Shanghai, China -When China's brick-and-mortar retailers started to wake up in April, most felt compelled to coax reluctant shoppers back into the stores withvouchers and discountsHowever, one brand managed to attract buyers without much fuss.
On a small street in Shanghai's former French Concession, an unassuming white storefront had a queue snaking out the door every weekend. Anfu Lu is not a major commercial thoroughfare; it is best known for its popular western-style cafes and restaurants. When there are lines in this neighborhood, it's usually for a table at brunch time, not for a fashion store selling tops and miniskirts.
but that's exactly itdozens of teenagersthey are in line, just before the store opens its doors at 10 am. collapsed. Young women and girls make the journey from across town to this lone physical outpost of Brandy Melville, the Italian-born, California-style fast fashion brand that famously and controversially adheres to a one-size-fits-all policy, with waists measuring just 24 inches. (61 centimeters).
Brandy Melville, or BM as it is colloquially known in China, has made an incredibly low-key entry into the Chinese market, typical of its entry into other markets. It only opened its first retail store in Shanghai in September last year, and unlike most other foreign fashion and beauty brands, Brandy Melville has no official presence on major e-commerce platforms. By selling online through his own Chinese-language website, he has also given up official partnerships with top Chinese celebrity brand ambassadors. (Brandy Melville did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)
Brandy Melville Campaign Photo | Source: @brandymelvilleusa
Despite this unconventional approach, the brand has managed to cause quite a stir on the Chinese internet, riding the '90s style wave popularized by youth style icons likeJisooand Jennie, from the Korean girl group Blackpink, and singer and actress Ouyang Nana, who are incredibly popular among teenage girls in China.
For the post-95 and post-2000 generations in China who are embracing '90s style through international cultural references like Monica from Friends or the naïve Clueless Cher Horowitz, the style is not nostalgic. Instead, for these consumers in their teens and early 20s, the short skirts, crop tops and denim cuts that Brandy Melville is known for today represent a kind of self-confidence to wear more revealing clothing styles than the generations. from Chinese consumers. would have dared
“I think they are less conservative when it comes to showing off their bodies than previous generations,” explained Lauren Hallanan, director of marketing at Chatly, the management company for WeChat. "Super-short skirts... [and] showing their [stomach], these are things the older generation was uncomfortable with and couldn't accept, while the younger generation grew up with [them] being fine."
International fast-fashion retailers selling skimpy clothes in China are nothing new. Hallanan points to Forever 21, which had a similar proposition when it entered the China market in 2008. Unfortunately for Forever 21, the market wasn't ready, and in 2019 the retailerclosed its stores in Chinaand beat a retreat before declaring bankruptcy.
Brandy Melville is the brainchild of father and son duo Silvio and Stephan Marsan. Its first store opened in Italy in 1994, before launching in the US in 2009 and the UK in 2012. Today, the 3.9 million people who follow the brand on Instagram would more easily associate it with a typical "Brandy girl". ", who is blonde. she is thin and spends time at the beach with her friends. The brand's popularity in the US has been fueled by celebrity fans including Kylie Jenner and Hailey Bieber.
With about 100 stores open worldwide, Brandy Melville does not release revenue figures. However, analysts quoted in a Bloomberg Businessweek article published in 2014 put its annual sales at around $125 million, with a growth rate (at this stage) of more than 20% per year. Notoriously, the brand relies on social media, rather than advertising, for marketing. In the West, they rely heavily on Instagram to reach their young audience of teens and tweens.
Other fast fashion retailers such as H&M andZara, they sell styles similar to the brand, but only as part of a larger assortment. However, part of Brandy Melville's appeal in China seems to stem from its specificity.
Nowadays, on sites like Xiaohongshu and Douyin, the terms "BM style" and "BM girl" have become trendy hashtags; On Douyin alone, Brandy Melville branded content has 160 million views, and for anyone in this online club, being a “BM girl” is a source of pride.
“Not only is the style there, but the ability to use that style is a badge of honor you can achieve,” Hallanan said.
Unlike most foreign brands, Brandy Melville does not have an official presence on major e-commerce platforms.
Brandy Melville may have made her way into the Chinese market in an unconventional way, but the cultural context that is attracting young Chinese women to her affordable small offerings (items generally range from 100 to 300 yuan, or $14 to $42), it actually fits comfortably with China's traditional ideas of beauty.
In China, as in much of East Asia, the beauty norms of slim bodies and alabaster skin still run deep, and the way people talk about weight and beauty is much more straightforward than in the West.
Take this year's China reality show as an example. The Chuang 2020 contestants go through a series of challenges every week to win a coveted spot in a girl group. In a recent episode, the contestants demonstrated their thinness by walking between two poles placed horizontally at waist height. The space between the first two posts was 30 inches (76 centimetres), with each successive pair of horizontal posts having a smaller and smaller opening, with only the thinnest competitors allowed to pass through the final gap between the posts.
A body-shaming challenge like this on a reality show in the West would cause quite the stir, but for Chinese audiences, it would hardly raise an eyebrow, so widespread is the acceptance that thinness is a vital part of being considered attractive.
"Beauty challenges" appear on Chinese social media with some regularity, often with the aim of proving how thin (and therefore beautiful) girls are. One, for example, saw (predominantly) young women taking selfies with an A4 sheet in front of their waist, to show that they were thinner than the 21 cm wide paper; another saw girls photographed with 100 yuan bills wrapped around their forearms, the two ends of the money touching.
Being a "BM Girl" and posting Brandy Melville-branded selfies has essentially become the latest "beauty challenge" to take the Chinese Internet by storm ahead of a summer season where underwear is likely to become even more serious. to bite. a bit for less restrictions and more freedom to be outside in the sun after a long winter spent mostly indoors as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
However, whether the prestige that currently comes from being a "BM Girl" in China has staying power is another question. Fashion blogger Jiang Yanyi has more than 1.25 million followers on Weibo and a popular official WeChat account, where she often writes about the need to expand Chinese beauty standards. She believes that the country's young fashion consumers are on a steep learning curve, which will eventually lead them to discover new notions about beauty.
"It's okay to opt for an image like white [alabaster skin] or [being] thin, everyone can have their own options, but [we should also] let everyone realize that there can be other forms of beauty, let them have the opportunity to fully understand and finally make your own decision,” said Jiang.
That choice may well remain the style epitomized by Brandy Melville, but as the online buzz around the brand grows louder and the once-exclusive "BM Girls" club grows, its current cache may also lose some of its luster. .
Additional reporting by Irina Li
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