Compared to their Western counterparts, the Chinese, especially the younger generations, have a penchant for photography. From resume photos among job seekers to selfies for entertainment and staged photos to capture special moments, such enthusiasm has caused photo studios to become commonplace in China, become a lucrative industry valued at around 3.2 billion RMB ($474 million) from 2021.
Capturing the aesthetic quest of Chinese Generation Z
One of the rising stars of the national phenomenon is HIMO, also known as Haimati in China, a portrait service start-up. Born in 2014, the brand quickly became a market leader, innovative traditional portrait services aimed at high-end passport photos thanks to professional photography and custom Photoshop. This approach hit the mark, not only meeting the professional and functional needs of products of this type, but also provide a solution to the lack of aesthetic taste of identity portraitswhich has been a sore point for young Chinese consumers who have become more aware of their looks.
Redesigning photo ID services is just the start of HIMO’s revolution. Additional efforts soon came to diversify photo shoot scenarios by introducing what came to be called “artistic photography” or staged photography with photo studios set up, dedicated to festivals and special occasions such as birthdays, weddings and anniversaries with makeup, costumes and props provided as well.
As a result, photo studios have become the go-to for trend-seeking young Chinese looking for immersive experimental activities and have also caused a stir on the internet, with young photographers rushing to share their poster-like portraits on social networks.
The special Christmas-themed brand promotion “HIMO Christmas Photography” in 2020 reportedly garnered more than 430 million views on China’s largest microblogging site, Weibo, and posts of more than 30,000 user-created notes on China’s largest lifestyle sharing platform, Xiaohongshu, with users sharing “behind the scenes” of their photo shoot experience at local HIMO stores.
A springboard for photography enthusiasts in China
While HIMO itself has become a sensation, photography experts have also become a springboard for other brands to tap into China’s photo craving. Cosmetics manufacturers are among the first to benefit from the rise of HIMO. To provide a consumer experience beyond expectation, the brand insists on the use of high-end cosmetics such as YSL, MAC, Laneige and Make Up For Ever. Such a practice has created opportunities for the brands concerned, with a global label Charlotte Tilbury being the last to jump on the bandwagon.
This also marks the British beauty brand’s first collaboration with a Chinese label and spawned the new Pink Lady makeup series with the signature color interpreted in three styles including sweet, cool and elegant, and can be tried on in physical HIMO sales outlets.
While the color pink was meant to appeal to women, the campaign surprisingly sparked the interest of male consumers through an online challenge, “A Journey to Discover 101 Types of Beauty”, where users are encouraged to share photos of ‘themselves with a strong contrast as far explore and embrace diversity of beauty and identity, such as gender fluiditywhich also adds to the uniqueness of the brand’s customer base.
Plus, it’s quick to tap into photography enthusiasm Shi San Yu, the largest Chinese brand of Hanfu (costumes worn by women in the Han Dynasty). The tie-up allowed HIMO to offer free photo shoots to raffle winners, where they could dress in designer Hanfu’s limited Lunar New Year 2021 collection and be presented in a range of moon-themed settings. New Year, promote the country’s Hanfu feeling.
Thanks to its young and diverse consumer population, more and more brands from other sectors also want to take advantage of this marketing gem, including the sportswear brand lululemonwhich partnered with HIMO earlier this year to bring an offline “New Year, New Goals” lounge, recapping the highlights of yogis’ exercise. And pandoraa Danish jeweler, has also teamed up with the photography studio to capture sweet moments of love in China during this year’s “520” promotional season (an unofficial Chinese Valentine’s Day which is mainly celebrated by young people Chinese because “520” is a homophone of “I love you” in Mandarin).
The continued eagerness for decent portraits coupled with growing demand for diverse photographic experiences opened the door for market players to take advantage of this national fever. By integrating this interactive activity, brands can provide their target audience with more immersive experiences, which is key to winning over savvy consumer demographics.