In China, portrait studios are big business (and this studio is one of the biggest)

Beijing – The social-media-influencer marketplace in China has brought on a series of satellite cottage industries around it. In the country’s capital, for example, the digital-mouthpiece game has revived  the maligned portrait studio. With the competition becoming adept at selfie-and-filter logistiscs, many up-and-coming names have figured out that the only way to stand out from the pack is with higher-end studio photography.

Take, for example, one of the largest in Beijing: Elefoto Space. The company made its name by providing above-average ID photos for resumés in traditional small studios. Now, due to the increased photographic feed required by voracious social media consumers, they’ve opened a 250-sq-m space packed with two studios, makeup stations, Photoshop desks, changing stations and lounging spaces for entourages. To do so, they brought on board Daylab Studio — they of Heyshop and Bar JI fame. 

The main customer is the web influencer of the consumption-upgrade era

But Elefoto also wanted to stand out from its own pack. ‘These studios have become quite a big business,’ offered Daylab’s Yongpeng Liu. ‘Currently, there are three chain stores that run their business quite well in large Chinese cities — Elefoto is one of the top three.’ To them, that meant no gimmicky props, no emoji aesthetic — the idea they wanted to convey was one of reliable technical high-quality, which could lead to repeat visits. ‘Yes, the main customer is the web influencer of the consumption-upgrade era,’ explained Liu. ‘But Elefoto, the client, wanted to deliver a message about their professionalism and taste, rather than piling up dazzling popular elements to cater to female consumers — the main customers here are women aged 20 to 30. That’s why we went for what we call introverted taste.’

That introversion manifested itself in a series of white surfaces against muted pastels and black stations, touches of retro-futurism and a set of minimalist way finding icons that double as instructions. And so far, it’s paying off: Elefoto is deploying this aesthetic choice to other locations.

In the meantime, the category is bound to keep growing in China’s largest cities. ‘It seems that people care much more about how they look in photos rather than in reality,’ mused Liu. ‘So people are willing to choose photo studios that offer better service, even though they cost more than traditional ones.’

The takeaway: Keep an eye out on the previously digital services that are now going physical due to the demand in the influencer community — due to its sheer size and speed, the Chinese market is now often a harbinger of what's to come in other large global strongholds.

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