A boy walks on the catwalk showcasing new arrivals of children's garments in Zhili, East China's Zhejiang Province. (Photo: VCG)
Every year, together with their parents or grandparents, thousands of children come to Zhili, a town in Huzhou in East China's Zhejiang Province, which has more than 13,000 companies producing children's garments, to chase their dream of being a star.
Thanks to the quick development of e-commerce in China, the children's garment market is growing fast.
In 2017, the size in the children's garment market reached 179.6 billion yuan ($26 billion) in China.
The booming market boosted the industry of children modeling for advertisements.
Training centers for aspiring children models, photography studios and children garment's companies are cooperating to push the development of the child model industry in Zhili.
At one of the photography studios, more than 40 children aged 3 to 10 pose for pictures. They dress themselves in different clothes every few minutes, displaying their professionalism as models.
An experienced child model usually needs to take pictures in 16 different outfits within one hour. Their work day goes from 10 am to 8 pm. Models between 3 and 6 years old with a height of 100 centimeters are the most popular in Zhili.
Among these children, some are selected to be models right away for their cuteness, but most of them start their "career" after going through a whole round of training at training centers.
Their parents, many of whom give up their own job, serve as agents, living with the children in rental houses in Zhili and accompanying them on the training courses.
Zhu Huili, from a training center in Zhili, said many parents start out with a purpose to enhance their children's courage and confidence, when sending their children to the training centers. But there are some who hope the children could make money quickly after finishing the training.
When the children overcome stage fright, they are ready for the selection process of the children's garment companies.
Running back and forth from different studios and companies is difficult for these children, and their parents are under the same stress.
They need to pay attention to circulars from all the companies, review the photos, maintain their children's social media accounts and keep interactions with their social media followers.
Once a child becomes famous, the monthly income is several thousand yuan.
These child models have attracted attention. Some experts said that the children's interests are not protected.
Zhou Hanwen, the president of a primary school in Zhili, said that training the children to be models or stars may cultivate their sense of aesthetics, but the losses may overweigh the gains if their studies are harmed.
Yang Jianping, the head of the local chamber of children's garment manufacturers, said that child models have become an indispensable part of the children's garment market, but the market should rightly lead the cultivation of child stars while protecting the children's interests.