When Molder Sayrao came to Australia to study at Macquarie University in 2014, her family members soon began asking her to send products home to western China.
Vitamins, skincare, baby formula, anything Australian and natural. Soon, Sayrao's former colleagues back home began asking as well, and word-of-mouth quickly spread.
"Once they received the stuff they bought from me they showed their colleagues on [social media app] WeChat, and also sent my barcode number so they can scan my account and talk to me directly," she said.
Today, Sayrao has more than 1500 regular customers and ships nearly 1000 parcels to China every week, each containing four or five items — at a profit of A$1600 to A$1700, or nearly A$90,000 ($96,000) a year — all from shopping in her spare time.
"I have a full-time job as well," she said. "I used to work in retail selling skincare at Myer, and also for luxury brand Givenchy. Daigou is like an extra job I can finish on the weekend, if I have a day off I just go to the store."
Sayrao said popular products included vitamins, which Chinese people often bought for their elderly grandparents and great-grandparents. "In China, people really respect the great-grandparents, the oldest ones," she said.
"In the beginning I sold Blackmores and Swisse, then after a couple of months I started to get different brands. Sometimes they send me a screenshot requesting [certain items]."
But she said the top sellers are mum-and-baby items. "Milk powder, nappies, and also some baby care products like baby cream [for] after shower," she said.
Sayrao is one of an estimated 80,000 daigou, or "personal shoppers", some of whom make more than A$100,000 a year selling Australian products to customers in China on social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo.
The 31-year-old was speaking at the launch of Australia's AuMake's first "daigou hub" in Sydney's Haymarket, a space where local suppliers can connect with daigou. AuMake, the country's first dedicated daigou retailer, has already opened six Sydney locations, including its flagship George St store in November.
AuMake chairman Keong Chan has previously said he hoped to bring order to the grey market trade, which has been marked by scenes of Chinese shoppers stripping supermarket shelves of products like baby formula, to the outrage of mothers.
"In the beginning I used to buy from Chemist Warehouse, [but] AuMake they have enough stock and the really important thing is they have people who can package and parcel for you," Sayrao said.
"You can just bring stock and give it to them, they can do all the parcels. For me that's really relaxing — baby formula is really heavy."
Catherine Cervasio, managing director of Melbourne-based mum-and-baby skincare brand Aromababy, said her company was new to the daigou sector.
"We probably avoided it a bit, it was fragmented and kind of considered a grey market for quite some time," she said. "We started exporting probably 20 years ago and have been exporting into the China region for around 10 years.
"I think for some emerging brands, the only way to tap into China is to get into the daigou market. Because we were already established, I guess we didn't need to."
Cervasio said being able to market the product benefits to daigou in a professional environment was "perfect" for the brand. "We're involved with hospitals, we educate midwives, so we can educate daigou here," she said.
"It's quite well known that there has been some mistrust of Chinese products in the mum and baby category. With Chinese mums generally only having one child and wanting the best and wanting a product they can trust, the appeal of Australia as a clean, green, honest market with high-quality products has become very popular."
Cervasio said she didn't have a "target as such" for the daigou channel, but recognised the huge potential. "There are 18 million babies born in China [annually] compared to our 300-odd-thousand," she said.