It's hard not to hate Iyia Liu.

While most 23-year-olds are still finding their feet in the world, this Kiwi is set for life - all thanks to a bizarre beauty trend.

The waist trainer craze, endorsed by celebrities like Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian, swept the internet last year as young women around the world sought to emulate their idols' hourglass figures.

Liu was one of them. Along with a desire to cinch her waist, the young commerce graduate had a burning entrepreneurial ambition.


After noticing the waist trainer - a contemporary version of the 16th century corset - on Instagram, she scraped together $6000 and ordered a batch from a supplier in China.

As the orders came pouring in, Liu scrambled to hire eight staff members. Within a year, her brand Waist Trainer New Zealand Australia turned over $3.5 million, delivering almost $1m in profits.

"I thought I'd just sell a few," Liu said of her decision to stock the waist trainers from the struggling online boutique she'd started as a side project while at uni. "It just grew exponentially."

With a marketing strategy focused solely on Facebook and Instagram, Liu is among a growing number of young entrepreneurs to leverage the social media profiles of bloggers and celebrities to drive sales.

#ad I'm really obsessed with waist training! Thank you @premadonna87 for my new waist shapers! #whatsawaist

A post shared by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

In July, she paid Kylie Jenner almost $300,000 to post a photograph of herself wearing the waist trainer on Instagram. It was liked 1.5 million times, and sales leads were tracked through the promo code "Kylie".

While the investment has now paid itself off, Liu said, "the return was not as fast as I thought it would be".

But sponsored posts remained the most effective form of marketing her products. She's now sold almost 100,000 waist trainers to customers in 90 countries around the world.


Aware that the scaleability of the product is limited as "people only need to buy one", Liu is branching out with other beauty and wellness offerings.


Luxe Fitness, launched in May, stocks protein powder and supplements, with plans for a line of active wear. Liu now has four staff members working across both brands.

While you might expect her to be working around the clock, she told her work day was typically a relaxed eight hours.

WIN WITH LUXE: $1000 Kylie Cosmetics x Luxe Fitness x Waist Trainer x ColourPop Giveaway!! Simply be following Luxe...

Posted by Luxe Fitness on Wednesday, 28 September 2016

"It's only the stages when we're coming up with new products that I'm really busy," she said.

She recently bought herself a Mercedes Benz G-Class as a "treat", and has been known to splash out on holidays and designer handbags.

Iyia Liu celebrated her first $3.3 million with a new car. Photo / Facebook
Iyia Liu celebrated her first $3.3 million with a new car. Photo / Facebook

Asked how her former classmates reacted to her success, Liu said the response had been mixed, adding: "I've had a falling out with a couple of friends."

While her parents are business-savvy property developers, she didn't rely on their connections to get her business off the ground.


"It's actually a lot easier than people realise," she said. "Pretty much everything is a Google search away."

Liu found her waist trainer supplier on after realising that there was an unserved market for the product in Australia and New Zealand.

While it may seem like an overnight success, the business came after years of trial and error in online commerce.

A long held desire to run her own business saw Liu run a struggling online boutique, which struggled to keep up with the competition in the women's fashion market.

Iyia Liu on holiday in Bali. Photo / Facebook
Iyia Liu on holiday in Bali. Photo / Facebook

After launching Waist Trainer, she quickly learned that endorsements were not all equal, after paying NZ reality star and glamour model Rosanna Arkle for a post - only to later discover that most of her followers were men.

"From a young age, 13 or 14, I was always buying stuff from China and selling it on the side of school," Liu said. "I've had part time jobs but I didn't like working for anyone else."


Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to take the leap and "do it while you are young".

"Entrepreneurs need to take risks, so if you have no liabilities, like a mortgage or children, you can make more flexible decisions without worrying so much about the outcome."

Article first published on October 21, 2016