ‘Taobao Spirit’
“The Taobao Maker Festival aims to mirror the spirit and essence of Taobao … a barrier-free platform for young Chinese to freely express themselves, form a community with like-minded friends and connect with people,” said Chris Tung, Alibaba’s chief marketing officer and the architect of the Festival. “We hope the Festival is not only fun and entertaining, but inspiring so more people can be encouraged to tap into their creativity and express their originality on the Taobao platform.”
The Festival, he emphasized, is unlike other shows in the world, because there’s no buying or selling allowed at the venue. Instead, it’s a stage only for the makers to showcase their diverse work and share their brand stories with their customers.
Lucy Luo said her experience with the previous Festival was so positive that she “wanted to make a special trip to this year’s.”
“Like last year, we saw a lot of fun and exciting displays. Being next to the West Lake means the atmosphere is fantastic,” she said.
Taobao is the world’s largest online shopping site, with 634 million monthly active users. Over half are in their 20s or 30s. Multiple research firms have noted that China’s so-called “post-millennial” generation is the main engine bolstering consumption growth in China, the world’s second-largest economy.
A CBNData study showed that over 70% of the independent designers on Taobao are between 24 and 33 years old. There are over 50,000 indie designers and private-label innovators who sell through Taobao. In 2017, an average of 5 million pieces of originally designed products are sold monthly via the platform.
Innovation in Action
This year’s four-day festival was divided into five major themed markets, each featuring the platform’s best-selling products and their makers. The “furry friends” section had myriad pet-related products, ranging from sweaters for parrots and lizards, animal-friendly birthday cakes and fully furnished hamster condos to matching outfits for pets and their owners.
At the section labeled “A.C.G.N.”—animé, comics, gaming and novels—visitors found themselves fully immersed in a futuristic fantasy world, surrounded by characters from popular video games and Japanese manga. Fans of BBC’s iconic sci-fi show, Doctor Who, got to see a real-life TARDIS onsite, plus a chance to print out a limited-edition Doctor Who postcard.
Lovers and collectors of Chinese traditional handicrafts could visit the Cultural Market, where dozens of China’s artists, sculptors and designers were infusing elements of their heritage into their creations. This spoke to the central theme of “China Cool,” a growing subculture in China that meshes East and the West, past and present, as well as abstract and figurative arts.
The Technology Market has typically been the biggest attention-grabber at past festivals. This year, visitors could experience the future of retail by donning AR-powered goggles that allowed them to view the inside of a shopping mall without ever setting a foot in one.
“This festival is very cool to young people like me because it is made by and for people my age. So many innovative ideas and products that I have never seen before,” said Zhou Yanxin, 23, from Suzhou.
A trip to the second-hand goods section was like a drive down memory lane, with displays of vintage trinkets from yesteryear, such as decades-old typewriters, old AM/FM radios and shelves of CDs and records from the 1980s and before.
For all three evenings, a lineup of Chinese indie rock bands, including Omnipotent Youth, Miserable Faith and Hao Mei Mei, are set to play at the West Lake. Those who can’t make it in person can interact with the bands directly online.
Coverage from past Taobao Maker Festivals: