A new wave of talented young designers is changing what it means for fashion to be "Made in China".
“Made in China” is not the usual #hashtag we look for when searching for what is new, fresh, unique or sustainable in today’s fashion world. But China is changing rapidly and fashion is reflecting this change in unexpected ways, as a new generation of designers takes to heart issues such as responsible design, sustainability and cultural preservation. Here are some of the top innovators.
Ma Ke is a well-known Chinese designer whose career has gone from the peak of fast fashion to the slowest redefinition of Chinese fashion through cultural heritage.
Sixteen years ago she launched Exception de Mixmind, the first Chinese designer brand, with more than 100 stores all over China. She left that behind and moved to Zhuhai, in the south, to work closely with textile artisans and go back to a slow-paced artisanal way of life. Wuyong (“useless”) is the umbrella name of her initiative, which includes a research project, a living museum in an industrial area of Beijing and a heritage food project currently in the works. It also features a collection of hand-stitched tea silk jackets, a traditional southern Chinese fabric made from handwoven silk treated with yam juice and mud that has existed since the Ming Dynasty, along with limited editions of pieces that result from Ma Ke’s work with artisans all over China.
“Traditional craftsmanship is disappearing from our daily life and can now only be found in museum exhibits. Through tremendous social changes, my country is undergoing a heart-breaking loss of tradition for the sake of an irresponsible pursuit of the future,” she says. “I became more and more attracted by Chinese traditional craftsmanship; the peasants live their lives the way our ancestors did, they get up when the sun rises and they rest when the sun sets. The intimacy and harmony they have with nature, the clarity and frugality they treat everything with, and the reverence they have for nature has moved me profoundly.”
How is it sustainable? The designer’s deep understanding of traditional textiles and a return to the roots where these are made ensure that every step of the process is done with care and respect for the environment and the cultures that created them.
Less is More
In a buzzing Beijing street, in one of the oldest hutongs (“narrow alleyways”), designer Mina Qu opened her boutique NagQu in 2010. Her work focuses on silk traditional clothing and scarves using the finest cashmere, “the fiber closest to heaven,” she says.
A limited edition of scarves can take up to two months and more than 20 dips until the right color is achieved. Her colors come from her research. For example, the green tones in her recent collection are inspired by old porcelain pieces from the Song Dynasty. Qu explains, “I have become intrigued by mixing the indirect quiet beauty of tradition with the direct beauty, strength and togetherness of folk art.” With NagQu she has created a lifestyle and an oasis.
“The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu said, ‘Over-flooded senses are harming your senses.’ So we keep subtracting, subtracting, subtracting...until we could feel the essence.”
How is it sustainable? An awareness of conscious consumerism, with a “less is more” approach.
Tradition and Ceremony
Secluded in very private spaces in Beijing and only open to their own networks, the lady’s clubs are reviving the lifestyles of the old dynasties of China. Amidst beautifully curated spaces, well-dressed women gather around the tea ceremony and different events related to Chinese culture. “Hui Xin Ge,” which means “wisdom house” and is located next to the Summer Palace, is one of these secret places. In the words of Ms. Li, one of the founders, “we want to go forward by going backwards. We feel great responsibility to the past and feel we should revitalize old traditions so they remain and give life to future generations.”
How is it sustainable? The return to ritual and ceremony.
Fuzang was founded in 2011 by Elsa Jiang, as an atelier dedicated to the idea of exploring harmony between humans and nature, as well as sustainable development.
Fuzang interprets traditional Chinese culture from a distinctive contemporary perspective. Jiang uses humble materials such as yak wool, raw silk and organic sustainable cotton. Her inspiration comes from simple crafts, born of daily life. Her designs uncover the extraordinary in the ordinary and are always pointing out the beauty of imperfection.
How is it sustainable? The use of local textiles stitched by hand.
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