Fashion has a long history of producing prodigies, from Yves Saint Laurent, who took over at Christian Dior when he was 21, to Zac Posen, who was 22 when he unveiled his first collection in New York in February 2002.
Like them, Song Yadan has lofty ambitions. The 23 year-old mainland fashion designer already has her own label: Mumu Home. Since the 2008 opening of her online store on Taobao.com, the country’s largest online retailer, Song has sold more than 500,000 pieces of clothing, all of which she designed herself. Last year, sales at the virtual shop exceeded Rmb10 million ($1.46 million), reports the China Daily.
But Song has never received any formal training. She graduated from Zhejiang Forestry University, majoring in furniture and interior design. Like many Chinese entrepreneurs, Song found her way to initial success through reverse engineering.
“Initially, I knew nothing about making clothes,” says Song. “I’m intelligent enough to separate old clothes or dresses to learn the structure. It was just like when I dismantled a radio and made a new one at primary school.”
Most of Mumu Home’s popular items are princess-style dresses, as well as coats, skirts and shirts with lace and embroideries. Though made from high quality materials, Song’s prices are very attractive. One of her recent hits, the white butterfly-print empire waist dress, retails for only $18 and has sold more than 1,500 pieces in the last 30 days.
Today, Song hires more than 100 staff and has her own factory in Hangzhou. She even has her parents working for her.
What differentiates Song’s store from competitors is that she is fast, and can bring in new designs cheaply. That means she’s able to keep her inventory looking fresh and in-step with the latest fashion.
The young entrepreneur is also a clever marketer. Her designs are modelled by a doll-like girl named Hui Hui – with Song spending a lot on her fashion shoots.
Song’s success has inspired millions others – recent college graduates, shopkeepers and housewives — to use Taobao.com to open their own virtual stores. Taobao says its site could help create half a million new jobs, mostly among young people opening new online stores.
Competition is starting to intensify. According to Shanghai-based paper Wen Wei Po, there are over 103 virtual stores on Taobao.com that sell women’s clothing. In Hangzhou alone there are more than 10 start-ups similar to Mumu Home.
But Song is not worried. She plans to spend as much as Rmb3 million in advertising this year to build brand awareness. And she hopes that by next year Mumu Home will even have a bricks-and-mortar store in Hangzhou.
“I don’t admire anyone but myself. I believe one day I will become China’s Coco Chanel,” declares the budding entrepreneur.
Song’s success has also turned her model Hui Hui into an unlikely internet celebrity. She is now one of the most popular cyber models in China, an emerging occupation amid the nation’s online retail boom.
Unlike runway stars, cyber-models, called madou in Chinese, do not strut the catwalk. They merely pose for pictures posted online for stores like Mumu Home. These amateur models, usually employed by small online clothing stores, are mostly college students.
Tang Miao, who owns an online clothing store, told the China Daily that a lot of customers complain that it’s difficult to assess the fit of a garment on the internet, so they prefer looking at a girl who resembles themselves to see how the clothes will look.
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