Yiwu small commodity market embraces big innovationChinese entrepreneurs reshape image of "made in China" with innovation and creativity
Each umbrella has its own unique design and function.(People's Daily Online/Kou Jie)
Janey Zhang’s cramped umbrella shop is definitely not a sight for sore eyes, but customers seldom realize it when caught by the charm of her colorful and beautifully-designed umbrellas. The dimly-lit room and its sharp-sighted hostess are set off to advantage by the delectable art crafts, making a daily picture of the world’s largest small commodity wholesale market.
The first flush of dawn has fallen on the Yiwu International Trade Market in China’s Zhejiang province, and with the gilded light comes the enchanted glamour that belongs not to Janey’s shop alone. Over 75,000 stores in the market are filled with merchants from all over the world, who try to dig business opportunities from over 1.8 million kinds of commodities here.
“Even if you spend eight hours a day roaming the market and only three minutes in each store, it would still take you a year and a half to finish your shopping-adventure here,” said Yang Bo, deputy marketing manager of Zhejiang China Commodities City Group Co., Ltd,., the company that runs this huge market.
Under the dome of this magnificent business arena, several commercial empires have emerged and outstretched their tentacles to overseas markets, including Janey’s umbrella enterprise.
Queen of umbrellas’ wonderland
Janey’s umbrella kingdom, known by foreign clients as Real Star Umbrella, originated from a small workshop created by her father in 1972. The brand’s fortunes have oscillated with the rise and fall of her family, but it today operates in over 100 countries.
“Our workshop used to manufacture featureless products, but that changed in 1998 when I first came to Yiwu. Instead of merely focusing on how umbrellas work, I paid more attention to their beauty,” said Janey, who stressed that her umbrellas are more like fashion accessories.
According to Janey, even small commodities like umbrellas can be fashionable, as long as they are injected with an artistic soul and emotions. She has a grand plan to make her brand the “Hermes” in the umbrella world, an international fashion brand.
No ambitious dream comes easy. It took Janey years to call together a team of talented French designers who help her keep up with the trends in Europe, as well as breathing a la mode elements into her umbrellas weekly. Over 3,000 different kinds of umbrellas were created in the past few years, with each presenting unique patterns and functions.
A delicately designed umbrella handle.(People's Daily Online/Kou Jie)
“Linguistic and cultural factors are also taken into consideration when designing umbrellas. For instance, umbrellas sold to Spain are usually designed with bright colors and inscribed with positive Spanish idioms, conforming to Spaniards’ optimistic personality,” said Janey.
Her efforts have paid off. Her umbrellas are popular in European countries, especially in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, with her client base in Europe increasing 8 percent annually. The number has even reached 10 percent in 2017.
Lucas Hernandez, a merchant from Madrid, Spain, has ordered a large number of umbrellas inscribed with the Spanish sentence “no hay mal tiempo si es contigo” and images of sundrenched Iberian Peninsula, noting that the umbrellas gave him a cordial feeling.
Janey presents a design drawing of her French design team and a finished product.(People's Daily Online/Kou Jie)
“It says ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather if this is with you’ in Spanish. I think Spaniards will appreciate the positive vibes the umbrella conveys and it will make them feel more comfortable in bad weather,” said Lucas.
In addition to their fashionable design, more high-tech functions are also realized by Janey’s team, including a blue-tooth music player function and an anti-theft system. The musical umbrellas have interested a bunch of merchants from India, who dance trippingly in the cramped shop.
“Every product has its own unique story, serving as a carrier of art, fashion, and culture. Umbrellas might be a small thing, but it is my family’s heirloom, and I hope it can be carried forward, forming an everlasting brand,” said Janey, giving an affectionate gaze to her 26-year-old daughter, the queen-to-be of her umbrella wonderland, who is busily exchanging creative ideas with foreign designers online.
New definition of “made in China”
Remote control cars designed by Chinese companies. (People's Daily Online/Kou Jie)
Like Janey, more and more entrepreneurs in Yiwu have introduced originality and innovation into their products, altering the world’s stereotypical perception of goods “made in China.”
In a corner of the magnificent market, the hubbub over a toy shop captures passerby’s attention. A robot teaching toddlers English is waving its hand to the customer, while a team of tin toys are marching on the shelves with vivid expressions on their tiny faces, toy cars are tilting and sliding to avoid obstacles, and toy choppers are hovering above customers’ heads.
“Many foreigners still hold a stereotype of ‘made in China.’ They think it means cheap stuffed toys, despite the fact that high-tech toys now account for a large portion of our exports, creating an annual income of millions RMB,” said Li Qing, shop manager of Xie Xin Toys Co., Ltd., one of the largest toy companies in Yiwu.
Echoing Li, Nick Zhang, sales director of the company, stressed that many new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and virtual reality have been applied successfully to toys made in Yiwu, attracting merchants from all around the globe.
The brand-new image of “made in China” has led to a surge in exports from Yiwu. According to statistics from local authorities, during the first nine months of the year, the city has exported 168.9 billion RMB worth of goods, a year-on-year growth of five percent, and has established trade ties with over 219 countries and regions around the globe.
“It’s time to change people’s negative opinion about ‘made in China.’ We are planning to form a union of great research and development companies to produce more good quality products to sell overseas,” said Lou Yuanbin, manager of Zhejiang China Commodities City Group Co., Ltd, who emphasized the importance of innovation and improvement in product quality.
“I’ve never been to any bigger and more diversified market, and the quality and design of many products here are satisfying. I want to come back here when I have time,” said Yahye Dineh, a young merchant from Seattle, U.S., who quickly embarked on his new adventure without hesitation.
As daylight ebbs away, the lights of the countless shops come on one by one. Dream chasers who wish to fulfill their great expectations and entrepreneurs who want to make contributions to altering the image of “made in China” are all like Janey’s umbrellas – each with a unique story, but all radiate positive vibes and hope for the future.