Mad About the Boi
He shook up fashion blogging in Mainland China with his straightforward writing and funny, cutting comments about celebrities’ outfits. Now Gogoboi is helping other social media personalities make it big
China’s keen-eyed and sharp-witted fashion blogging sensation, Gogoboi, tells Shen Jie and Oliver Giles about his mission to mentor the next generation of social media influencers
The term “wanghong,” which translates as “internet famous,” has become a common phrase in Mainland China in recent years. Thanks to the rise of social media platforms, people around the country have been able to carve out lucrative careers based on nothing more than an engaging Weibo or WeChat account, and the internet gold rush seems to be limitless.
Among the most prominent of the digital influencers are fashion bloggers. But before we were inundated with KOLs (key opinion leaders, for the acronym-challenged) posting selfies of their outfit of the day (or #ootd, in Instagram parlance), a pioneering social media personality changed fashion commentary in China forever: Gogoboi.
The Shanghai-based trailblazer had a rather traditional start at a magazine, but his career blossomed when Gogoboi, whose real name is Ye Si and who was born in 1983, stepped off that path to become a blogger, which gave him the freedom to talk about fashion the way he wanted. “All day [at magazines] they’d be using words like sexy, elegant, luxurious—it was incredibly boring,” says Gogoboi, who was determined to shake things up. At the tail end of 2010, he made his move, using the hashtag #whowearwhat on Weibo to accompany straightforward, witty assessments of celebrities’ fashion choices, and regularly posting images of stars whose outfits he’d describe as “car crashes.”
His fresh, fun outlook on fashion quickly won Gogoboi millions of followers and began making him serious money. In an effort to appeal to Chinese consumers, leading luxury brands began paying Gogoboi to have their products featured on his Weibo and WeChat accounts. It is rumoured that he now charges up to 180,000 yuan per sponsored WeChat post.
That was just the beginning. Inspired by his own blogging success, Gogoboi set up an agency called Missionary to represent social media personalities in China. Using his own experience, Gogoboi mentors these influencers, guiding them on how best to develop their own blogs. Cleverly, he’s careful not to work with Gogoboi clones, the key principle being that the new recruits need to have their own personalities. Gogoboi also hasn’t limited Missionary to fashion commentators—he now runs development programmes for bloggers focused on travel and childcare.
As if he didn’t already have enough on his plate, earlier this year Gogoboi opened an online boutique that’s connected to his WeChat account. Called Bu Da Jing Xuan, the store stocks a range of luxury goods that Gogoboi sources through Western e-commerce retailers such as Yoox, Net-a-Porter and Farfetch, among others. If readers of Gogoboi’s WeChat blog take a fancy to, say, a handbag that he’s written about, they can now click through to his store and buy it instantly.
At the heart of all of these businesses lies Gogoboi’s witty writing, which immediately differentiated him from the hordes of fawning fashion bloggers when he launched his Weibo in 2010. “When it came to writing articles, I never got why we had to write in such a stereotypical style, why we had to use certain terms rather than using words that people could really understand,” he says. But it seems he has always been something of a rebel. During his school years, he grew a Mohican and sported five piercings. “I could never understand why we weren’t allowed to have the hairstyles we wanted,” he remembers.
Although Gogoboi sometimes criticises luxury brands on his blog, the labels quickly realised that his acerbic commentary could also work in their favour. The blogger’s unflinching honesty had earned the public’s respect, so one compliment from him soon counted for more than multiple blog posts by bland or obsequious fashion writers. With that in mind, luxury brands invited Gogoboi into their inner circle, flying him to events around the world.
Although Gogoboi is now busy running an online store and mentoring other bloggers through Missionary, he’s still constantly generating content for his own social media accounts, so he regularly attends fashion weeks and brand events. At these parties, Gogoboi, who speaks Chinese, Japanese, Korean and English, often interviews Chinese and Western celebrities for his blog. And despite his enormous success, he admits he still feels a little
“I don’t have as many fresh new ideas as today’s young people. So the people I recruit have to be crazy”
nervous sometimes. “I remember once, I was at the Oscars for a cosmetics brand and got to interview Cate Blanchett, who I’m a huge fan of. I thought I was used to doing that kind of interview, but when you’re around her you feel you’re just like a little dog creeping about at her feet,” he laughs. “You know, Cate is a massive star, but she’s actually very sweet. Maybe it’s because she could see I was a bit uncomfortable, but she was very good at breaking the ice.”
He might occasionally feel nervous, but Gogoboi never shows it. The blogger is an impressive journalist and always seems to handle interviews with ease. He even learned Korean just so he could interview Korean celebrities. “I remember that after I’d only been studying Korean for about one month, I went to interview Im Yoon-ah,” he recalls of his meeting with the award-winning actress and singer. “I must have had the gods on my side that day; suddenly I could understand everything that was being said and the interview went smoothly.”
As he has grown from a commentator into a celebrity in his own right, brands are now beginning to collaborate with Gogoboi in other ways. This January, Dolce & Gabbana enlisted Gogoboi to walk in its fall/winter runway show in Milan. Also on the runway were fellow Chinese celebrities Peter Sheng and Cheney Chen, as well as other social media influencers from around the world. There was bound to be some horseplay when all these stars got together, but Gogoboi reveals that the backstage antics were even more raucous than the press had imagined. “You know, Cheney Chen is very clever. He wore Dolce & Gabbana underwear. Anyone who wasn’t wearing it had to strip in front of everyone else [the other social media influencers backstage] and change into Dolce & Gabbana underwear. And everyone is usually secretly padding themselves out!”
This openness is what sets Gogoboi apart, and it’s an attitude he tries to foster among the bloggers he mentors through Missionary. Bloggers will only gain respect if they’re open with their followers and write honestly in their own voice, he believes. But there’s one other thing all of Missionary’s bloggers have in common. “I don’t have as many fresh new ideas as today’s young people,” Gogoboi says, self-deprecatingly. “So the people I recruit have to be crazy.”
The influencers signed to Missionary receive personal guidance and support from Gogoboi. Using his own insight and experience, he’s been able to nurture wannabe bloggers and assess the best path forward for them. Some can be overconfident and think they’re already the best in the world; some may not be the strongest writers but have other characteristics that make them unique. Whatever their strengths and weaknesses, Gogoboi helps them all grow.
Despite the success of Missionary, Gogoboi doesn’t see himself as a businessman. He lacks the right kind of mind, he says, and has never participated in a business incubator programme nor considered things such angel investors. But he seems to have caught the entrepreneurial bug and teases that he’s on the verge of launching something big, beyond managing Missionary and generating his own WeChat, Weibo and video content. “I’m just thinking about my team, trying to ensure they don’t become unemployed,” he says. “I thought about retiring after I’d made a bit of money. I even set myself a retirement age. I could buy an island, write a book … But now I’m thinking maybe I should focus on the work first—what would happen to the other people on the team if I just went off and retired?”
Although Gogoboi loves juggling his different roles, at times it seems like he misses the old days. He now employs 20 staff in his Shanghai office, but he remembers working from home with affection— in part because he claims that while his job may be to “fly around the world in pursuit of fashion news,” he’s actually a bit of a homebody. The demands of his work mean he has to attend a plethora of social events, but he admits to suffering from anti-social sentiments from time to time just like anyone else. When he’s not working, he reveals, “I rarely talk to people I don’t know.”
Still, Gogoboi is clearly settling into the role of entrepreneur. And if one day he does retire, he’s holding onto that dream of having his own island and writing a book. Given his trailblazing career as an internet celebrity, only a fool would bet against him achieving his dream.