Taobao, the leading Chinese online marketplace backed by Alibaba, has attracted some serious flames over the products on their platform. The site’s penchant for grey market goods has ignited global rows over the company’s responsibility for everything from fake handbags to counterfeits drugs.

Following a very public rejection from the world’s largest nonprofit anti-counterfeit organization, and a slap on the wrist from the U.S. Trade Representative in December, Alibaba has being running an all-out anti-counterfeiting campaign, and their latest weapon is millennials.

This week the company held a Taobao ‘Maker Festival’, inviting 72 millennial merchants with a focus on self-made brands. Alibaba is hoping to “shift the site’s reputation as a consumer-to-consumer sales channel to a lifestyle destination,” according to the company’s blog.

It suggests Taobao is attempting to directly attract the kind of merchant their platform categorically repelled in the past: those seeking to make money out of original items.

For that to happen, the country’s young consumers and merchants will have to first overcome the price sensitivity that has fueled Taobao’s growth – along with its fake goods problem.

According to the company, 70 percent of the platform’s 369 million monthly active users are in their 20s and 30s, with a majority accessing the site on their mobile. Alibaba and Taobao are banking on these young buyers to shell out a little extra for original brands.

The products hosted at the Taobao Maker Festival event included 3D-printed jewelry, a foldable guitar and even a bamboo bicycle, which has already become a well-known standard among the trendier Beijing crowd.

“It’s about exploring something through making it rather than buying it,” said David Wang, creator of Bamboo Bicycles Beijing in Alibaba’s blog.

While it’s undeniable that China’s growing middle class is birthing a movement of more conscientious shoppers, it remains to be seen whether a budget marketplace stalwart like Taobao is nimble enough to change course.

Image Credit: Alizila

Cate Cadell

Cate is a tech writer. She worked as a journalist in Australia, Mongolia and Myanmar. You can reach her (in Chinese or English) at: @catecadell or catecadell@technode.com

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