Crimson Reflections

Because sometimes the world is too complex for black and white

How The Western Lolita Community Is Failing Chinese Brands

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.

Long Ears Sharp Ears - Girlism Fashion Show
Long Ears Sharp Ears at the Girlism Fashion Show

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.


13 comments on “How The Western Lolita Community Is Failing Chinese Brands

  1. Thanks for writing this. I’d also like to add that cheap or poorly made products aren’t the fault of the Chinese manufacturer but the company that contracted them to make it. Why? Because all companies have quality standards and the products that come back state side must pass the company’s quality assurance inspections. If poorly made items pass the company’s QA standards, then it was likely the company intended to produce and market low quality items. But no one ever blames the company brand for cheap, poorly made products. They see “Made in China” on the package and just assume that’s the reason why.

  2. Thankyou for writing such an interesting article. As someone who comes from a manufacturing background I only occasionally buy from Taobao. How come? This is because while there are some Chinese brands who manufacture well, there are several others which do not. There are many where the design was constructed in a way specifically to save money. An example would be where they printed on a ribbon pattern to avoid using a laceup design, or the full skirt is cut out of one rectangle of fabric. I feel that alot of Chinese manufacturers saw that there was alot of money in lolita, and hence started moving manufacturing that way. This has happened in other industries as well, to capitalize on the next new trend. I have a friend who is an avid buyer of Taobao and eagerly analyses and dissects all the new releases coming through Weibo. Said friend also sells alot of Taobao because she has been disappointed in the quality and the cuts despite measuring herself carefully. China also runs into the problem with sizing. Sure, if you are as small and slim as a Chinese girl then it will fit you well. But for many Westerners, we suffer from the grading scale used by one fit model which is not necessarily appropriate for the bigger size, meaning that often items do not fit well, or are too small in the chest. It is also common for people to order a size up because of the inaccurate measurements. And how many times have people received an item which was different from the stock photo, or had even different lace, and this information was not communicated to them? Even some of the bigger brands, like Cutie Creator and Sweet Dreamer have slipped up on occasion.

    I am not pro-brand, I have purchased dresses and accessories from Diamond Honey, Red Maria, Pumpkin Cat and Excalibur and I have a few more orders in the works, however I felt that your article missed the amount of manufacturing defects which occur. A manufacturing defect is not necessarily the fault of the company who contracted the company – I have received items from my factory which was printed upside-down and then we have to go back and negotiate – it sometimes is based upon cost and what the factory can ‘get away with’. I am all for highlighting and identifying good Taobao brands, perhaps we need another FB page for ‘Taobao reviews’? Currently the only way that people provide reviews are by posting pictures under Lolita Updates, however unless you are specifically following the post/company it is difficult to find that review. The amount of Chinese brand updates is also overwhelming so at this stage most people are finding good Taobao brands through trial and error. I am certainly interested in hearing about good quality brands, so it would be wonderful if you could provide some personal recommendations as well.

  3. Interesting read. As someone who works in the fashion industry I have to say it’s not that it’s racist to categorize Chinese brands as taobao. It literally has nothing to do with race because if it was racist, then Japanese and Korean brands would fall into a similar category as “taobao”. Made in China just has a reputation of being poor quality and made in sweatshop conditions. Now I’m not saying all Japanese and Korean brands are top quality. I wouldn’t know. But they ARE known for better quality.

  4. Hmm, I think it’s ok to call them taobao brands since almost no one tried to set up a website as the japanese ones and sell internationally. When the CS only speaks chinese, and the shop relies on taobao as a selling platform (thus making western lolitas rely on agents) you cannot talk about and indipendent, well-established and truly international business like for some bigger japanese brands. Some of them are definitely not indie though, since unlike japanese brands, you can see very clearly their stock volumes and for the bigger ones they can sell hundreds or thousands. About the taobao synonym of bad quality, I think that’s again related to the website. Since there’s all levels of quality on that website, bad brands or replica makers have the same visibility and accessibility as famous ones, so it’s their problem and as long as they continue to stay on taobao together with replica-friendly stores and coslita brands it’s not surprising that people in the west will use a fast and convenient “taobao” to describe something they’re uncertain of regarding quality, design and sizes, especially when done from a new one you’ve never heard of before.

  5. I’m all for taobao brands really – as long as they actually deliver quality goods. Some of my favourite dresses, blouses, socks and shoes come from taobao brands (infanta) and they’re my first dresses I managed to get when I got into Lolita, so they always hold sentimental value for me. However I will say that some taobao-produced dresses and prints look very ‘taobao’ for better or worse. There’s a certain charm in Japanese prints, the colour scheme, proportion and detail is extremely high-quality. Even in cotton printed fabrics from Japan I feel they are superior to most taobao ones. They’re just so cute, so striking, so lovable. Taobao prints may be extremely detailed and feature really creative motifs, but…hmmm, they’re just not the same. Sometimes it’s a completely different aesthetic, sometimes they just don’t look as good as the Japanese prints. And considering how huge taobao is as a marketplace, there always seems to be a new store popping up from nowhere with new prints with absolutely no track record, and it’s incredibly obvious when a lolita dress is made just to cash into the wallets of lolitas, when the design is incredibly barebones, no lace on the edges, a single bow on the waist, etc. There is a ‘taobao’ look and it isn’t always good.

  6. I am Chinese, and I support what you say. Thanking for speaking it out for us. I deeply appreciate it. Not everybody has the privilege or capability to recognize something that has been done unjustly. It is true that some of the Chinese brands don’t have the best quality, but it is also true that it is an unfair thing to classify all Chinese brands including the top quality ones to be called “Taobao” brands. Why don’t Korean or Japanese brands have such a name? It is also true that Chinese lolita fashion goods are sold through the Taobao platform, but I believe that some of the brands deserve to be remembered by their own, individual, original names. The fact that they are sold through Taobao should be neglected and what’s more, nowadays, brands on Taobao don’t automatically mean that they have poor quality.
    I have been constantly shopping from Sweet Dreamer for the past 5 years, and I never had problem with them. I also recommend looking up high-quality brands like Classic Puppets.

  7. Lol, not only in lolita, but in all fashion, chinese is used as a pejorative… It’s funny when almost all “decent brands” (even Angelic Pretty) produce there… That is, if they haven’t moved to a 3rd world country to cut costs (read – explore poor people).
    So it’s fine (and fashionable) to buy a piece designed somewhere else (preferably Paris, New York, Tokyo…) that is produced in China (often for a very low price) and buy it for a ridiculous amount of cash. But not from a local brand in China cuz it’s pshht Chinese, so *you know* it’s quality is bad.
    Taobao name just got dropped in the same category because, well, it’s Chinese. And what user “justmyopinion” said.
    I can’t blame you for trying to change this, and I wish you the best, but people are snobbish, and lolita is specifically propitious to that (seriously, you can buy pins modeled after Japanese brands logos from etsy labeling you as a brand whore…), so might be a lost cause. But I have to admit I’ve seen a lot of younger people unaffected by this stereotypes, so there is hope! 🙂

  8. As a new – but older Lolita – I appreciate enormously this post. Japanese brands have an almost mystical quality that transcends reason. I have never bought a new release and all I own is second hand, including a couple of actual brand pieces. That said, I am mostly obsessed by Taobao designers rather than Japanese designers.
    For example I love Krad Lanrete and some Surface Spell designs as they are much more unique than the unpeteenth sweet AP coord. I recently received my first Classical Puppets and my first Little Dipper, paid what is, comparatively, pennies. I can’t even find the tiniest fault with them and they are second hand. Dresses that are sufficiently cheap I am comfortable to wear on an everyday basis rather than super special (super valuable!) items. Sorry older Lolitas – I’m definitely a Taobao whore ?

  9. It’s a little different, but I used to work with a guy who used to work in procurement for Delta Faucet. He said that when you’re dealing with a Chinese factory, one of the first things they ask is “How much to you want to pay?” Then they cut whatever corners they need to to make it for that price.

  10. Imagine supporting companies that blatantly steal credit for another company’s hard work, stealing money from them. Ew.

    1. I don’t support that at all, I’m very strongly against fashion counterfeiting. I dislike even “legal” copy-cat items, I think cutting up a replica dress to make housewares or whatever like people frequently suggest isn’t acceptable (IMHO, counterfeit items should be destroyed or the image removed from the fabric using dye or bleach, or the material should be recycled using textile recycling to make paper or new textiles or used as rags/stuffing).

      I’m not sure where you got from this post that I was pro-fashion counterfeiting.

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