Taobao Trendy: Online Bargains in China

When I’m not traveling, crafting or telling other people to eat insects even though I don’t anymore, I’m trying not to shop because I have way too many clothes. How did I go from moving to China with five suitcases between Isaac and myself to having piles of clothes over the apartment and bursting out of my closet? Taobao.

I’ve never been much of a shopper because going to shopping malls is exhausting and sometimes unproductive. The clothes are either too expensive, too long for my short limbs or not available in the one color or size that I actually want. Taobao fixes all of these problems and adds the excitement of finding the best price and waiting for the package to arrive.

Most of the clothes that I buy on Taobao fall into one of two categories:

  • Cheap, mass produced clothes made in China that I buy one of every color in (plain cotton T-shirts that are 56 cm long, a.k.a the only t-shirts that aren’t too long for me and dresses with fun prints that I can’t get enough of)
  • Overstocked/second hand items from nice brands that were either stolen from/donated by/I have no idea how they get them from Western companies.

The first is the risky kind. “Made in China” can sometimes mean bad quality, although that is quickly changing and China makes literally everything even if it’s not clearly labelled. So many Chinese products, even knockoffs, are great items and sometimes, like in the case of the Yi Action camera, they are even better than the original!

Scrolling through all the provided info and reading (or in my case, Google translating) can give you a lot of information like the material, the exact sizes and sometimes even pictures of a model wearing the clothes with the details of her height and weight. However, all of this information could be completely untrue! So head down to the comments.

In the comment section you will see people complimenting the packaging, saying if the sizes fit, and sometimes there will be photos of the people wearing the item which can help you gage the size. People will say whether or not the item arrived as expected (Chinese people do NOT hold back) and whether the seller was easy to communicate with.

If there are no comments and no one ever bought the item, you’re going in blind. Even if you find the same item in a different shop, it could be completely different and not at all what the photos show! If you still want to buy it, check out other items in the store and their reputability. Zero buys and reviews doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be authentic… it just means that you might be disappointed! Or not.

I’ve received many items that didn’t fit, that I didn’t like or simply changed my mind about. The great thing about Taobao is that you can return anything that’s not a food or an animal within seven days without explanation! If the seller doesn’t reimburse you within a week, Taobao will do it. Sending it back via door-to-door delivery has never cost me more than 15 RMB ($2) even when it was a lot of stuff going to traveling to the farthest most remote corner of China.

When it comes to my second category of bought items, the rules for buying are pretty much the same. But to be honest, I don’t have a trick for finding these magical shops that sell items like $60 Mango dresses with the original price tag still on for 10 RMB ($1.50). It also isn’t always obvious that the close are from these brands… that could be for copyright issues. The Chinese government has been cracking down on Taobao and getting rid of shops with copyrighted items, like re-printed books.

One of my more recent orders was what I assumed was second-hand clothing. It turned out to be all brand new items with all their original tags from a variety of stores ranging from Walmart to Reserved. Strangely enough, my $40 Reserved denim jacket cost 13 RMB ($2) which was half the price of the $5 Walmart shirt… apparently the original cost or brand plays no role the pricing. This is what makes all this online shopping in China thing so crazy and addictive!

I’ve actually had to uninstall my Taobao account (again) to avoid buying even more amazing and cheap clothes. After all, I won’t be living in China forever and I’ve already taken four suitcases jam-packed with new clothes to store with family. Chinese apartments weren’t made from Taobao shopaholics like me!

Enjoy your shopping and share your most exciting purchases/bargains in the comments below 🙂



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What NOT to do with Essential Oil

Two weeks ago I discovered the wonders of essential oils and became a walking cliche. I’m a vegan who loves essential oils and I blog about it. But hey, at least I don’t do yoga and I don’t have a cat… yet. Anyway, it seems like everyone and their mother is obsessing over essential oils these days, and it’s no wonder why.

I bet you’ve already heard all about the healing properties. Some people use essential oils and other natural ingredients to fight off colds, stomach problems and even prevent cancer. Beauty queens look to oils to keep their skin young, glowing and blemish free. Others simply use essential oils as scents, either to diffuse in their homes or as perfume.

The lady who I bought my oils from had me sold when she described how essential oils enhance your moods, keep you serene and bring out your femininity. She was carelessly beautiful and smelled heavenly – I was ready to buy everything she was selling. Unfortunately, dōTERRA® does not come cheap and I could only buy Lemon, Wild Orange and of course, Clary Calm Monthly Blend for Women.

I’m not a complete essential oil noob, so I already had peppermint and lavender at home but I was clueless about how to actually use it. I was given a brief intro and warned not to drink peppermint oil, and I wrongly thought the rest was obvious.

That’s why this morning I naively added two drops of wild orange to my morning bath. Everything was fine at first while I soaked under mounds of bath bubbles while watching Netflix. I have perfected propping up my laptop in just the right spot on top of the toilet seat to give me the perfect binge-watching angle. At first I just thought that my leg was itchy until I realized that there was a nasty rash going all the way up my leg.

After doing a quick Google I found out that it is common knowledge to not put any sort of citrus essential oils in a bathtub. A lot of people get rashes from it just touching their skin! Apparently, that’s not the only danger of essential oils. So if you’re new to this trend, like I am, make sure to research the oils you buy before you use them. They could literally bite you in the ass…

Fortunately, my rash faded quickly from my butt but it taught me a great lesson. I’ve read up on the other oils that I bought and found out that according to many people you shouldn’t drink any oils because they could damage your organs. A single drop of peppermint oil contains 26 cups of tea worth of mint! It also leaves a tingly feeling on your skin just like Tiger Balm – so steer clear of your eyes when massaging your temples with it or you might as well spray yourself with mace.

If you’re planning on using oils as perfumes or to diffuse in your homes, you don’t have too much to worry about. But before you start dripping it into your teas or using it to treat serious help problems, please consult a specialist or preferably, a doctor. Warnings aside, essential oils are amazing and can improve your health, beauty and state of mind. I definitely recommend that you try out essential oils – and start with something more exciting than lavender!

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My Beauty Farm: Natural Cosmetics in Shanghai

“Ooh, this skin cream looks great,” I have thought on many occasions while strolling through the malls of Shanghai. I lift the product off the shelf and glance at the label out of habit even though I don’t understand a word. More times than I care to admit, I actually took it home and put it on my skin. Big mistake.

Common ingredients in Chinese products include toxic skin whitening chemicals (sometimes even found in deodorant), lead and even arsenic. It doesn’t help if you’re shopping for a brand you already know – sometimes the product is fake. Unfortunately, China isn’t the only country that puts dangerous, unnecessary and often unethical ingredients in their beauty products – this happens all over the world.

Do you want products made with natural ingredients that will make you look, smell and feel beautiful? Back away from that Sephora basket, walk towards the nearest exit and come meet Severine Clement, owner of My Beauty Farm.

Severine was born in France and moved to Shanghai ten years ago where she now lives with her husband and two children. After just one year in this cosmopolitan city of 24 million people, she began making her own cosmetics because she was frustrated with the products she was buying.

“The range of choices was so wide that I never knew if the product I was buying was the best suited for my skin,” Severine explained. “In addition to this, I was not comfortable not knowing what I was applying to my skin.”

She had always been interested in simple cosmetics and was willing to take the time to learn how to make customized cosmetics from natural, pure (and mostly organic) ingredients. Severine had to learn all this by herself because there weren’t any classes that taught how to make DIY natural cosmetics.

At first she would strictly follow recipes that she found online while researching the properties, benefits and uses of various natural ingredients. Later she began adjusting the recipes to suit her own skin and preferences which led to her creating totally new recipes!

“I like selecting the ingredients, creating my own personalized products and adjusting the recipes according to my skin’s needs. I always feel good after hand-crafting my own products. And I like knowing that I’m treating my skin with the best quality ingredients.”

My Beauty Farm is unique because Severine regularly changes her recipes and the products she sells because she adapts them to each customer. She is happy to cater to vegan clients and in general, most of her clients are eco-conscious. In addition to selling quality natural products, she also hosts the very DIY workshops that she wishes she could have attended nine years ago!

“My mission is to empower women to take control of their beauty by sharing my expertise, knowledge and recipes,” Severine says. So far, she has hosted over 60 workshops that have welcomed more than 300 visitors. Although her clients are all based in Shanghai, they come from all over the world.

She organizes workshops two or three times a month and thoroughly enjoys the contact with people as well as teaching something she is passionate about. Now that her kids are getting older, she is slowly introducing them to her hobby by helping them make their own cosmetics. She even organizes DIY workshops for children!

“I believe that everyone’s skin is unique, so I provide one-on-one advice to my customers,” Severine says. Some of her favorite ingredients include rosehip carrier oil, geranium, essential oil, cacao butter and rose floral water.

I myself discovered Severine when I was in search of vegan essential oils. I had purchased several essential oils on Taobao but wasn’t quite satisfied. The peppermint oil that I got from her is light and fragrant; I’ve worn it every day as perfume and I’m looking forward to discovering its many health benefits.

Find out more about My Beauty Farm and Severine’s DIY workshops on her Facebook page or add her on WeChat (ID = SeverineClement).



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Chinese Hair Salons: Cheap Haircuts, Pricey Hair Coloring

I’m the type of person who puts off getting a haircut in fear of a hairdresser butchering my hair. This fear is magnified in a country where I can’t communicate properly with the man holding the scissors – which is my fault, but that’s not the point. Getting a haircut in China involves repeatedly showing the same photo while everyone in the salon stares at you like you’re an alien.

Some unexpected facts about Chinese hair salons (at least those in Huaqiao):

  • 90% of the hairdressers are men! In fact, the closest salon to my house ONLY has male hairdressers and they are all great (and super stylish.)
  • Haircuts are insanely cheap, usually between 20 and 40 RMB (an average of $5).
  • Men and women pay the same fee for a haircut. My husband and I went in together, my knotted hair required three washes and 5x as more product and took four times as long as his trim. We each paid 30 RMB…
  • Many long-haired Chinese women get their hair washed at a hair salon. Our Chinese friend was shocked when I said I washed it myself. His wife goes for salon washes 2 or 3 times a week.
  • While haircuts are insanely cheap, hair coloring is extremely expensive in comparison and depends on the length of hair. So while a haircut will cost 30 RMB ($5), dyeing a full head of hair will cost around 1,000 RMB ($150). Luckily, you can do it yourself using quality products for around $10.
  • They don’t rush to sweep cut hair off the floor the way they do in the West. Expect to see piles of hair on the floor when you walk in.
  • There are as many salons around China as there are pubs in Prague!

If you hate getting your hair cut like I do, just know that you have nothing to worry about in China. As long as you explain exactly what you want, they will do exactly that. So far I’ve had better experiences here than in Prague where they always cut too much or Hawaii where they refused to cut as much as I asked them to.

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Getting Aliexpress to Deliver to China!

Aliexpress has been growing in popularity all over the world. People are slowly getting over the misconception that “made in China” means bad quality. You can save so much by ordering clothes and electronics “wholesale”. Due to some confusing legal mumbo-jumbo, Aliexpress doesn’t deliver to China.

A lot of online stores in Europe and the US actually mass-buy cheap items on Aliexpress and sell them for twice the price to unknowing customers. I was about to buy 3 cute dresses for $15 each before Googling “wholesale strawberry skater dress” and finding it for significantly less.

Many people living in China don’t care about Aliexpress not delivering to China because it’s owned by the same company that runs Taobao. Almost all of the items sold on Aliexpress are available on Taobao for a much lower cost. With time and determination, you can find anything you want on Taobao. But there are exceptions…

I found around 20 of my dream dresses for just $8 each on Aliexpress. I searched and searched on Taobao for days and I only managed to find 18 of the desired designs for as little as $3 each! However, two of my favorite designs were nowhere to be found.

Frustrated, I decided to message the seller on Aliexpress to ask the illegal question: “Do you have a shop on Taobao?” The answer, which was likely a lie, was “no”.

I complained to the owner, explaining that I was in China and it was too bad that Aliexpress couldn’t deliver here. The owner replied in a giggling emoticon, told me to make the order with a random US address and then message him my Chinese address. Voila – he’ll be refunding the extra delivery fee via Alipay and I’ll have my two dream dresses.

Next time you want to buy something on Aliexpress and can’t find it on Taobao, try casually messaging the store owner. Just tell them you live in China and ask if they have a delivery solution. As long as you’re not trying to go around Aliexpress, it’s not even illegal.

Never forget – ANYTHING is possible in China!

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Tailors in China: Cheap & Genius

Chinese fashion isn’t for everyone. The clothes and sizes don’t sit right on curvy body types and shopping at Western stores isn’t cheap. During my crafting obsession I somehow convinced myself that I could make myself a dress without a sowing machine and I ordered beautiful material that just gathered dust.

With the help of a Chinese friend, I took it to a tailor along with my favorite dress from H&M. He tutted at my material that he deemed bad quality but promised to try. He warned me that handmade dresses can be expensive, which I expected. I left the nice old man with my dress, the material and just a few days later he told me to come back.

Although he couldn’t work with the material I brought, he picked his own and made me a beautiful, slimming dress based on the original design for just 90 RMB ($13). The dress fits like a glove, the material is silky and I immediately ordered two more dresses and a traditional Chinese blazer!

The price of the dress depends on the materials, so one of the fancier wine-red fabrics will cost 140 RMB ($20) and the intricately decorated blazer made to my measurements will cost 200 RMB ($30). This is way cheaper than anything I’ve ever seen in a store, including at supermarkets (Tesco-style clothing).

So, if you’re at a loss for what to wear in China, don’t fret. Find a tailor, tell them what you want and get forever spoiled with the cheapest tailor experience you’ll ever! By the way, if there are any brides to be, tailor made wedding dresses can cost as little as 700 RMB ($100)… which is crazy, because it can be cheaper to fly to China and had a dress made for you than buying one in Europe or the USA.

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Living in Huaqiao: Basic Beauty 101 (Guest Post)

Keeping chic in Huaqiao isn’t easy when all the elements are against you! Here’s some tips…

Written by Julee Range, this is a chapter of the KCIS Survival Guide. This guide was sent to all new teachers coming to teach at the Kang Chiao International School in Huaqiao.

A Health and Beauty Survival Guide

So you’re stepped off the plane and set foot in one of the largest metropolises in the world. Modern, massive and hop, Shanghai is truly a city where you can find almost any western beauty treatment or service you could ever want. From balayage to Brazilians, the city is littered with high-end salons, staffed with savvy professionals, who all speak reasonable English. Everything you could possible need to keep your look sophisticated,s harp and fly.

Uhhh… but here’s the problem… you don’t live in central Shanghai. You live in Huaqiao and you work… a lot. So spending over an hour on the subway and 200 RMB just to keep your eyebrows on fleek might get old… fast.

Rural, tiny and rough, Huaqiao is simply a small town where haute couture includes wearing your pajamas in public, beauty salons are few and far between and 99.99% of people in the service industry don’t speak any English at all. This can make routine health and beauty maintenance a tedious, tedious nightmare.

Warning! After a couple months in this town, it’s very easy to start letting yourself go and it’ll happen before you even realize it. You’ll just wake up one day an overly hairy, unkempt version of your former sleek self… home on a Saturday night, stuffing your newly chubby face with dumplings filled with something strange you randomly pointed to off the menu (because you still won’t know Chinese) … trying to unsuccessfully stream a movie through exceptionally shitty internet, while rocking gnarly, fuzzy PJs and split ends. Yikes. Sick.

If this image doesn’t appeal to you… there are a few hidden gems in town and simple tips I recommend.

10 Tips On How to NOT Become Ratchet in Huaqiao

  1. When you get your haircut locally, bring photos with you to the salon. A lot of photos. And add your hairdresser on WeChat so you can communicate (via translator) with them during the process. Keep pointing from the pictures to your hair… repeatedly. Sometimes they like to forget about the picture.

  2. Don’t buy an e-bike right away. Walk or “real bike” as much as you can. Once you get an e-bike your days of using your legs are over.

  3. Join a gym. Go to the gym you joined. Make a friend. Go to the gym together. (MegaFit and Start Fitness are both good options. The school gym can get crowded during the week.)

  4. Don’t eat rice with school lunch (or don’t eat school lunch at all.) Unless you’re used to eating white rice everyday… bodies don’t tend to do well with excesses of unfamiliar carbs.

  5. Wash your face as much as possible. The pollution will age you decades. Also, facial masks and sunscreen go a long way. Shop at Watson’s in Anting for quality face products.

  6. Buy membership cards/accounts at the local salons (listed below). You get free services and/or discounts to keep you routinely groomed.

  7. Shop online. You can purchase current/trendy fashions at reasonable prices and in western sized. DON’T look around you for fashion trends. It’s so tacky it will start to grow on you.

  8. Routinely do hair treatments or masks. The local water is very hard on your hair. Unless you wash your hair in Evian every day… you should take extra care to offset the damage.

  9. Get massages. You’re in Asia. Massages are cheap and they relieve stress. Stress makes you look like crap.

  10. Get out of Huaqiao as much as possible. Go to Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanjing, Xi’an. Go anywhere. Huaqiao is a bubble, don’t suffocate in it.

So where to get haircuts, facials nails and massages in your new hometown?

MegaFit Spa (located just inside the MegaFit Gym to the right, called Madlan)

Services: massages, facials, laser hair removal, cupping, steam baths, makeup tattooing, eyelash implants (yes, implants!), cellulite treatment and much, much more…

***Massages at Megafit are more western styles and more relaxing than local Chinese spots. The manager speaks some English and can help you with preferences and services. Membership packages are available. Also note that you do not need a gym membership to go to this salon.

U+ Nail Art (located behind McDonalds, near E-mart)

Services: manicures, pedicures, eyelash extensions, make-up tattooing, ‘facial water injection’ (whatever that is).

***The nail art at his salon is generally better than other places in town (depending on the technician). Also, they usually have 2-3 workers on staff is it’s better if you are going with friends, which is recommended because all the nail places take forever to gel nails. The owner, Sunny, speaks English and offers discount cards of 10 – 30 %. She is also the owner of the Korean restaurant a few doors down.

Purple Hair Salon (located near E-Mart, between U+ Nail Art and California Dream Bakery)

Services: haircuts, blow outs, hair steam treatments, color, cuts, magic strengthening and perms.

Nailed It! (Nair Care)

Nail season is a lot of fun! Halloween until Chinese New Year is the prime time to get some holiday inspired nail art! It’s always enjoyable to go with a friend and let’s be honest… there aren’t a lot of entertainment options during those cold winter months!

“I was having problems with my hair quality and when I went to an expat salon, I found out that one big cause is the chlorine used to treat water here. I bought a water filter and since then Chris’s hair has stopped falling outs and my highlights aren’t orange anymore! It costs about 800 RMB but lasts for six months with two people showering regularly.” – Kelly Shipman

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How to Wear Food-Themed Earrings? Part 2

Perhaps the most impressive earrings are also the hardest to wear. The egg looks like it’s about to ooze yellow goodness and the bacon even feels crispy! Outside of cooking class the only appropriate occasion I could fathom for wearing these scrumptious earrings was Sunday brunch.

Forgoing my usual outfit that closely resembled my pajamas, I threw on some jeans and a white T-shirt – pretty much the outfit that Tyra Banks urges models to wear on their go-sees. Heels would have been cute if I didn’t live in the city of cobble stones (Prague) plus I’m the complete opposite of a contestant on America’s Next Top Model.

On their own, the single egg and lonely slice of bacon didn’t give the jewelry the justice it deserved. So I opted for an upgraded one earring look (two earrings in one ear!) To avoid a messy overlap I stuck a strawberry stud in between and voilà: gourmet breakfast in my ear.

To draw more focus to one side of my face, I attempted a Katniss-style sideways braid to balance out the look.

Pros: I managed to order my meal by pointing to my ear.

Cons: I couldn’t order pancakes, coffee or orange juice.

Mental note: make one last food-themed earring order.

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Up Close and Personal with… Alena Wilson, Prague’s Queen of LBDs

Alena Wilson is a 37-year-old fashion designer from the Czech Republic. She has two kids, a girl who is six, and a boy who is four. Her husband is American and runs his own business in Prague. They live in a household with two cocker spaniels, black and gold, and two goldfish that were recently bought behind her back by her husband and children… Alena sighs with a smile.

Fact box:

The LBD or little black dress is an essential part of a woman’s wardrobe. Coco Chanel was the first to make it ever-present in an edition of American Vogue in 1926. It was presented as simple yet elegant and Vogue predicted that it would shape the future.

The Bridge: What motivated you to start your company?

Alena Wilson: My passion for fashion. Originally I studied economic foreign trade but I always had a huge passion for creativity since I was 15. I think this is one of my strong positions that I have 16 years of experience in PR and business. I absolutely love the creative process. I did nine years of art school beside my study. That helped me also.

TB: What makes your business unique?

AW: The concept of using real women. I don’t agree with the top fashion world using underweight or photo-shopped models. People misunderstand, I don’t mean fat people; I mean healthy women. My models are size 38+.

TB: What does fashion mean to you personally?

AW: I think that fashion is something that should support who you are. I want women to see the options and choose what suits their body type and personality. For me, fashion is a really strong tool that can help introduce other people to your personality. People always first judge you based on your looks.

TB: Who is your favorite designer and why?

AW: I like elegant, sexy and romantic stuff so I really like Valentino. I really like the detail that he puts into his dresses. He is someone I really look up to. He creates his own materials and patterns. I think that he’s the one. I look at many designers and they inspire me but he’s above all what I really love.

TB: What is an LBD and why is it so important to have (at least) one?

AW: A little black dress is something that I first started with because it was missing from the industry. An LBD is simple and can be worn for many occasions because you can go anywhere in it. Especially in Prague, it is normal to wear an LBD not just for a special occasion. It’s good to have two LBDs in your wardrobe; one very simple dress to combine with a variety of accessories, and a more unique one that’s more fun or sexy.

TB: What did your first LBD look like?

AW: The last kick to starting my own brand was when I was in Boston with my husband at a Harvard black-tie reunion. I always create my own dress for parties so I created a unique LBD. I used lace with Swarowski stones in the back. I got loads of compliments and several ladies asked where I had purchased the dress. That was when I decided to start drawing my first LBD collection.

TB: What inspires your designs?

AW: It’s mainly women’s curves and strong women. A strong woman in the terms of giving birth and managing everything. Their curves inspire me to make them more beautiful in my dresses. I always think of how to show the good things and hide the flaws and that’s what really inspires me.

TB: What is the best place to people watch in Prague?

AW: At night you see what people like to wear when they try to look their best. You can just sit on a bench and watch the chaos. If you really want to see the average cut of what people wear day to day, the best place is to sit in a mall. Pastacafee Lamborgini on Vodičkova in Prague 1 is my favorite café to people watch over my cappuccino.

TB: What is the best accessory?

AW: Hmm trick question. There is one thing that women forget about the most. They go to any big or small event wearing the most fantastic outfit but they have absolutely miserable hair, hanging with no concept to it. Hair is a very important accessory. You should always do something with it, even putting it in a ponytail to give it style.

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Alena Wilson makes little black dresses for real women

Czech fashion designer Alena Wilson finds inspiration, in clients and models who are all “real women.” The 37 year old’s first collection was a series of simple and elegant small black dresses, or SBDs. She says every woman needs two SBDs in her closet: one that is simple and can be worn with anything and decorated accordingly with accessories, and another for special occasions that’s more fun and sexy.

Fashions designed to fit healthy women find a substantial audience

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