As China’s millennials and generation Z emerge as powerful buyers and creative sellers in the country’s retail market, tech giant Alibaba has made efforts to provide a platform for them to avoid missing out on the opportunities that they bring.
Taobao Maker Festival 2019 kicked off in the eastern city of Hangzhou on Thursday, shining a spotlight on the “maker spirit” of China’s young merchants and designers. More than 400 handpicked sellers from tech, fashion and lifestyle are taking part, nearly double the number of year’s event. Approximately 1,000 new products will debut at the 14-day festival.
“We see a great trend on Taobao in China that a lot of young entrepreneurs want to build their own brands and career by combining the creativity and ingenuity with the products they made,” Chris Tung, Alibaba’s chief marketing officer, and the festival’s architect, told TechNode. “This is something we really want to celebrate and encourage.”
While Tung and his team are amazed by the concepts and the stories behind the products, they admit that it’s difficult for consumers to comprehend what the makers want to do and express if their products only appear on webpages as items to buy.
“There are beautiful stories to be told and great dreams behind the product they are making,” he added. “That’s why we decided to launch the Taobao Maker Festival four years ago to let the makers showcase the products and tell the stories.”
China’s maker culture has largely flown under the public’s radar over the past few years. Taobao invited 200 sellers from 2,000 makers to showcase their products offline in the first year. This year they are selecting 400 from 100,000, Tung said.
Alibaba’s encouragement of the growth of young makers and sellers comes as the demographic rises as a powerful consumer group. China’s millennials account for nearly three-quarters of Taobao users, according to Tung. Alibaba’s retail platforms, of which Taobao is a major part, has 755 million users as of June.
Technology and innovation underpin the maker culture. The festival, therefore, has also become an event for many Chinese techies and inventors to present their latest inventions.
Post-90 entrepreneur Wang Chao is a typical example. The Elon Musk fan became fascinated by armor suits in junior school after watching Hollywood blockbuster Iron Man. He dropped out of college to pursue his dreams and founded C-Exoskeleton Robot with his friends in 2017.
As one of the earliest Chinese startups focused on the sector, the Beijing-based company creates soft robotic exoskeleton system and devices that have unique applications in logistics, industry, and military.
In one demonstration at the event, Wang used a robotic exoskeleton to lift a car off of the ground. He added that the product could lift up to 1.2 tons.
“As the name intends, it’s a festival for makers,” Wang said. “We were very excited when we got the invitation because that’s who we are.”
LuxCreo, a startup dedicated to software, hardware, and materials for large-scale 3D-printing manufacturing, is also participating in the event. The company has partnered with shoe retailers to launch custom 3D-printed sneakers soles. “For the business application of 3D printing technology, the items we made have to be functional to be relevant to customers’ everyday lives,” said Marketing Manager Ye Yina.
Another merchant in attendance is GreenMonday. The firm had drummed up a lot of hype online even before the event, thanks to its position as a pioneer of vegan meat in China.
“Millennials and Gen Z, and more broadly people under the age of 35, are the groups where we saw the most rapid increase in vegetarians or flexitarians numbers,” founder David Yeung told TechNode. “There’s an increased awareness in these groups to eat healthier and environmental-friendly goods.”
GreenMonday intends to use Taobao as a gateway to the mainland Chinese market. At the same time, the company is also entering partnerships with mainland restaurants to offer foods made of their vegan meat brand Omn!Pork.