Hookahs in China. Interview with the founder of the telegram channel «Hookah in China», Anton Gavrilenko

Hello Anton! About a year ago, I came across an interesting telegram channel «HOOKAH IN CHINA«, where you talk about hookahs in China and how the Chinese make numerous fakes for well-known brands from different countries.

Tell us about yourself — how did you get into the hookah industry? How long ago? How and why did you end up in China?

Hello. I came to China back in 2012, went to study at the university. I studied, had fun, and there I saw a hookah in the bar, which was made on Al faker and quick-burning coal. I tried it, I didn’t like it, quick-burning, you know 😁

Two or three years later I tried to smoke a hookah again, then a friend made it in the same bar and he did it much better than the Chinese and I thought about buying my hookah. I searched for a long time and found it. At first, nothing worked for a long time, but it’s a matter of time.

And a little later, I realized that you can make money on this and opened my online store in China, where I gained quite a lot of popularity. And so my journey began)

It is clear that the Chinese have been producing fakes for a long time, but the whole thing is being exported. Tell me how things are with hookahs in China itself? Chinese hookah consumer — what is he like? What do local hookah shops and hookah lounges look like? I heard that in 2021-2022 there is some progress in the growth of hookah culture in China, is it so?

The Chinese themselves, namely the ordinary ones, not those who work in this business, do not particularly understand anything about this. Hookahs smoke in clubs, the main thing there is to be smoky, that’s basically all they are interested in. They adopt the cultures of different countries, if foreigners smoke, then it’s fashionable!

The shops look +/- like ours, there are different hookahs, accessories, tobacco, etc., BUT not in every city or even in every province you will find a store. As for Russia, this is a rare occurrence. Progress on the face, that’s for sure!

Not so long ago we held our show — Mix and Story — hookah masters from different countries had to prepare and send us their author’s mix for evaluation, which described the region where they live. We had a participant from China for the first time. Timecode link (3 minutes) to his performance:

What do you think, did this participant manage to present the Chinese hookah culture?

China is a large and multifaceted country. It seems to me that it would not be logical to represent the whole Celestial Empire in one mix, it would be more logical to single out each province with its own combination of certain flavors. Personally, pan-raas with kiwi came to my mind. Maybe because next to my house there was a temple where it always smelled of incense, pagodas, markets with specific smells everywhere. Or some kind of tropical mix, since I’ve been living in the tropics for the last few years. Well, something like this)

How long have you been developing your store on Wechat? What difficulties did you have to face in the hookah retail in China? Why did you decide not to make a regular website as an online store?

My store is already about 6 years old. The Chinese have their own view of business and its vision, it is very difficult. They ordered 2000 accessories from me, for example, the last story I handled for a month. So they made accessories, we sent them to the client, he received, and there, well, not at all what he ordered 😂

We waited another month until everything was redone and sent. They may not care about deadlines, sometimes about quality, it is difficult to work with them in general. Whatever the deal, it’s a headache

And why reinvent the wheel, I’m talking about creating a website that should function in China, when there is a WECHAT where all the Chinese hang out and most of the foreigners. Everything has been thought up for me for a long time. Wechat is something unrealistic for Russia 😂

The application has everything. Your wallet, with its help you pay for purchases in the store, utilities, order food, things, movie tickets, plane, steamboat, etc., in general, this is the best thing the Chinese have come up with!

Do you sell hookah tobacco? What is the general situation with tobacco regulation in China? What tobacco brands are on the market?

I sell tobacco inside the country. The one that the Chinese import, but the choice there is not great and there is almost no normal tobacco (with the exception of Alfaker and Brazilian Zomo, namely Brazilian). With tobacco there is tight, very straight. Russians import tobacco from Russia, but the price for it is space, for example, the same Darkside for 100gr 130-190 yu, (18-26 euro).

On your telegram channel, you post a lot of photos of Chinese replicas of famous hookah models. Where do you get this information from?

At the expense of photos and information replicas. I take everything directly from the manufacturers I have many contacts of factories for the production of this or that. I used to run my YouTube channel, there is a video of me visiting a small hookah factory. 

What can you say about hookah bars in China? What are they like? In 2020, Anton Gaivoronsky, co-owner of a well-known franchise chain of hookah bars, at his lecture at the HCS exhibition, said that before the pandemic they had serious plans to open their establishment in China. Do you think such an enterprise would be a success?

About hookah bars in China. Oddly enough, but more and more often, Chinese owners of newly minted establishments write to me on WeChat, these are mainly bars and clubs, since there are no hookahs in the China, such as we are used to seeing them. You can’t just open a smokehouse, it’s not allowed by law, BUT you can serve hookahs in a club/bar and most likely no one will say a word to you. I worked for a while in a bar, I made hookahs there without any problems, the police came and saw it all perfectly, they asked what it was, if there were any prohibited substances there, no more.

Anton’s lounge would have a place to be, but I don’t think it would rock much. Although, depending on the city and location, it might have gained popularity, or maybe not, we will not know

Do I understand correctly that you, among other things, are engaged in sending wholesale orders from China to Russia? Including replicas of hookahs?

I send everything and everywhere, almost to any country in the world. We also produce hookahs according to the client’s ready-made drawings and apply the logo.

Do you sell local hookahs in your store? Including replicas? What attracts the Chinese most of all? Can you name your top 3 in sales?

Again, I sell everything I have. The spread is large, who likes what. Top sales within the market: MIG, Aeon, Dschinni, Alpha, Koress.

How are things with hookah charcoal? Are there any well-known brands on the market?

There is not as much coal in China as we would like, but there are a couple of brands of relatively good quality. Of the well-known brands, something met, Cocobrico for sure, did not remember any more.

Is there a Chinese hookah community / hookah bloggers? If so, can you give any examples?

I don’t follow Chinese bloggers, and I haven’t met one in my entire journey. There is one seller who is trying to shoot something and upload it to his wechat, but it turns out weakly, they are not even close to our mastadons.

How do you assess the quality of Chinese fake hookahs? Some manufacturers in Russia started with fakes (or contract work for another brand), but then came to create their own unique product under

their own brand. Why is this not happening with Chinese manufacturers? For decades of hookah production, no factory has thought of this.

The Chinese have long ago stepped forward in quality, but also in price the same. When they want, they can make it so that you can’t tell the difference, but sometimes they are lazy. I will say that most Russian brands still produce their products in China, I will not point a finger at them, but it is so)

And why should the Chinese invent something, their factories are not idle without it. There are copies that take well, as well as production according to your drawings, so why should they strain their brains once again.

Is there a way for a hookah manufacturer to fight against its product being counterfeited in China? For example, to patent all their models in China, or something else.

It seems to me no, no matter how you protect your brand from the legal side, the Chinese will make it the same by 100% or 99, without finishing it to the end, so to speak, for example, from the 3 available drawings on the diffuser, they will make two and will not add the original logo 😂

Thank you Anton for an interesting interview!


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