Hong Kong bloggers find stride on electric avenue
Hong Kong's online fashion writers are breaking into the big time - and brands are taking note, writes Vivian Chen
While fashion bloggers such as Manila-based Bryanboy and London's Susie Lau of Style Bubble are sharing front row seats with industry veterans such as Anna Wintour and Anna Della Russo, Hong Kong's local crop is catching up - albeit with a few hurdles yet to overcome.
When Cindy Ko, best known as Cindiddy, started blogging four years ago, her expectations weren't high. The former model turned full-time mother didn't think she'd be collaborating with brands such as Levi's, Rag & Bone and Adidas, having her own assistant or being flown to Paris for a fashion shoot.
"Since I started blogging full-time I have realised my life revolves around fashion," says the 28-year-old. "I've met a lot of inspiring people in the industry. Every day is an opportunity. The pace of the fashion industry seems lightning fast. I'm never bored."
Ko isn't the only local blogger tapping into the high-fashion realm.
Popbee.com's Janice Lee started blogging after getting laid off as a chemical lab assistant in 2008.
Today, she has a team of four in-house writers and a designer as well as freelance writers based overseas to produce daily content for her blog. The website is updated with up to 20 new posts daily including independent features and videos.
"Life has definitely been different since I started Popbee.com especially in the social aspect," she says. "In the past, I was never the type to socialise. However, as a blogger I have to attend these events to build relationships with people in the industry. Networking is key in the fashion industry, especially if you want your blog to thrive," she says.
Architect JJ. Acuna of The Wanderlister+ has collaborated with brands such as (Belvedere) Red and Club Monaco since he launched his blog last year.
"Now even my boss wants to invest in my blog," he says, laughing.
Industry insiders, including stylist Jasmine Webster and former Miss Hong Kong contestant Elle Lee, are also establishing their own personal brand through blogs.
"I was fashion styling full-time when I started my blog. So it was literally for me to advertise myself," says Webster. "There really wasn't much of a fashion icon, or a social figure taking the platform in Hong Kong. I felt that blogging was booming overseas yet no one was really utilising it here." Her site, DressMeBlog.me, has landed her opportunities to write for fashion magazines such as Elle China.
Lee, who was shortlisted for the Miss Hong Kong finals in 2010, joined the public relations and marketing consulting team for last year's Social Media Week before deciding to start on her own.
Lee writes her blog Elleiconlee in both English and Chinese and has been posting videos on YouTube and Youku since March. She has collaborated with Lacoste and Uterqüe, the sister company of Zara. "Brands from London, New York City and the mainland have approached me to talk about their collections. I think blogging in both English and Chinese has opened up the reader base for me," she says.
Many brands today, from fashion to food and wine, invite bloggers to their press conferences as they see them as credible as traditional media when it comes to name building.
"We are often approached by brands asking for digital solutions to tackle the social media sites," says Willy Lai of Fimmick, a digital marketing consultant firm. "There is a big potential. The beauty of it is that you can easily monitor the growth of followers and see what they say about the brands. The effects are instant."
"Hong Kong brands these days are definitely taking bloggers more seriously," says Webster. "They used to see us a cheap way of advertising but now they value the influence and reach bloggers have."
However, finding the right blogger for collaborations is not always easy. Local girlish blogs featuring self-styled photos are abundant, but analytical, insightful and original content is scarce. And potential marketers find it hard to determine how much business is actually being pulled in by bloggers.
"Businesses have passed the stage of just gathering fans on their social network sites and are more concerned about how to draw the fans into the stores," says Lai.
"Fashion blogging in Hong Kong is still pretty fresh. Some brands are still sceptical about our influence, especially here, where pop culture is still dominant and brands prefer using artists," agrees Ko of Cindiddy.
On the other hand, some local bloggers are maturing and taking more responsibility over their online posts. "For each post I put up on the site, there's actually a lot of research and thought going into it," says Lee of Elleiconlee.
Popbee's Lee also stresses the importance of providing credible content on her blog.
"In the past, bloggers were not the go-to source. Magazines and newspapers were the source for everything. Now readers are beginning to support what we do. It is all about experience and readers enjoy reading about that," she says.
In order to create a unified front to deal with clients more professionally, local bloggers have created offline groups.
Acuna set up Brew & Post with five other blogs: Fashion Hedonism, Superwowomg, How I Met Your Style, Toughlove and Ztylistas.
"The only aim we have is to be as professional, knowledgeable and transparent as we can be," he says. "As much as brands want to work with bloggers, and vice versa, bloggers need time to develop their point of view."
In light of the launch of Hong Kong's first blogger society, Webster decided to launch a website hkfashionbloggers.com to represent the local fashion blogger community. Within the group, they share public relations officers' contacts, press releases and promote each other's blog posts.
In the last six months, group members have also begun to meet at offline mixers, sponsored by Peroni beer and Linguini Fini. The events are frequented not only by bloggers but also by marketers looking for the right bloggers.
"Hong Kong fashion bloggers are working together to promote each other. It's a good support network," says Webster. "It helps bloggers understand that we are not competitors but contemporaries. It's great to have everybody's opinions and support, to get good contacts and to be invited to the right events."