Foreign models find themselves in demand as e-commerce grows
Katty, a brown-haired university student from Russia, regularly finds work as a model in China, a career that doesn't even exist in her hometown.
Clients in Vladivostok, Russia, don't pay models with money. Instead, they tend to work through barter, paying with certificates to buy clothes in their shops, Katty told the Global Times.
For the last four summers, the 20-year-old has been busy travelling between Chinese cities for various shows, shoots for catalogues and TV commercials.
With the surge in the number of e-commerce businesses, foreign models are becoming more popular in China, and tend to be seen as a symbol of all that is "international, exotic and charming."
Katty's favorite place to work is Shanghai and the city is "one of the most expensive places in the Yangtze River Delta region to hire a foreign model," according to an agent based in Nanjing, surnamed Hu.
"Customers can choose whoever they want, but the price is decided by where models will work," said Hu. "For example, the price of shopping promotions is about 1,500 yuan per hour in Hangzhou, a city in Zhejiang Province which is 80-minute drive south of Shanghai, but in Shanghai it goes up to around 2,000 yuan."
The Yangtze River Delta region centering Shanghai is one of the areas where demand for models is highest. Hangzhou is home to Alibaba, the largest e-commerce website in China, Zheng Yi, CEO of ESEE Model Management, a model agency based in Shanghai, told the Global Times.
About 80 percent of events in Hangzhou managed by Zheng Yi's company are photo shoots for local clothes businesses.
The Pearl River Delta region in Southern China is also a popular place for foreign models, as it is famous for its clothing manufacturers, Zheng added.
The trade volume from e-commerce in the Yangtze River Delta region had already reached 4 trillion yuan in 2013, nearly 40 per percent of the nationwide volume, China News Service reported, citing iResearch Consulting Group.
Posing as a customer, the Global Times received more than 120 pictures of foreign models from Hu, mostly from Ukraine, Russia, Georgia and France, ranging in age from 14 to their 20s.
Detailed personal information is written on their sample pictures, including name, hair color, breast, waist and hip size, and even shoe size.
Hu said foreign models with a proper working visa come at an additional 500 yuan each. "Most of them are on a temporary travel visa," she explained.
Many such small agencies can be found on social media websites, such as Baidu, Tianya and Douban, and most of their models are on a travel visa.
These agencies help to find events for foreign models, who promote products online and in shopping malls, weddings, annual meetings and even work as foreign language teachers. Commission fees for models depend on the agencies, some of them coming with guaranteed paychecks, other earnings as they go, Katty said.
Major model companies in China sign contracts with foreign models' home companies, giving them three-month legal working visas, Zheng added.
Zheng said that models usually need to pass test shoots first. There are normally two categories of working days, either four hours or eight hours, and the job starts when they put on their makeup.
Some agencies contacted by the Global Times said many foreign models are from Eastern Europe. Zhang Yiwu, a professor of culture at Peking University, said the economic situation in their home country forces them to travel to China in search of bigger opportunities.
Unlike Chinese models, foreign models have very distinguished facial features and figures. They are a prominent sight on taobao store, at auto shows and professional meetings, representing a special brand culture. Businesses want to be international, exotic and popular, Zhang told the Global Times.
Their image also meets the Chinese public's desire for exotic cultures, a way of life that ordinary Chinese can only experience through foreign books and movies, Zhang explained.
Due to different aesthetic standards, foreign models distinguish themselves from Chinese models but do not compete with them, as they represent different fashion styles, Zheng noted.
In addition to photography, video and live-streaming events tend to use more foreign models these days, according to Zheng.
The huge market in China and Asia will continue to see a demand for foreign models, although compensation is still not competitive when compared with other mature markets like Japan, he added.