Li Jiaqi, otherwise known as the ‘Lipstick King’ or ‘Lipstick Brother’, is a certified online superstar in China. Despite being largely unknown outside the Middle Kingdom, the 29-year-old shopping livestreamer has 40 million fans on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, and recently sold almost $2 billion of goods during China’s Singles’ Day shopping festival. His flamboyant personality and infectious enthusiasm over the beauty products he sells have won the hearts and minds of China’s online shopping community, making him one of the most recognisable faces in China to date.
Li comes from humble beginnings in the southern province of Hunan and worked as a beauty advisor at a L’Oréal store in second-tier city Nanchang until five years ago. For the first few years of streaming on Taobao Live – a livestream channel linked to Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Taobao – Li struggled to make an impact. He received hateful comments regularly, with people asking why is this man livestreaming women’s beauty products.
Eventually though, his unique sales technique started to gain momentum online and views went up rapidly. People enjoy his ability to grab their attention with his favourite catchphrase “Oh, my God! Buy it! Buy it!”, which he actually tried to trademark last year.
Today he has reached an unparalleled level of online fame. He sold a staggering $1.9 billion in goods on the first day of Alibaba’s 2021 Singles’ Day, reportedly clocking an insane 250 million viewers on his livestream.
Li holds the Guinness World Record for most lipstick applications in 30 seconds and once tried on 380 different lipsticks in a seven-hour livestream. In 2018 he even managed to sell 15,000 lipsticks in five minutes, beating billionaire co-founder of Alibaba Group Jack Ma in a one-to-one selling competition.
Li was on the Hurun China Under 30s to Watch List in 2019 and had an estimated net worth of somewhere between $1 million and $5 million. However, since the Covid-19 pandemic and the explosion of online shopping, Li has reached another level and boasts huge clout in China’s e-commerce market, influencing the purchasing choices of millions of people.
Jing Daily reported in 2020 that a mere five-minute section of Li’s livestream caused the sales of a hotly anticipated 24-shade line of lipsticks from Hermès to tank in China after he told his 12 million viewers that the shades looked “cheap.”
In 2021, Chinese media estimates that Li earns somewhere between $10 and $20 million from livestreaming each month, and Time has projected Li will be worth $15 billion by 2023 from livestreaming alone. He has become a household name in China, even appearing on state broadcaster CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala, the biggest TV event of the year.
Chinese women in particular have been won over by Li’s assuring voice and clever sales tactics. He criticises luxury brands like Chanel while outlining why he prefers some lesser-known beauty products, assuring his viewers that his opinion can be relied upon.
A fund-raising livestream he did for the city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, further demonstrated his endearing online persona to the masses. On top of the funds raised, he donated 40,000 masks to the city.
The Lipstick King is currently riding a wave of invincibility at the pinnacle of China’s booming e-commerce industry. He even survived a recent piece of legislation that cracks down on what it calls the “feminisation” of young males who don’t conform to China’s gender norms.
Recently though, Li’s livestreams have promoted a new message for his followers, and it spells trouble for international brands.
He has been promoting domestic brands in the hope that he will influence his followers to buy Chinese. The advice comes as many high-profile Chinese influencers fall in line with the Chinese Communist Party’s “cultural confidence” movement that promotes the country’s traditional culture and endorses all things national.
Younger generations of patriotic Chinese are responding to the message as they believe national brands are just as good as luxury foreign ones. Li’s journey from humble beginnings makes him the perfect person to promote this movement because people trust him.
Li continues to work with foreign brands but is clearly adhering to the “cultural confidence” movement. According to Sixth Tone, he has featured more than 400 Chinese products in his livestreams in 2021, compared to around 200 last year.
“In recent years, I feel that young Chinese people have become more confident,” Li told Sixth Tone. “Their pride in our national culture has gotten stronger.”
Li’s influence in the industry is that far-reaching that his livestreams alone could play a major role in boosting the market and preventing Chinese money from flowing overseas. One thing for sure is that the Lipstick King will be a name you hear a lot more of over the next few years.