Ending her three-part series on China’s luxury, Margot de Groot van Embden presents a case study of Dongjia, a Chinese startup.
Last July, the first Chinese Craftsman Conference was held in Hangzhou (Jiangsu), not only gathering Chinese craftsmen from all over the country and from all disciplines but also national celebrities, entrepreneurs and representatives of big Chinese groups like the Fosun conglomerate. The meeting was arranged by Dongjia, a company that launched in 2015 a mobile App of the same name to connect young Chinese craftsmen with high-end consumers.
Dongjia is a great example of how local startups might contribute to reinvent both the Chinese craftsmanship ecosystem and consumption of luxury goods. The platform has now more than 4,000 talented craftsmen offering their products online, ranging from jewelry, tea sets, to traditional board games and clothes. The project has attracted the attention of media celebrities, such as the former TV host Zhao Pu who joined the company last year. He is also the director of the Research Center for the Development of Chinese Craft Industry.
Dongjia Salon in Beijing (left) and Dongjia experiential store in Tianjian (right).
Today, the platform generates about US$ 3.5 million in sales every month (or RMB 35 million) and has more than 1.5 million of registered users with high-purchasing power. Recently, the business plans to extend its presence offline, opening an “experiential store” in Tianjin and of the “Dongjia Salon” in Beijing – a showroom that displays the creations of the App’s designers and that occasionally hosts meetings of young Chinese entrepreneurs.
Dongjia’s showroom emphasizes the experience of the product. Prices and additional information are accessible on the App by scanning a QR code.
Dongjia’s impressive expansion can be explained by its ability to combine the special features of today’s Chinese retail industry: the smartphone-dominated consumer economy and the expectations of high-end consumers for personalization and authenticity.
First, the “platform model” enables Dongjia to connect isolated craftsmen with wealthy consumers, looking for refined artifacts with unique designs. Zhao Pu explains that Dongjia has developed a “pay and co-design” model, allowing clients to have a one-on-one exchange with the craftsman before he makes the product, to discuss the client’s specific taste and to adapt the design consequently. This utmost personalization corresponds exactly to what Secoo’s CEO called earlier this year: the construction of a “craftsmanship retail model” in luxury.
Dongjia’s platform highlights on its people rather than the product. Through weekly posts of personal stories, videos, and short articles, the app attempts to immerse visitors in each designer’s universe and artistic vision. This model may become the most significant driver behind tomorrow’s craftsmen e-commerce ecosystem (dianshangshengtaii, 匠人电商生态).
In a society where more and more transactions happen through mobile screens and where the manufacturing and design processes increasingly have become automated, hand-crafted products and human-based service have become the real luxury. For CEO Yu Haihua, Dongjia’s first aim is to lead the transition from a “product-based brand” (pinpai, 品牌) to “human-based brand” economy (renpai, 人牌).
 Chen Jianhao, leader of one of the most famous e-commerce platform for luxury goods in China.
Margot de Groot van Embden is a Junior Fellow at Asia Centre and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.