Welcome to the future. Stepping into this year’s Taobao Maker Festival feels a lot like that as Alibaba is intent on showcasing the most creative and innovative pursuits from young Chinese entrepreneurs and start-ups, whether it’s 3D-printed food, sustainable clothing and homeware, or next-level electronics.
The 8th edition of the event took place between 29 April and 1 May over 10 bustling cities all over China with the theme of “Uncovering Infinite Lifestyle Possibilities on Taobao” — which makes this its largest showing yet in terms of participating cities and audience reach. Open to the public free of charge for the first time, the festival was also a key milestone for Taobao as the platform will be celebrating their 20th anniversary this May.
What The Taobao Maker Festival Is About — And Why It’s So Important For Young Creatives
If you’re wondering why the Chinese online shopping platform is dedicating so much resources to this event, know that it’s done in support of young, creative talent. Introduced in 2016, the Taobao Maker Festival started out as a showcase of the ingenuity of merchants on its platform, and over the years, has evolved into a yearly celebration of Taobao’s most innovative merchants and products.
The on-site festivities give entrepreneurs a platform to showcase their novel wares, which both supports their pursuits and celebrates the spirit of innovation. At the same time, audiences get a glimpse at new technology and products relevant to our lifestyles. These range across a broad variety of interests, such as eco-friendly and sustainable items; handmade ones from local artisans; new tech devices; or trendy art, clothing and pet products that appeal to millennial and Gen Z customers.
Increasingly, the emergence of modern hanfu, or jewellery that lean into traditional techniques, speak of how these young creators are keen on paying homage to Chinese cultural traditions and modernising them for our new era. There’s also been a trend of items that appeal to our modern lifestyles, whether it’s candle art paintings that help alleviate stress, or 3D-printed food so health-conscious individuals are offered high protein, low carbohydrate and precise nutrition.
This year’s festival was held in 10 cities across China, including three uniquely-themed venues in Hangzhou, Shenzhen and Chongqing, which were made even more engaging with livestreaming in order to cater to online audiences.
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A Look At 4 Of This Year’s Most Innovative Creations
With much talk about the sustainability- and tech-forward products, here’s a look at 4 innovative merchants at this year’s Taobao Maker Festival that introduced fun new concepts for us to be inspired.
1. 马鹿 MULU – Magnetic Decorations for the Home
Creative home brand MULU is a purveyor in beautiful design — which makes sense as the brand was established in 2016 by a group of designers who graduated from China Academy of Art; they’ve also garnered the prestigious first prize in the China Design Intelligence Awards. The brand concept of “time is part of the scenery” translates across sand art and hourglass decorative piecers that are a fresh take on conventional designs, while allowing us to spruce up our homes with these tranquil objects.
According to Mingqiang Li, co-founder of MULU, Taobao is “the friendliest entrepreneurial platform for design studios with no sales experience or resources”, an experience he observed since their launch on the platform in 2017. During this year’s Taobao Maker Festival, MULU also had a chance to showcase its new magnetic fluid pickup speaker, which sports a visually captivating design.
2. 星墨 Starry Ink — Eco-Friendly Cold Brew Calligraphy Ink
You’ve tried cold brew coffee, but what about cold brew ink? Founder of Starry Ink, Harvey Yu excels in both chemistry and calligraphy art, which puts him in a unique position to combine his interests and expertise into a brand that appeals to calligraphy enthusiasts who love lettering and art. Fun fact: Starry Ink was founded in his university’s chemical laboratory at the age of 18!
This year’s innovation sees an environmentally-friendly new product made using cold brew methods, which delivers just as well on colour and effectiveness. With the mission to re-introduce young consumers to authentic writing experiences in an increasingly paperless world, the brand has also launched a project to create over 1,000 colour-changing and multi-colour inks, each with a unique story behind them.
3. 94oC — Candle Art Therapy
With the popularity and, perhaps, necessity of mindfulness and stress relief in our urban lives, 94oC founders and young artists Hamlein Wang and Fuqing Liu, have given millennials and Gen Z audiences a new means of addressing their emotional needs — via crafting, music, and candle art. Established in 2019, the brand operates a Taobao store as its official online sales channel.
Candle art is a wonderfully aesthetic and unconventional version of art therapy, which encourages us to participate in wax art creation and immerse ourselves in the flowing lines and colours of melted wax, almost as if your worries are similarly melting away. Each kit comes with sparkly decorations, stickers, a poster, and a frame for you to display your complete artwork, as well as access to meditative music to guide you in your process.
4. 轲人羊毛毡 Kreator — Handcrafted Wool Felt Accessories
Rug tufting and punch needle art have been rising in popularity for quite a while now, though Kreator takes it to a whole new level. The design studio is helmed by Ke Zheng, an art college graduate who was inspired by artisans to delve into handmade wool felt craft, which itself has nearly 8,000 years of history. She furthers this craft with original designs that are both cute and creative, while also highly innovative as they require her to constantly explore new materials and knitting techniques.
Some of their most popular new products include a naturalistic fresh moss wool felt handbag, one that incorporates a preservation technique that makes the moss seem like its growing from the soil. A strawberry bag, seen above, is a faithful adaptation of the fruit, in an organic shape that even recreates a loose tendril hanging off its side. Through her wool felt designs, Zheng hopes to explore the relationships between people and the world and those among people, and attract consumers who value individuality and uniqueness.