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Innovative Photography Services Dominate China Wedding Show

Gone are the days when the China Wedding Expo attracted marrying couples and honeymoon providers, now it's all about photographers being wooed by technical innovators and providers of esoteric ways of marking the Big Day.

Photo: Straw men: Jianqiao Design’s striking 2017 matrimonial motif.
Straw men: Jianqiao Design's striking 2017 matrimonial motif.
Photo: Straw men: Jianqiao Design’s striking 2017 matrimonial motif.
Straw men: Jianqiao Design's striking 2017 matrimonial motif.

A breakdown of the attendees at recent editions of the biannual China Wedding Expo shows just how much the mainland matrimonial market has changed. Figures from the spring edition of the event, held in February this year, showed that more than half the local visitors were from commercial photography studios. It was a pattern that clearly seemed to be replicated at the more recent summer event.

Overall, it's fair to say that this is no longer an exhibition aimed at young people planning their weddings. Nor is it for companies looking to tout their wedding organisation services or for travel agents hoping to lure couples away to exotic honeymoon destinations. Instead, the majority of exhibitors are directly targeting wedding photographers, keen to promote their range of add-on services for recording the big day and making it all the more memorable. Jostling for position behind such businesses are a range of wedding-jewellery providers and companies specialising in baby clothes, accessories and services.

Acknowledging that the industry is at something of a crossroads, Alvin Chen, a Jewellery Appraiser for Shehua, a Guangzhou-based luxury jewellery company, said: "It's a difficult time in wedding-shop history. Fewer couples are taking conventional photos, while many of them are spending far more on dresses and jewellery. There is also a notable drop in the number of young people who are actually opting to get married.

"Furthermore, traditional jewellery shops are selling less, largely thanks to the increased level of online competition. I fully expect that around half of them will have to close over the next few years."

At present, Shehua primarily sells diamonds set in 18ct white gold, with Chen a firm believer that diamonds are, indeed, forever when it comes to the preferences of Chinese consumers. In order to keep operating costs down, the business only carries silver samples in its shops, with gold versions only commissioned once a client has been made measured up and a deposit has been paid.

With such measures a necessity, given the market conditions and increasing level of competition across the industry, other companies are experimenting with novel ways to differentiate themselves and develop new niches in order to maintain their own profitability. One company that is very much blazing its own trail is DC Homme, a 10-year-old Hangzhou-based clothing manufacturer.

Under its bold positioning statement – "We lead, others copy" – the company offers a range of flamboyant and, at times, eccentric clothing styles, with its gaudy colours apparently inspired by traditional Asian themes and military styles. With literally hundreds of men's outfits available, the company's primary customers are photo studios, many of which are only too keen to offer their customers something unique for their wedding photos. With business apparently brisk, a sales representative for the company said: "We design these clothes as we are far from being a run-of-the-mill company."

With winning wedding photography clients seemingly the key to success in this sector, many companies at the expo were offering added-value special effects services or focusing on other ways in which such photography could be enhanced. Shenzhen-based Vidorphoto's approach was to offer a range of stylish, easy-to-recreate photographic backdrops.

Once would-be clients have picked a style/setting from the company's brochure, they are then presented with a Photoshop file containing all of the required layers and filters. They are also briefed as to how best take the necessary shots, including advice on the optimum lighting set-up.

Explaining the background of the company, Photography Designer Eric Zhang said: "The founders of the business have 10 years' experience in professional photography, although this particular company has only been trading for four years. It's a growing business as all of the professional photography studios want to offer their clients something special and we can really help when it comes to that."

Photo: Wedding Plus: Targeting the top end of the market.
Wedding Plus: Targeting the top end of the market.
Photo: Wedding Plus: Targeting the top end of the market.
Wedding Plus: Targeting the top end of the market.
Photo: Zero Photo Albums’ corkboard mementoes.
Zero Photo Albums' corkboard mementoes.
Photo: Zero Photo Albums’ corkboard mementoes.
Zero Photo Albums' corkboard mementoes.

Apart from offering digital backdrops, other companies at the show were offering more conventional – though apparently no less enticing – physical backdrops. One such business was Shanghai-based Jianqiao Design, which was making its fourth successive appearance at the Wedding Expo.

The company uses a range of natural materials and prides itself on the innovative and appealing backdrops and sets it has created over the years. For 2017, the centrepiece of its collection was a striking array of straw figures. According to Wang Xiaoxiao, a Sales Representative with the company, as wedding photographers tend to upgrade their sets on at least an annual basis, there is continual pressure to provide something genuinely new.

Looking to the future, he said: "We sell all over China and demand is still growing. On top of that, we are now committed to building up our overseas client base."

Once wedding photos have been taken, there is then the question of where to house and showcase them. Inevitably, then, this has spurred the growth of a whole raft of companies offering innovative, elegant or simply novel photo albums in a variety of formats and materials.

One of the most unusual options came courtesy of Shanghai's Zero Photo Albums. New for 2017 was its range of cork-covered albums, which have apparently proved hugely popular with many of this year's newlyweds.

Highlighting the range's popularity, Sales Representative Yan Lingbing said: "These particular albums – we call them the Portuguese wood range – are unique to us. They are selling very well at the moment. Customers can either send in their pictures and we can print them directly into the albums or we can arrange a photo shoot as required."

Despite the clear emphasis on photography-related services at the expo, there was still a number of more traditional exhibitors on hand, including a sizable contingent offering a contemporary take on wedding dresses. Looking to take a lead here was Guangzhou-based DLS (Dailisha), one of the most well-known outfitters on the city's Wedding Street.

Explaining the company's approach, its Sales Representative said: "Most of our dresses are our own unique designs and we currently have more than 10,000 different styles on offer. While we mainly work on a wholesale basis, we sometimes sell to individual customers. At present, China is our primary focus, though we have made a number of international sales."

In addition to its range of matrimonial products and services, this year's event also featured a substantial number of exhibitors offering items targeted at younger children. Feng Ming Bi Zhuang, for instance, was showing a range of products suitable for celebrating a child's 30-day birthday, something of a milestone in Chinese society. One of the most popular such items was a glass ornament containing a lock of the baby's hair.

Explaining the appeal of the range, Company Sales Manager Zhang Chaoning said: "In China, there is a widely held belief that the hair of a 30-day-old baby can bring good luck, so such items are often hung in cars to help ward off evil."

While domestic businesses dominated the show, there was also a small number of overseas companies at event, with the South Korean contingent the most sizable. One such business was Wedding Plus, the Korean company behind the Weplbebes brand of children's clothing, a line that focuses on outfits suitable for major events in a child's life, such as first birthdays or appearances as bridesmaids.

Outlining his company's current positioning, Bum Yeul Park, the President of Wedding Plus, said: "Although our fabrics are imported from Japan and Italy, all our garments are produced in Korea, which is still our lead market. More recently, we have increased our level of exports to the Middle East and across Asia, with China now our second-largest market.

"We primarily sell to baby and wedding studios as our products tend to be quite expensive. As we primarily target the quality end of the sector, we have found a good fit with the expanding premium market in China."

Photo: Childhood milestones marked by Feng Ming Bi Zhuang’s ornamental range.
Childhood milestones marked by Feng Ming Bi Zhuang's ornamental range.
Photo: Childhood milestones marked by Feng Ming Bi Zhuang’s ornamental range.
Childhood milestones marked by Feng Ming Bi Zhuang's ornamental range.

The China Wedding Expo 2017 was held from 13-16 July at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre.

Chen Rong, Special Correspondent, Shanghai

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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