Recently, I made a change to one of my resources pages. For a long time, I’ve had a page called “Taobao brand list“. Which, it was. It was a list of shops, on the platform taobao, that sold lolita. That’s what the western community calls them, right? Taobao brands. Except, we don’t call western indie brands “etsy brands”, or “store envy brands” or “paypal brands”. We call them indie brands. And it doesn’t matter if they are in England, or Australia or Canada, or the United States, or anywhere else in the non-asian world. We call them indie brands. Sure, there aren’t many of them, so it makes it easy right? But, if an indie brand is in Korea, it’s a Korean brand or a Korean indie brand. And if an indie brand is in Japan, it’s a brand.
But if an indie brand is in China, it’s a taobao brand.
And if someone says “oh, that dress looks really taobao-ish”, you know what they mean, right? Somethings not quite right about it, right? Maybe the design is weak, or the lace is cheap, or the art style just isn’t quite right.
But, it’s ok, right? I mean, everyone knows it, right?
It just looks Chinese, right?
…was that last statement jarring? I really hope it was.
If it wasn’t, it should be. In fact, a lot of this should be jarring.
Because it’s really quite racist.
China has one of the most sophisticated manufacturing infrastructures in the world, and China is second in the world for countries with the most billionaires. It’s also arguably one of the largest markets for lolita fashion, if not the largest.
There are more Chinese indie lolita brands and Chinese lolita brands than there are indie lolita brands and lolita brands in the rest of the world combined.
And, if you go on taobao, and look at the sales numbers on popular pieces from popular Chinese brands, they easily eclipse the sales numbers of some of the companies that western lolita consider “brands”. And these pieces aren’t carbon copies. They are fresh, and innovative. There are new shapes, and details and motifs coming out of these brands. Different Chinese brands hit different price points (and, by necessity, quality levels), making lolita more accessible to more people.
There is a Chinese lolita fashion mook, Girlism, with high quality photography that makes the GLB look cheap.
And the Chinese lolita community is setting trends that influence the design choices of brands in Japan.
And yet, western lolita have the audacity to not only be disrespectful to hundreds of designers and brands by lumping them into one and calling them taobao brands, after their sales platform, but to use that as a put-down for low quality or ugly pieces, as if all of China is a hive-mind producing cheap crap.
It’s shameful, and it’s racist, and it needs to stop.
Today, highly skilled workers in Chinese factories produce some of the highest quality designer goods in the world. Most Japanese lolita brands have at least some of their items produced in Chinese factories, and they have for years. The idea that Chinese made lolita items are low quality because they were made in China is a misconception fueled in part by the fact that for many years, China simply was exceptional at manufacturing things inexpensively. That naturally led to western companies who needed cheap stuff made cheap to turn to Chinese factories, which in turn led to an association between cheap stuff and Chinese manufacturing in western culture. The fact that cheap items, or low quality items, or fake items produced in China exist, does not negate the accomplishments of hundreds of Chinese lolita designers who make nice things. After all, cheap and low quality lolita items exist in Japan and in the west as well.
I’d like to encourage people to be mindful of the language they use to describe things. Lolita is changing, and evolving, and I believe that Chinese lolita fashion brands are likely to hold a more and more pivotal role in the future.