China’s fashion world may be returning to physical runway shows, but designers haven’t forgotten about a strategy they picked up during lockdown: livestreaming.

For the fall 2021 event, held from April 6-13, Shanghai Fashion Week is putting on more than 100 physical runway shows. They encompass Chinese brands such as Dawei, Private Policy and Angel Chen, international labels including Dior and Jason Wu, and kidswear brands. 

Shanghai Fashion Week was originally scheduled for January, but was delayed due to a local Covid-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry is grappling with diminishing enthusiasm around fashion weeks, with their fallback virtual runways falling short.

The organizer of Shanghai Fashion Week has higher aims than simply returning to normal. After pivoting to a fully digital event last year, for fall 2020, Shanghai International Fashion Center debuted for this season the “Shanghai Fashion and Lifestyle Carnival.” The online platform enables fashion brands to sell directly to consumers through daily livestream programs. 

As part of the programming, China’s top live-streamer, Austin Li (known in Chinese as “Li Jiaqi”), teamed with fashion incubator Labelhood on a livestream on April 6, the opening night of Shanghai Fashion Week. His 42 million followers on e-commerce platform Taobao could tune in. Labelhood has been partnering with Shanghai Fashion Week to host runway shows for emerging designers since 2016.

The show started with Li and famed fashion critic Shuang Tang hosting a live runway show. Li then returned to Labelhood’s showcase space to spotlight individual items, allowing viewers to buy them with a few clicks. The livestream featured 26 fashion items from emerging Chinese designer labels, including footwear from womenswear brand Hidemi, a pistol holster mini bag from Private Policy, and a white T-shirt with a large bow made with organza by Deepmoss. Prices ranged from around 1,000-4,000 yuan ($153-$610).

Deemed China’s ‘Lipstick King,’ Li owns a Guinness record for “the most lipstick applications to models in 30 seconds.” He has risen to fame along with livestream e-commerce, which benefited from 2020’s months-long lockdown period due to Covid-19.  

In addition to fashion, Li’s session also featured eight beauty products that models wore during the brands’ shows. Most were Chinese beauty brands, such as Judydoll, Perfect Diary and Little Ondine, priced around 50-200 yuan ($7-$30). 

The night was “astonishing and unforgettable, given the speed and quantities [of sales],” said Demi Cai, founder of 3-year-old womenswear brand Hidemi. Sandals and square-toe flats from the brand’s collection ‘On The Way’ were featured in Li’s show, and over 800 pairs of prepared stock sold out, followed by pre-orders upon viewers’ request.

According to livestream professionals, the novel combination of sales-driven livestreams and runways spells big opportunity for brands. Zoe Zhang, co-founder of New York-based livestream commerce consultancy and tech solutions company And Luxe, said she hopes industry players in Europe and the Americas will take note of livestreams’ potential to be impactful. “Now that everyone thinks fashion week is dead, why can’t we turn to livestreaming?” 

After consulting for Diane von Furstenberg and Alexander Wang, And Luxe recently helped French online boutique Monnier Frères with livestreams targeting customers in China and Europe. 

Zhang said the biggest roadblock to livestreaming in the West is the environment. “There are brands and retailers that dip their toes in the livestreaming waters, but without a big platform like Alibaba [which owns Li’s main platform, Taobao Live] that can work with big players with big data, there’s no guidance as to the bigger picture and detailed operations.” 

Still, she’s hopeful: “A lot of fashion brands and retailers know that livestreaming is the future,” Zhang said. “The [comfort level] will be different in three to five years.”

Aside from the kick-off event with the help of Li, Shanghai Fashion Week’s calendar features livestreams across the event’s eight days on themes from sustainability to accessories. On April 12, another top live-streamer Viya Huang will work with fashion house International Top-Tier Innovation Business to showcase its see-now, buy-now collaboration.

Cai of Hidemi said her brand will continue to be part of the livestream world. “This has brought great exposure to Chinese designer brands. It allows us to be known and connected with the mainstream consumers,” she noted. 

“As with products, the sales channels that coincide with this day and age should not be neglected,” she said.