US-funded Chinese fashion website will go after younger online customer base

Updated: 2014-08-07 11:01

By Elizabeth Wu in New York (China Daily USA)

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Backed by US funding, an online fashion website in China aims to tap into a younger generation of consumers who prefer the e-commerce approach when shopping online for clothing, accessories and jewelry.

Yetang is an online Chinese website specializing in fashion and other products from independent designers. The company has secured funding from IDG Capital Partners, a US venture capital firm that is based in China.

Yetang's co-founders, Natasia Guo and Zhang Yan, said IDG found they had a good track record of working with independent designers, which encouraged them to fund their enterprise.

"The future of e-commerce entrepreneurship in China lies in creating retail brands that serve specific demographics and offer a unique value to their customers," said Zhang.

Last month, Yetang, which translates into wild candy in Chinese, has had 720,000 visitors and 250,000 registered members. The site offers 15,000 products from more than 500 brands. Yetang fulfills its orders by directing them to the supplier which then has the product shipped to the customer. This means Yetang doesn't carry any inventory.

Kelland Willis, an analyst at Los Angeles-based research and advisory company Forrester Research, said since Yetang doesn't keep inventory "(Profit) margins are higher and allows them to go through iterations (product changes) quicker."

"While the platforms still dominate today, online retail has become (and will become) more segmented. Taobao (an online shopping site in China owned by Alibaba) can sell everything under the sun, but it can't be everything to everyone," said Zhang. He noted that Yetang's young, fashion-conscious customers are looking for a differentiating piece of clothing that they won't be able to find on Taobao.

The site is also dedicated to marketing independent designers to the general public.

"Our designers find it hard for their wares to be discovered in the ocean of products that fill the major e-commerce platforms." said Zhang.

"Yetang doesn't just sell, rather we help independent designers succeed." said Guo. "Many upstart independent designers are designing products that compete directly with fast fashion (not necessarily in terms of style they're selling to a similar demographic at a comparable price point)."

"This is a great platform for doing that, but the products aren't necessarily revolutionary," noted Willis.

Four years ago, starting an independent label as an entrepreneur was very expensive as factories in China wouldn't take small orders from independent designers.

Zhang said that when the apparel export business stopped growing, Chinese factories started looking inward and began to work with independent designers, lowering the price of production. "That made the barrier to entrepreneurship lower for a lot of designers," Zhang said.

In the last three years, the number of independent designers has grown exponentially, from several hundred in 2011 to several thousand now.

"Most of them are entrepreneurs and artists and most are ambitious businesspeople who aim to build the next JNBY, the next Evisu." said Guo. Zhang said foreign investors, especially US companies looking to invest in China's consumer sector, "are looking for companies whose future growth will play on China turning from an export-based economy towards more domestic consumption."

"Online is where China's version of Urban Outfitters and Mujis will be born," said Zhang.Willis lived in Beijing for three years, working in the ecommerce industry. "These products are everywhere, but the specialty stores have yet to take off, especially in second and third tier cities in China." said Willis, explaining how Yetang has marketed these products and given them context.

Guo from Yetang said that they are selling to a hip demographic group, mainly the post-90s generation of China. Consumer businesses seem to express a good deal of anxiety about the post-90s generation, as they are more individualistic and materialistic. These people tend to be homebodies, whose sense of socialization, cultural influence and public identity reside online, said Guo.

For China Daily

(China Daily USA 08/07/2014 page2)