Taobao Model: China’s Fast Fashion Industry


Ashley Zhao, Staff Writer

Cui Yue, known professionally in the industry as Pin’er, was hired by online retailers to model their clothes and help them advertise their goods on the Chinese e-commerce behemoth Taobao. Similar to eBay or Amazon, Taobao is a website that markets a wide variety of goods, from game consoles to pet food and clothing. To publicize their clothes, retailers pay models like Cui Yue to pose for pictures wearing their outfits.

 “In the beginning, I charged 30 RMB (US$4) per item, but now I charge 200 to 300 RMB($30 USD) per piece,” explained Yue, “Some people charge 1000 RMB ($145) per piece, so their annual income would be around 10 million RMB (1.4 million USD).” 

Because Taobao models are valued for their ability to drive sales, with the website tracking each product, the approach to modeling favors volume and efficiency. “There will typically be 100 to 200 outfits per day and in the last 4 years I’ve shot over 250,000 items of clothing,” said Yue, “This fast-paced modeling technique was forced from necessity since there were so many clothes, so we would never get through them all.” Even if she worked 24 hours every day, Yue stated she wouldn’t be able to finish modeling every piece. 

When she first started working as a model for Taobao, she would “draw really heavy makeup on” as she “wasn’t very confident back then and used makeup to improve [her] self-confidence.” As Yue first modeled, she described how she felt “uncomfortable, as passersby stop and look at you and some even take out their phones to take photos of you.” But after a while, she realized that “this is work, I just need to get my job done. It’s not important how other people look at me.”

During each shoot, Yue tries to capture the spirit of each outfit in a matter of seconds, shifting her poses in rapid-fire sequences before quickly slipping into the next look.

“Every time I put on an outfit,” says Yue, “I consider its material and design. For example, if it’s lace, I will act more feminine. If it’s fluffy or has pom-poms, I try to be cuter.” 

When modeling each outfit, she tries to imagine herself in a fitting situation. “If I’m wearing professional work clothes, I picture myself in an office. I imagine I am a white-collar worker and the feeling just naturally comes out.”

 Primarily shot on the street, with the briefest of pauses for water and food, modeling is hectic and downright unglamorous work, but for models such as Yue, it can be lucrative—at least for a time.

Yue emphasized that turnover, the rate at which employees leave the workforce and are replaced, is extremely high within the industry. “There are always younger models with better figures who charge less than me. There is always a new generation waiting to push out the old,” she explained. Although this is the reality of working as a model, Yue said she has “made peace with being replaced by a new wave of models.”

 “My modeling career will end naturally,” said Yue, “until one day when I might not even get one booking a month—that’s when the job has left me.”


Photo courtesy of JINGDAILY.COM
Video courtesy of VOCATIV.COM