"The big thing is that social media platforms are integrated
with e-commerce and payments," says Elijah Whaley, chief marketing
officer of influencer marketing platform Parklu. "Abroad, none of
the social products are integrated with payments. You can't receive
orders or make payments through Instagram."
On Tencent Holdings' WeChat app, for example, someone can use
WeChat as a blogging platform, and launch an online store that's
both simple to set up and accessible through WeChat's own payment
The trend toward influencers selling their own brands seems
especially pronounced in the fashion category. Venture capital firm
Andreessen Horowitz said last year that five of the top 10 women's
apparel brands on Alibaba Group's Taobao online shopping platform
were founded by influencers.
Zhu, who's 27 years old and goes by the nickname Cherie, started
her brand, Chinstudio, seven years ago on Taobao when she was still
a university student. It has since ballooned. She became even more
well known for reportedly dating Wang Sicong, son of real estate
tycoon Wang Jianlin, but while the romance didn't last, her fame
did. In June, Zhu told Alibaba investors that she had 2016 sales of
$96 million and was targeting more than $158 million in 2017, her
PR team said, confirming numbers first reported by the South China
Zhu's clothes are sleek but affordable, similar in style and
price to Zara's. A wool coat goes for around $100, a scarf for $15.
And then there are occasional fun impulse buys, like the $6
candy-colored slippers. "Live Fabulously," the copy reads, in
English. Her social posts on Weibo drive interest in her products
for sale, and vice versa, creating a social-shopping loop.
Another fashion influencer, Zhang Dayi, was a former model with
a solid online following; she joined an influencer "incubator" to
build her brand, and now she has 5.7 million Weibo fans. Her brand,
Jupe Vendue, says it sold more than $15 million in products during
the first half-hour of Singles Day, Alibaba's 24-hour shopping
fest, in November.
While Zhu and Zhang are big names, smaller-scale Chinese
influencers are building their own lines, too.
"You have a lot of them doing it DIY—they figure out it's
not that difficult to design a product, source it and sell it,"
says Parklu's Whaley. "You might have 1,000 people who will give
you $100 [each] and that's $100,000 in sales, which is great for
For fashion influencer brands, it's common to have a presence
both on Twitter-like Weibo and Alibaba's Taobao marketplace,
perhaps along with live-streaming platforms like Yizhibo or Meipai.
Weibo has investment from Alibaba, and influencers can upload
products from Alibaba's Taobao marketplace to sell directly on
Weibo (though there's a referral fee).
That's what Zhu does on Weibo: Items for sale are stamped with a
little shopping-bag icon. To buy something requires just four or
five clicks, and you don't have to plug your payment or delivery
details into an unfamiliar platform. It's frictionless, so you can
go ahead and buy Zhu's $6 fluffy slippers without disengaging from
the social platform—and, helpfully for her, without thinking
too much about whether you really need them.