Lockdowns on Wuhan and its neighboring cities in China’s Hubei province were lifted on Wednesday as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak recorded only a few new cases with symptoms in the past few weeks. Shopping malls are set to reopen, public transport will resume running and high-speed trains will connect the area with the rest of the country again.
For Jiaye Wu, a fashion influencer based in Shanghai and New York, who was trapped in Hubei under lockdown with her family for almost two months in Xiangyang, a city near Wuhan, when she visited them during the Chinese New Year, it has been a life-changing experience.
Her usual routine in January and February would be traveling between fashion capitals for fashion weeks, but this year, she decided to spend the holiday with her family as the virus quickly spread across China and travel bans were imposed to slow down the infection.
It was announced her hometown, Xiangyang, was going into lockdown on Chinese New Year’s Eve when her family was paying tribute to her ancestors, sweeping tombs up in the mountains. “We heard the news, and I raced to drive my family back home before the lockdown took effect at midnight, or we would be homeless,” Wu recalled.
Her mother suffers from hypertension, and her father holds a high position in the China Railway Wuhan Group, the company that operated all the rail transportation of emergency medical and food supplies during the outbreak.
“We assigned roles in the family to take care of each other, while my father stayed in his office most of the time. He had to organize the delivery of medical gear, food and essential goods for the city, and he had to walk 10 kilometers [6.2 miles] to work from home since driving was initially forbidden. He was also depressed and beat up because he was doing everything he can to help the city, but all he can read online was negative news,” said Wu.
Food shortages came quickly as all businesses were shut. “Luckily we stockpiled lots of instant noodles when we saw Wuhan was put under lockdown,” she said. “My mother said I was overreacting and said it would only last two weeks. Who knew it would last for 10 weeks.”
Her family was starved for two weeks before the property management company began to deliver essential food ingredients to every family. “I lost five kilograms. We sometimes skipped a meal, ate instant noodles or cooked up leftovers from the Chinese New Year holiday,” Wu said.
The lockdown also created a big hole in people’s spiritual life, observed Wu. “My parent’s generation never stayed in for this long. My mother was getting irritated and kept walking in circles inside the house. She wanted to play mahjong with her friends. For me, time flew by fairly quickly. I would just play video games and browse on TikTok or Kuaishou,” she added.
Despite being isolated in a third-tier city, Wu managed to keep up her social media presence, thanks to support from brands and China’s sophisticated delivery industry.
She worked with Lululemon on a series of home workout tutorials and promoted stay-home fashion with Adidas, Puma and Miu Miu. “My family home is not the best place to conduct a shoot, but my mother helped me to borrow professional lighting gear from our photographer neighbor,” she said. “Puma also sent me lots of N95 facial masks, and By Far sent me a bag from abroad.”
On March 18, Xiangyang was among the first cities to ease measures on the lockdown, and Wu, who had been given a health check green code to leave the city, drove 14 hours back to her Shanghai apartment, where she self-isolated for another week before starting her normal life again.
Her work has been severely disrupted, but her income has increased thanks to her livestreaming, which caused a surge in popularity during the outbreak. Shanghai Fashion Week just wrapped up its first online fashion experiment with Tmall last week and Wu hosted a few successful sessions for designer brands, including Private Policy and 8on8. Other brands, big and small, have been coming to her for collaborations as a result.
There is a shortage of high-quality livestreaming hosts in China at the moment. As brands such as Louis Vuitton and Burberry begin to use this tool to create original content in the country, someone like Wu, who started her career as a fashion model with professional knowledge about art and design, has an advantage.
“My income is dependent on brands’ marketing budget. With events all canceled, I have been looking for new opportunities. Before, Chinese fashion influencers make a good living by creating good content to read on WeChat. Now, with livestreaming, I am well positioned to bridge the gap between the mass-market livestreaming audience and luxury and designer brands who demand an on-brand representation,” she said.
“Those livestreaming hosts who can sell millions rarely know much about luxury. They are good at selling lipsticks to those who live in third-tier and below cities, but not a match to the brand image. For industry people, only a few can feel comfortable in front of the camera,” she added.
Another surprising outcome of the lockdown is that she quit coffee. “My family never drinks coffee. We only have tea at home. Last week, I ordered a cup of Americano in Starbucks and I felt sick just by smelling at it. Before the lockdown, I wouldn’t start my day until I got my daily dose of caffeine,” she said.
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