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Is TikTok Taking on Shein?

TikTok may be breaking into online fashion and apparel, and as part of its strategy, the social media sensation appears to be taking aim at one of its own platform’s most popular brands.

According to a report from Chinese media outlet Egain News, TikTok parent ByteDance launched an independent women’s fashion retailer Dmonstudio, which has a similar product, website presence and price point with Shein, the popular yet controversial fast-fashion firm.

The Egain News report said that Dmonstudio recruited nearly 100 personnel from Shein in launching the brand online, with sources indicating that the project is being overseen by Kang Zeyu, the head of ByteDance’s e-commerce operation.

The Dmonstudio website doesn’t have any association with ByteDance or TikTok, with one analyst telling Egain News that ByteDance wants to keep a low profile on cross-border e-commerce projects, making them reluctant to disclose details of possible projections like Dmonstudio.

A person close to TikTok told the publication that there is a self-operated brand in TikTok that is benchmarking against Shein, but didn’t reveal the specific name.

Shein, which reportedly revived its U.S. IPO plans in January, has been under the microscope from everything from failing to make public disclosures about working conditions of its supply chain to counterfeiting other brands’ products to selling clothing laden with potentially toxic chemicals.

Yet despite the negative attention, the company still generates buzz worldwide, with the Gen Z darling reeling in approximately $15.7 billion in revenue in 2021, according to Reuters.

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With a valuation of approximately $50 billion in 2021 despite blowing up seemingly overnight, Shein has laid out a blueprint that rising rivals would want to emulate.

The Egain News report pointed out that the code of the Dmonstudio website includes “cdn.shoplazza.com,” an independent e-commerce storefront-building platform headquartered in Toronto but with an R&D center located in Shenzhen, China, where ByteDance is headquartered. The website’s domain name was registered on web hosting company GoDaddy.com Nov. 3, 2021.

The women’s fashion retailer calls itself an “online shopping mall” selling apparel and accessories, largely focusing on dresses. The retailer distributes to more than 100 countries worldwide, and says it ships within five to 15 business days.

Dmonstudio.com seems to be blocking people in the U.S. from accessing its store, with a popup stating, “Sorry, you are not allowed to access this site!” The Dmonstudio and Shein sites share some visual similarities:

Dmonstudio's site presentation
Dmonstudio’s site presentation Dmonstudio
Shein's site presentation
Shein’s site presentation Shein

TikTok has advantages in building out a fashion presence if ByteDance is in fact responsible for the Dmonstudio site. Like Shein, the social media giant has already built personalized recommendation technology based on big data, particularly with users on TikTok who follow and “like” specific creators, accounts and posts.

The Egain News report called this a “data nuclear bomb” that ByteDance can leverage to build its own e-commerce experience.

According to merchant feedback, more than 85 percent of consumers buying products on Douyin (TikTok’s China-based counterpart) are new customers. Many are recommended through interest algorithms.

Shein’s recent success indicates that the company will remain a leader in the space, especially if its heavily Gen Z demographic sticks. As many as 9 percent of teens ranked the fast-fashion brand as their No. 1 online shopping preference. This is behind only Amazon, which 52 percent of teens prefer, according to a survey from investment bank Piper Sandler.

ByteDance has sought to introduce more commerce capabilities into its offering, launching TikTok Shopping in 2020 for Shopify merchants across the U.S. and U.K., and select sellers in Canada. The feature now allows users to buy goods directly through the app that are showcased within the platform’s video. Sellers can sync their product catalogs to create a mini-storefront that links directly to their online store for checkout.

TikTok already has its own official online store, which is currently selling one item, a “What Do You Meme” card game.

And ByteDance continued to further its e-commerce ambition in launching the mobile shopping app Fanno in select markets across Europe late last year. The Fanno app was made available in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the U.K. days before Black Friday on Nov. 26, which marked the start of the Christmas shopping season in the U.S. and other Western markets.

In China, Douyin, the sister platform of TikTok, had already built up an e-commerce ecosystem. ByteDance is said to be launching a stand-alone shopping app called Douyin Box in the months ahead.

Shein has apparently influenced another Chinese tech titan into furthering its own fashion aspirations. Alibaba rolled out international fashion app AllyLikes to target overseas consumer markets in October. Like Shein, AllyLikes recruits Instagram influencers and TikTok key opinion leaders (KOL) to advertise discount prices for trendy and low-cost styles. Prices of women’s apparel on the platform range from a $5 for a shirt to more than $30 for a jacket.

AllyLikes says it currently ships to the U.S., Canada, France and Italy. After orders are placed, items are sent from Allylike’s warehouses to users in less than 14 days.