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2021-10-09 11:00:58

SHANGHAI — Italian luxury powerhouse Prada has temporarily shifted its attention from Shanghai’s swanky malls to one of the city’s simpler wet markets.

Thousands of people descended on Wuzhong Market in the city’s former French Concession with the sole purpose of posing with vegetables wrapped in Prada packaging and securing paper bags emblazoned with the brand’s name. Since the two-week event started on Sept. 27, the mostly young, selfie-hungry, and brand-conscious consumers have crowded Wulumuqi Middle Road to snap photos for their social media feeds, while keeping vendors busy and bemused.

Liu Bin and his mother-in-law, who have a fruit and vegetable stall near the market’s entrance, told Sixth Tone that many young people have stopped by just to “clock in,” referring to the Chinese term daka — validating one’s presence at trendy locations by posting photos on social media. Many online users have called Wuzhong the “most fashionable wet market,” with one visitor even saying that “It’s the only Prada I can afford.”

Prada’s advertising campaign at the 2,000-square-meter wet market, according to the company, was aimed at promoting its global fall/winter 2021 campaign, titled “Feels Like Prada.” And while the brand may have been successful in drawing more visibility through the campaign, some are questioning its choice of venue and what the marketing activity means for the vendors.

Liu Bin packs vegetables with Prada wrappers, Shanghai, Oct. 9, 2021. Jiang Yaling/Sixth Tone

Liu Bin packs vegetables with Prada wrappers, Shanghai, Oct. 9, 2021. Jiang Yaling/Sixth Tone

Zhu Tianhua, an assistant researcher at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said the event falls within the purview of gentrification, but not in the literal sense of transforming old neighborhoods to modern spaces, as Wulumuqi Middle Road had long been considered a prime Shanghai destination. However, he added that the campaign has disrupted the locals’ lifestyles.

“It may look like a fashion crossover when you put non-everyday, symbolic codes of luxury into the environment of a wet market, but it can also be interpreted as an invasion from consumerism symbols into everyday life,” Zhu told Sixth Tone. “We can interpret the intrusion as a kind of consumerism of daily life. This, rather than ‘gentrification,’ may be closer to the root of the problem.”

Some locals Sixth Tone spoke with said they were aware of the event — “it’s for Prada” — but didn’t voice any concerns. Meanwhile, people who descended on the wet market for the publicity stunt believed such carefully coordinated campaigns could be more helpful than harmful.

“They’ve put a lot of thought into it, even though people may criticize how influencers may interfere with the businesses,” Yang Yingchen, a 28-year-old advertising professional, said. “I felt it was fine, and I saw a lot of people shopping.”

“One-third of the people there actually bought stuff,” said Meng Jia, a 34-year-old Shanghai-based fashion branding manager, who visited the market to “clock in” and buy vegetables. “I give it a perfect score for presentation, but what’s the real meaning behind it?”

A woman poses for a photo outside Wuzhong Market in Shanghai, Oct. 9, 2021. Jiang Yaling/Sixth Tone

A woman poses for a photo outside Wuzhong Market in Shanghai, Oct. 9, 2021. Jiang Yaling/Sixth Tone

Over the years, several luxury brands have focused heavily on the Asian market, which significantly contributes to their revenues. The Asia Pacific is a major market for Prada Group, and its sales during the first half of 2021 grew by a whopping 77% compared with the same period in 2019, according to the company.

Considering its importance, the brand has picked Shanghai as one of the five cities outside Italy for the “Feels Like Prada” campaign. Similar to Shanghai’s wet market, Prada plans to take over bakeries and fruits and vegetable markets in Milan, Florence, Rome, Paris, London, New York, and Tokyo for its experimental initiative.

At Wuzhong Market, vendors said the brand representatives handed out a limited number of Prada bags twice a day at 10 a.m. and at 1 p.m., which they distributed on a first come, first served basis to customers who spent more than 20 yuan ($3). Liu, the fruit and vegetable vendor who moved to the current location after the 2019 renovation, said he was unfazed by the visitors who only posed but didn’t purchase anything.

“I would just kindly remind them to be careful because the vegetables are delicate,” he said. “But I’ve been telling my regular customers to avoid these times because they may not be able to squeeze through with the crowd.”

But not everyone was ready to accommodate the sudden rush. One vendor on the second floor who sells loosely packaged food items like red dates and soybeans said she was not happy and questioned how the event helped her business.

“Young people are only here for the bags,” the vendor who didn’t wish to be named said, referring to the limited number of branded bags. “Some ask me to weigh the loose food items, only for me to find out that I don’t have any bags left, leading them to say ‘I don’t want it anymore.’ The stalls downstairs have benefitted the most from the event.”

Meanwhile, researchers like Zhu believe that consumer brands taking over everyday spaces for social media-driven visibility won’t have a long-lasting appeal, nor is it a sustainable practice. Instead, he said companies need to find better ways to connect with existing or potential consumers.

“It’s important for companies to form an emotional bond (with consumers), so that there is less of a chance for brand (events) to disrupt everyday life,” he said.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Courtesy of Prada)