Delayed marriages opening door to new biz

2022-08-05 China Daily Editor:Li Yan

Xie Yuke (first right) serves as a professional bridesmaid during a wedding ceremony held in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in October. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Professional bridesmaids and bestmen employed to be in wedding parties find experiences novel, exciting

With an increasing number of people choosing to marry later in life, thus sometimes making it hard to find an age-appropriate bridesmaid who is single, a new business-professional bridesmaids-is emerging, industry experts said.

Data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs showed that between 2018 and 2020, the average age for couples to register their marriage had been going up. The number of people who chose to marry between 30 and 34 years old had been rising, with the ratio jumping from 31.04 percent to 38.65 percent.

Xie Yuke, a post-00s woman who majored in finance at the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, spotted the business opportunity and founded a professional bridesmaid company-Zhejiang MeiBan Co Ltd. The company offers bridesmaids and groomsmen lending services to couples-to-be.

The company, just founded earlier this year, now employs over 100 people. More than 50,000 professional bridesmaids and best men have registered on its platform. However, at the very beginning, Xie didn't believe she could run such a business.

In November 2020, when Xie was a junior, she saw a recruitment advertisement looking for bridesmaids in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.

"My parents wanted me to go back home to Zhejiang at that time, and I thought if I applied for a part-time job, I could not only save the travel expenses but also earn as much as 2,000 yuan ($298.4). Without any hesitation, I applied for the job," she said.

Luckily enough, she and the groom happen to be from the same region and share the same family name. The couple-to-be felt a sense of familiarity for her and chose her to be their bridesmaid.

"That's when my professional bridesmaid journey began. Between 2020 and 2022, I went through over 40 weddings, and my flight mileage reached 140,000 kilometers. I have been to various beautiful places, including Chuxiong in Yunnan province, Yulin in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, Sanya in Hainan province, and Shenzhen in Guangdong province. There are a lot of great memories," she said.

"That was when I spotted the business opportunity. If I could do the job, why can't others? There is surging market demand, and the occupation has not been completely professionalized," Xie said.

According to the analysis from tech media Youth36Kr, China's average marriage age has been rising in recent years, making it difficult for couples to find single people to join their wedding parties. Furthermore, factors such as busy work schedules and COVID-related traffic restrictions also make it harder for people to go to their friends' wedding ceremonies.

"These obstacles fully prove that there's strong demand for professional bridesmaid business," said the analysis.

In February, Xie and four friends jointly founded Zhejiang MeiBan Co Ltd. "Our business model is simple. As an intermediate, we attract traffic through new media platforms such as Xiaohongshu, Weibo and Douyin. People who are looking for a professional bridesmaid or groomsman and those who want to apply for the job come to us, and our database will help them to make a match," Xie said.

According to the company, its revenue comes from the service fee paid by the newlyweds, which is usually between 30 and 40 percent of the bridesmaids' and best men's income. Professional bridesmaids earn 400 yuan to 1000 yuan per booking, and professional groomsmen usually earn 30 percent higher than professional bridesmaids, as they are harder to find in the market.

Through online media platforms and friend recommendations, MeiBan's professional bridesmaid and groomsman reserve gradually expanded to over 50,000 from all over the country. So far, the company has received nearly 1,000 orders.

The company has also launched its WeChat mini program, where wedding couples can send out their requirements for a professional bridesmaid-such as height, weight, zodiac sign, region and characteristics. Once they apply, the system matches suitable candidates and reminds the professional bridesmaids who meet the requirements to sign up. After confirming that all aspects are matched, MeiBan will communicate with them in detail. An app is also underway, which is expected to offer better services to clients in the near future.

Wang Chikun, an independent economist and finance commentator, said that with people's rising living standards, their consumption demand becomes stronger, more refined, more newfangled and more diversified. The professional bridesmaid business is a reflection of the updated consumption demand.

"Seeing from the supply side, various products and services in China have shifted from a shortage to a surplus. Thereby, industries in a surplus stage started to differentiate into vertical sectors. Based on refined and diversified consumption needs, enterprises develop corresponding products and services to meet their needs. This is exactly the scenario for the professional bridesmaid business," he said.

Liu Nian, founder of Beijing-based wedding planning company Mr Nian, said that professional bridesmaids and groomsmen are well-trained. Some of them have the experience of being Miss Etiquette or models.

"Whether speaking of personal image, temperament, control of wedding sessions and experience in dealing with on-the-spot issues, professional bridesmaids can deal with them all.

"However, there are still some problems. As they don't know much about the wedding couples, their connections with the couples and real emotions aroused by the event may be weak during the wedding," Liu said.

Another issue can be about safety. A Gen Z professional bridesmaid in Beijing, who wished for anonymity, said that she was once stood up by the newlyweds. Another time, she was even harassed at a wedding.

"I don't dare to tell my experiences to my mom. I think that will make her cry," she said.

To tackle the problems, MeiBan requires not only real-name authentication of couples, but also their catering order, wedding plan records and marriage license. The company also buys insurance for its professional bridesmaids and groomsmen. In the future, it plans to set up a one-click alarm function on its app.

Chen Jia, a researcher at the International Monetary Institute at the Renmin University of China, said: "The new business model derived from social networks lacks market regulation. The quality of service mostly relies on industry discipline, which is risky."

"However, the professional bridesmaid industry, as a newly emerged one, offers young people great employment opportunities. This is critical under the background of the country's short-term downward economic pressure, as it encourages young people to actively explore possibilities and find a way out. Furthermore, it also contributes to the country's stable economic growth," Chen said.

During Xie's professional bridesmaid journey, she also met her boyfriend Yin Yuanji, who was then a senior student at the Macau University of Science and Technology. Back then, they served as a professional bridesmaid and groomsman at a wedding in Haikou. Later on, Xie, Yin, and three other friends cofounded the company.

"For me, the best thing about being a professional groomsman was meeting my girlfriend. Besides, I have been to many places that I had never been to. I feel so lucky to have a job that enriches my life experiences," Yin said.

Currently, Xie said that they are striving to become a benchmark in China's professional bridesmaid sector, letting professional bridesmaids and groomsmen get more social acknowledgment while offering them more employment opportunities.

In the future, the company plans to integrate its professional bridesmaid business with a blind dating business.

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