HEFEI, June 24 (Xinhua) -- A wedding dress is the most important thing for a bride on her big day, but it is also an important cornerstone in the economy of Dingji, a remote landlocked township in east China's Anhui Province.
In the early summer morning, Zhang Yun, 46, uses a sewing machine to skillfully stitch decorations on a wedding dress.
At night, the dress will be delivered with 20,000-plus Western-style wedding gowns to other parts of the country or even abroad, helping brides fulfill their dreams.
Dingji is home to over 400 wedding dress manufacturing firms and more than 100 wedding accessories companies. Over 10,000 people like Zhang have found success sewing bridal gowns.
Zhang Wenwu, deputy township chief, estimated that nearly half of the wedding dresses in the Chinese market were made in Dingji.
Local residents used to be farmers. In the 1990s, they started migrating to prosperous places for better-paid jobs. Huqiu, a major wedding dress manufacturing base in east China's Jiangsu Province, over 400 km away from Dingji, was a popular destination.
However, attracted by low-price land and labor costs, a growing number of migrants decided to move back to their hometown.
Xu Changying, 64, was among them. He came to Huqiu in 1992 and returned to Dingji 18 years later, building a three-story wedding dress plant here.
Although wedding ceremonies vary according to different traditions observed throughout China, a western-style dress is a must-have for almost every Chinese bride -- even those in remote, rural villages.
Xu realized that cheap wedding dresses were out of fashion. "In the past, most women rented bridal gowns, but now many are willing to purchase a top-grade wedding dress and keep it as a marriage souvenir," he said.
Design is the first and the most important step in making a wedding dress. Xu set up a design team in Guangzhou in 2014, beginning to tap into the high-end wedding dress market.
"We design four or five new wedding dresses each month to meet the growing market demand," he said.
He has opened many physical stores nationwide and established a partnership with around 2,000 dealers to distribute mid-to-high-end wedding dresses with an average wholesale price of 1,000 yuan (around 145 U.S. dollars) to the brides.
Unlike Xu's traditional sales model, Zheng Xianjun, 37, has made a living utilizing e-commerce. He has had seven stores on the online marketplace Tmall since 2009, targeting various customers.
"During the peak season, we deliver around 600 parcels each day and around 200 in low seasons," Zheng said. For him, e-commerce can reach more people, bringing more opportunities and possibilities.
The logistics system in Dingji Township is on a par with that in big cities. More than 10 courier services companies and four distribution warehouses have taken root here, ensuring the products arrive in other parts of the country within three days.
Zheng also has his own design team. He said "the life cycle" of one style wedding dress was six months at most, so manufacturers must keep updating them to woo and keep customers.
In the latter half of 2018, the output value of the wedding dress industry in Dingji stood at 1 billion yuan. Their dresses were sold to the United States and Europe by 30 international trade factories, achieving sales of 12 million U.S. dollars.
As more experienced migrants returned to Dingji, the township saw a growing number of restaurants, hotels and cars.
"In the past, elders usually played cards after a meal. Now they are paid to sew sequins on wedding dresses," Zhang said.
The township government and local developers plan to invest 3.6 billion yuan in building a town characterized by wedding dress manufacturing, photography and marriage culture.
"This project is expected to be completed in three to five years. We hope the wedding dress industry will drive local tourism development and provide a platform for more startups," Zhang said.