“Design in China” E80 – Marketplace as Community: Common Rare’s Unique Branding

If you were to inquire about the favored pastime of today’s young generation during their leisure hours, one resounding answer would likely be “exploring local markets.”

In recent times, the allure of markets has surged, gaining particular momentum in the post-pandemic era. This niche business model, with its roots in urban landscapes, has rapidly blossomed, captivating the attention of diverse millennials. Among the noteworthy players in this landscape is Common Rare, or 凡几 (Fan Ji in Mandarin), a pioneering creative market brand that emerged onto the scene in 2016.

Founded by the dynamic duo, Vivian and Tiffany, who have shared a friendship spanning over a decade, Common Rare wasn’t just a business venture; it was a journey ignited by a seemingly casual idea. A trip together prompted Tiffany to share a unique entrepreneurial concept with Vivian, envisioning the creation of a market brand. To Vivian’s surprise, Tiffany went beyond casual banter, presenting a comprehensive business plan.

“Back then, during my overseas travels, I frequented many large and well-established markets. However, Tiffany and I believed that markets had the potential for more diversity, offering fresh possibilities. And so, the idea to craft our ideal market in Shanghai was born,” shared Vivian.

Common Rare embarked on its journey by focusing on independent original brands. The debut event, “This is Not a Christmas Market,” in December 2016 at the Shanghai Power Station of Art, was a testament to Common Rare’s commitment to breaking stereotypes. The transformed venue, adorned with geometric patterns, shattered preconceptions of traditional markets.

“We observed that the market model was mature abroad, but there was room for improvement in terms of design and branding in China. Simultaneously, we noticed a wealth of exceptional independent original brands locally, lacking a platform to unite them. That’s when we decided to fill that void,” explained Vivian.

The first event, held over two days, hosted 55 brands ranging from fashion and accessories to fragrances and desserts. Live music, workshops, and even pet adoption initiatives added layers to the market experience. Behind the scenes, Vivian and Tiffany toiled for six months, navigating through the intricate details of organizing their inaugural event.

“The initial event laid the foundation for Common Rare, earning us positive reviews and some recognition. It was an intense learning curve, from registering the company and dealing with authorities to safeguarding against scalpers. It was all word of mouth and mutual support back then,” recalled Vivian.

But Common Rare wasn’t just an entrepreneurial venture; it evolved into a community builder. Successful markets are more than mere commercial spaces – they become magnets that attract like-minded individuals, fostering a sense of community. Common Rare, with its focus on quality independent original brands and the philosophy that “small things matter,” succeeded in creating such a community.

The philosophy extended beyond aesthetics to business strategy. Setting a bar for brands and consumers, Common Rare introduced a ticketing system from its first event. Early bird, on-site, and VIP tickets, the latter often featuring exclusive merchandise, became a cornerstone. According to Vivian, when consumers invest in tickets, it indicates an understanding of Common Rare’s ethos and a willingness to explore the showcased brands.

Common Rare’s attendees, primarily aged 18 to 30, comprise a diverse group. Entrepreneurs, freelancers, those in design-related professions, and even families, including fashion-forward parents with children, converge at the market. Despite diverse backgrounds, they share a common trait – robust purchasing power.

Themes play a pivotal role in Common Rare’s strategy. Each event revolves around a unique theme, like the trendy “Breaking Grounds” or the outdoor-themed “Common Gathering.” The immersive decor serves as a catalyst, enhancing the overall experience and, in turn, stimulating the desire to shop.

“We’ve experimented with various themes, continuing with the successful ones. While there might be some brand overlap, the overall atmosphere and visual aesthetics differ. Decor is crucial; when attendees immerse themselves in the ambiance, it triggers their shopping instincts,” noted Vivian.

The collaborative spirit is evident in events like “Common Gathering,” where Common Rare partnered with sports classes and DarkRunners Weekend for a “City Mini Triathlon.” This approach extends to “Breaking Grounds,” where Common Rare collaborated with various brands to create a nostalgic atmosphere during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Common Rare transcends the conventional definition of a market brand. It integrates various cross-disciplinary activities, from content curation to developing its brand – fuki. Launched in 2020, fuki focuses on unique pastries, positioned between cookies and cakes, reflecting the brand’s new aesthetic lifestyle philosophy through food.

The brand’s exploration goes beyond markets. Common Rare curated “Show Next Door,” an illustration exhibition showcasing the creative spaces of six illustrators. The brand has also ventured into offline retail, establishing “The Common Store” pop-up shops in various locations.

As Common Rare evolves, its founders opened an independent store in Shanghai last spring. This store feature coffee, curation, and merchandise from the brand. The journey of Common Rare is a testament to the founders’ commitment to “small things matter” and their relentless pursuit of innovative and immersive experiences.

In the world of markets, Common Rare doesn’t merely stand as a brand; it is a curator of lifestyles, fostering a community where creativity thrives, and the significance of small things is profoundly acknowledged.

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