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Eastern European Models Cash In For China's 'Singles Day'

Modeling in Beijing
Modeling in Beijing

BEIJING — These days, it is not rare to bump into blond, slim, pretty teenage girls on the streets of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The majority of them, typically between 16 and 22 years old, come from Eastern Europe and are working temporarily as models in China.

The pace picks up in the late summer and autumn, as China's cross-border e-commerce portals prepare their fashion catalogues for the Christmas season, but also for Nov. 11, China's so-called "Singles' Day," celebrated each year by a fanatic e-commerce shopping spree, China News reported.

As shown in a recent survey by Alibaba, one of the world's largest online shopping retail platforms, there are some 10,000 would-be female models from around the world inquiring about jobs in China.

Holding a work visa for 90 days, these young women come and go like beautiful migrating birds. Some of them work for runway events or automobile shows. But even more are those in photo shoots of e-commerce apparel, not only for foreign buyers but also for Chinese shoppers, whose aesthetic standards have become more and more westernized.

Competition is fierce.

According to zhihu.com, a Chinese question-and-answer website, 70% of these arrivals are from Eastern Europe, including 36% Russians and 22% Ukrainians. The hourly pay varies between 1,000-3,000 RMB ($144-$430), compared to average monthly wages of around $900 in Russia.

Marina is 16 and comes from Ukraine. She arrived in China in July hoping to make some pocket money during her summer vacation. She is one of seven young Eastern European models of a Chinese agency which houses them in a small flat in Hangzhou, where Alibaba's headquarters are. They all sleep in basic single beds. "This is my dream come true," Marina says.

Still, the competition is fierce. After being in China for two months, Marina has only found seven days of work: once for a catwalk, the others for prints or internet ads. She was paid 700 RMB ($100) an hour, quite a bit lower than the average quotation. "They prefer models with experience", she says.

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How Gen Z Is Breaking Europe's Eternal Alcohol Habit

Young people across Europe are drinking less, which is driving a boom in non-alcoholic alternatives, and the emergence of new, more complex markets.

photo of a beer half full on a bar

German beer, half-full?

Katarzyna Skiba

Updated Dec. 6, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.

PARIS — From Irish whisky to French wine to German beer, Europe has long been known for alcohol consumption. Of the top 10 countries for drinking, nine are in the European Union, according to the World Health Organization.

✉️ You can receive our Bon Vivant selection of fresh reads on international culture, food & travel directly in your inbox. Subscribe here.

But that may be starting to change, especially among Gen Z Europeans, who are increasingly drinking less or opting out entirely, out of concern for their health or problematic alcohol use. A recent French study found the proportion of 17-year-olds who have never consumed alcohol has multiplied, from less than 5% to nearly 20% over the past two decades.

The alcohol-free trend is propping up new markets for low- or zero-alcoholic beverages, including in one of Europe’s beer capitals: Germany.

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