Milanoo: Myths and Misconceptions in Lolita
Before I begin, I want to start this out with a disclaimer. I don’t like Milanoo and I’m not going to shop there. That said, I think confusion early on caused a lot of misconceptions in the community.
A while back I was on Facebook and I saw that someone had bought from Lolitadressesshop.co.uk and was concerned because they didn’t have the item in hand after almost 2 months. Immediately, people were telling them that it was a scam, a milanoo sock puppet, and to do a charge back.
So, how did we get here? Back in the day when the lolita community was really just starting to understand the idea of taobao, a number of websites popped up that offered to basically broker the transaction for you. Shopping services were mostly still operating via email, translating pages was rougher than it is today, and these sites made it super easy. There were reputable ones like Qutieland and Clobba where the owners interacted with the community on EGL, and then there were others.
One of those others was Milanoo.
Milanoo first opened in 2008, and they sold costumes and lingerie, much like Bodyline originally did. The used the tag line “China’s E-Retailer Match Maker”. But then, in 2009 they changed their business model. They started to sell lolita, and they started to sell wedding dresses. Milanoo was never really a fashion company. Their only real goal was to make money by reselling items from taobao. Their business model basically was about getting really high up in google results so that people who had never heard of them would buy from them once. It was all about the impulse buy. Fake “sale” prices and limited time specials was all part of this game. So was making sure they had anything that someone could want. So they stocked totally indiscriminately. Remember, they really only want that one-time customer, so if they stock a dress that is crappy, oh well. They have a no returns policy. So they stocked items from Taobao shops that used stolen pictures. This is absolutely rampant in the wedding and fashion categories on Taobao, and Milanoo just didn’t care. They also dropped the tag line, which made it less clear that they were only a reseller.
Which is how we came to The Infamous Pink Dress Review (photos are long gone, but people have copied them over the years so I’ve put a couple below) around the end of 2009.
The image on the left is BTSSB’s Baniran Ribbon Babydoll JSK from 2008. But, you know, it’s an unremarkable dress, it was a year old, and it’s been photoshopped onto a floral background. We didn’t have lolibrary back then, and the community was used to Anna House and Bodyline where the photos looked a little wacky, but you got what was pictured and at a low price.
No one was prepared for things that didn’t look like the picture. To see someone get something like the dress on the right was shocking. So it was assumed, at the time, that Milanoo created the stolen pictures (they are watermarked with milanoo after all), put them up, and then contracted with some child-labor factory in China to make the terrible pieces from the photo. What a scam!
So, this and other bad reviews are pouring in, and Milanoo is trying to make themselves go viral still, so they are making fake lolita blogs, FB pages, LJ accounts, etc and stealing content from real lolita. This majorly backfires with the community.
That led to a boycott and all sites that looked anything like milanoo being dubbed “Milanoo Clones” and a huge black list being made claiming that they were all URLs fro the same company.
But, as time has gone on (it has been nearly 10 years), it’s become increasingly clear that Milanoo isn’t running all of these companies. Milanoo also cleaned up their act significantly for a number of years, though at the time of writing, they are back to having a lot of stolen stock photos, which is something that wasn’t an issue for the last 5-ish years until rather recently.
Mostly, I believe their (at least temporary) change in behavior was because of something that happened in 2012. They got the pants sued off them by David’s Bridal for using David’s Bridal’s photos to sell dresses from Taobao. And at that point things changed significantly. All those stolen wedding dress photos vanished. So did the stolen lolita dress photos. And a report copyright infringement link popped up in the footer of their site.
Milanoo has argued multiple times that they only run 4 sites, and I personally, believe them. Partly because all of those shady lolita dresses that milnaoo sells can be found on taobao shops that are older than Milanoo.
I’ve been digging around on taobao, and one of the most promising looking shops is Wang0723. They stock a lot of the hideous full length ballgowns, but they also have something that I haven’t seen in other shops; they have the “milanoo” floral stock photos next to the real Brand stock photos.
The only problem is that their sales numbers seem to be awfully low. Most of their items have never been sold.
Another contender is 风度cos工作室 / whcosplay. They have been open for 9 years, and have a lot more sales, but many of their photos show watermark editing (like on this dress) that indicates they already removed another taobao shops’ watermark. Because of this, I’m inclined to believe that they were not the original source, but instead a copy-cat shop (which there are many of; and a large number of them).
Yet another contender is 公主的裁缝LOLITA洋装 / lolita-angel
And versions of some of the floral background images exist without the milanoo logo as well. Some, of course, have been edited clean. But some haven’t been. For example this is one of the pieces that Milanoo slapped a watermark on pretty early on (left) and the version on iololita (right) which doesn’t appear to have the Milanoo watermarked edited out, but does appear to have had a watermark edited out of the bottom of the image instead.
Something else of interest, is that every dress on iololita is sorted by style (though not accurately) and the background florals seem to match-ish for each category. Sweet and gothic are both white with space florals, while classic is heavy yellowy florals.
Some of iololita’s photos appear to trace back to dlz公主梦想 / zhen1229 on taobao, however, their sales are also quite low, so I don’t think they are the original either.
One thing that milanoo, iolita and zhen1229 all have in common though is that for this image, someone has clearly edited out a watermark over the top set of stripes, and it wasn’t the milanoo one in the middle (though, someone did edit the dress between when milanoo was using it and when iolita/zhen1229 used it! A string or chain on the sleeve vanished and some wrinkles were removed, weirdly enough!)
On top of the fact that the images exist without the milanoo water marks, another thing that indicates that milanoo likely didn’t create these images is the fact that they weren’t consistent about it. Only some of their lolita dresses were cut out on florals; they had a number of bodyline pieces listed that weren’t.
They also sold/sell pieces from a number of Chinese indie brands that people consider to be more legitimate, like Infanta and an*tai*na, and while there have been some reviews of those pieces that indicate that they weren’t perfect, the items were mostly on par for the quality that typically comes from those Chinese indie brands.
Because of this, I’m far more inclined to believe that Milanoo is just one of a many companies that started a drop shipping businesses selling lolita, cosplay, general fashion and/or bridal wear to people outside of China. I suspect that many of them used some of the same resources to start out; perhaps they did the equivalent of a “class” on drop shipping that guided them to the same eCommerce software, and some of the same techniques. I also suspect that while Milanoo doesn’t run hundreds of sites, some of the other companies in this game may very well have multiple sites.
Lolita is expensive, like bridal wear, so the markup can be quite high while being presented as being “discount”, and new lolita tend to be less anxious than brides about making a purchase of a dress online. Looking at how many people talk about having bought from one of these many drop shipping companies, and knowing the low overhead, it’s likely a profitable business model as well.
That said, I’m certainly not advocating that anyone buy from Milanoo. They did shady things in the past, have a bad returns policy, over inflate their prices, stock low quality items, have gone back to stocking items with stolen stock photos, stock replicas and obscure the names of the designers of the items they do sell.
I also don’t think that we should throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak and suddenly accept all (or even any) of the sites that have previously been dubbed “Milanoo Clones”.
Instead, what I do suggest is that those of us who are more experienced lolita evaluate new reseller and drop shipping sites carefully and individually, looking at their policies, prices, payment methods and product selections to determine if they are or aren’t shady and advising new lolita appropriately instead of making blanket assumptions and urging people to file charge backs when that may not be appropriate.
After all, even if a company is poorly managed, if someone buys an Infanta dress from a drop shipping company, they typically get what they ordered eventually.
I also think that we have, in a way, done newer lolita disservice by denouncing things as “Milanoo Clones” without really explaining why a reseller or drop shipper was bad. We need to start giving newer lolita the tools to identify when a shop is or isn’t legitimate. This means explaining how to identify stolen stock photos, and how to tell if a site is stocking bad quality items. It means teaching them about things like reading about return polices and identify shady sales tactics. By doing this, I think that we can better equip the next generation of lolita with the tools they need to navigate through the resellers, drop shippers and shopping services that inevitably will pop up in the future, even as they begin to look less and less like Milanoo.