Made in China
Once a stigma, now a source of pride. For many readers, a 'Made in China' label has negative connotations - issues with quality, materials and even the labour environment. Others may think of more traditional styles when envisaging Chinese Fashion, garments such as the Hanfu or the Qipao come to mind. Dispel both these thoughts.
Qipao (Left), Image Courtesy of Fashionista, Hanfu (Right), Image Courtesy of Fashion Hanfu
Chinese Fashion is undergoing a modern renaissance, with a new generation of emerging designers starting to excel domestically and on the global scene. Comparable to the developments in Japanese streetwear, modern-day Chinese designers are mixing Western fashion with traditional garments to create an innovative hybrid aesthetic. With stores and offices across China, Europe, and America, these emerging Chinese brands are creating luxury garments with high-quality craftsmanship. Proud of their origins, they are pushing the boundaries of style and design, and forcing the world to rethink what it means to be Made in China. To celebrate their success, we are showcasing 10 of our favourite brands:
Image Courtesy of 1Granary
Founded in 2015, SAMUEL GUÌ YANG is a womenswear brand based in both London and Shanghai. After graduating from the MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins, Samuel Guì Yang started his design studio with a lot of behind-the-scenes help from his old classmate, Erik Litzén, who joined the brand as co-creator in 2017. Together, the pair have made ground-breaking decisions, whether in their design choices or general direction of the brand, such as refraining from showing during fashion week in order to maintain a business which is on their own terms. They have also decided to keep their brand as sustainable as possible by sourcing local materials and fabrics and avoiding waste. Although this may prove more difficult for a smaller brand to maintain, Yang and Litzén are adamant in factoring sustainability in every choice they make as a label. SAMUEL GUÌ YANG specialises in womenswear inspired by Chinese traditional dress and the pragmatic Swedish style, inspired by Litzén’s Swedish origins, and general Western fashion inspirations. At the core of the brand is a fusion between two different cultures, aiming to amass a Western and Eastern clientele.
Image Courtesy of XUZHI
After graduating from Central Saint Martins with a degree in womenswear, Xuzhi Chen started his career as a fashion designer under some big name fashion houses, including J.W. Anderson. In 2015, Xuzhi founded his self-named fashion brand XU ZHI, whilst trying to capture the perplexing trials and tribulations of life. While exploring the relationship between softness and strength in this menswear and womenswear brand, Xuzhi uses outstanding craftsmanship and scrupulous attention to detail. Some of his best work includes traditional weaving and fringe cutting, a staple of the XU ZHI wardrobe. The brand and designer has caught the eye of many within the fashion industry, receiving the CFDA Outstanding Achievement award, as well as being featured in the Forbes 2017 30 under 30 list, and the Business of Fashion 2018 500 list. All this attention, alongside XU ZHI’s talent and high-quality garments has established the brand as an outstanding figure within the fashion industry.
Image Courtesy of Twin Factory
Arguably the most renowned brand on this list, ROBERT WUN has been seen on the likes of Lady Gaga, Cardi B, and Céline Dion. Created by Robert Wun after graduating from London College of Fashion in 2012, the brand has proved itself as a leading light in the industry, even though it was originally rejected from the LCF graduates’ press show. With some audacious pattern-cutting and material shaping, the designer has honourably been compared to the late Alexander McQueen, who was was Robert's original inspiration to pursue fashion from the age of 10. Just like McQueen, Wun takes inspiration from nature and how it will evolve in the future alongside continual technological developments. Wun has also attributed a large portion of his inspiration from strong women, most notably the ones who raised him, and the badass Trinity from The Matrix. Wun always keeps his influences in mind while designing, always wanting to empower women by creating sexy and futuristic clothing.
Image Courtesy of DIDU
The recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Di Du, has created an uber-feminine fashion brand which has dressed celebs including Rosalía and Rico Nasty. DIDU is known for its feminine use of colours, cowboy hats, over-the-top fluff, and bedazzled everything. Growing up in China, Di described herself as a tom-boy who always tried to fit in with the boys and remembers wishing she were a boy due to her country's overt preference for the male role in society. However, since starting her career in fashion, the designer has taken on a completely fresh perspective as she wishes to explore the pinnacle of femininity and a woman’s societal role. Breaking away from traditional Chinese norms, DIDU’s garments are aimed towards a confident and strong woman. Only having put out three collections, DIDU has already made waves within the industry, dressing celebrities and attracting major press attention. The bold and futuristic designer has got a lot going for her, with an exciting future within a feminist space.
Image Courtesy of Vrai Magazine
PRONOUNCE is a designer brand founded in 2016 by Yushan Li and Jun Zhou. The two studied at Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion, respectively. After some industry work, notably for Li at Yeezy, the two designers decided to collaborate to create a genderless clothing line. The main inspiration for PRONOUNCE is taking a twist on male and female stereotypes in order to keep pushing the boundaries between gender norms and and how each dress and style themselves. Li and Zhou incorporate hand-crafted traditional wear on modern clothing, blurring the lines between Eastern and Western fashion. Their colourful and vibrant clothing has earned them a place in the official LFW Men’s schedule. Both designers were on the final list of Forbes 30 under 30 in 2017 and 2018. PRONOUNCE is an emerging brand that definitely needs to be on everyone’s radar, as their creative opportunities keep expanding.
Image Courtesy of Not Just A Label
STAFFONLY is a menswear brand created by Shimo Zhou and Une Yea in 2015, after both designers graduated from London universities and moved back to Shanghai. The Chinese designers have established their aesthetic as a satire on consumerism and an exploration of identity through different realities. Their previous runway shows have featured models glued to their smartphones, cardboard coffee cup holders, as well as saucers, pots, and pans to create a Balenciaga-esque way of looking at today’s capitalistic nature. Moreover, STAFFONLY wouldn't describe itself as masculine but instead only considers the shape of the male body while simultaneously exploring a genderless aesthetic for consumers who are not afraid to dress freely. While the constructions of the garments are quite inspired by a modernised heritage, Zhou and Yea also use graphic printing to marry a Western and Eastern aesthetic. The future of this unrestrained brand will focus more on its Chinese origins, producing an even more interesting take on today’s modern society.
Image Courtesy of DANSHAN
Growing up under China’s one child rule, cofounder of DANSHAN Danxia Lu quickly recognised the societal preference of having a son over a daughter after being dressed like a boy in her childhood. Until the age of 12, Danxia was disguised as a boy, something which shaped her idea of the world, but also of clothing. As a result of this, the Central Saint Martin’s graduate teamed up with Shan Peng Wang in 2016 to create an abnormal menswear brand, despite having both studied womenswear. Shan also grew up in China but had the advantage of actually being a male. As a result of the bond formed between both designers based on an open-minded perspective of masculinity, DANSHAN Studio was born. Both designers desired to execute their vision of a freer, more vulnerable, and sensitive take on masculinity, and have done so through the use of low cut t-shirts, light, flowing materials, and confident models. Although DANSHAN comes from a place of strict tradition Chinese standards, by straying away from these norms, the brand achieves a beautiful rebellion.
Image Courtesy of ANNAKIKI
Started in 2013 by Anna Yang, ANNAKIKI has truly become a multicultural global brand. In recent years, ANNAKIKI has been showing at Milan Fashion Week and has offices and studios in Milan, Shenzhen, and Los Angeles. Having reached great success in the Asian continent, the womenswear brand is also slowly but surely making its way to the top of European fashion. Anna Yang, comes from a family of tailors, where she learned the importance of meticulous skills that she has applied within her brand. With ANNAKIKI, Anna explores the boundaries of a strong bold woman, with a futuristic aesthetic, bright eco-fur and adventurous cut-shapes. The chic yet playful brand was initially created to showcase tradition versus rebellion, a recurring theme for Chinese designers who were brought up under strict societal rules. ANNAKIKI has already reached great international success, but the brand still has a bright future ahead. Global success, dressing the strong woman of any background and presenting innovative runway shows is only a short list of what ANNAKIKI is capable of achieving.
Image Courtesy of YVMIN
YVMIN Studio is a self-ascribed “body-decoration lab” which allows more freedom and experimentation in terms of designs. After studying design in 2012, the two Central of Academy of Fine Arts graduates, Xiaoyu Zhang and Min Li founded this Chinese jewellery brand together. Throughout the sixteen collections the duo has produced, they have continued to make meaningful, romantic, and surrealist pieces while using non-traditional materials. The duo of designers both were brought up in China, but later moved to universities in London, like many emerging Chinese designers have been doing. YVMIN Studio is now based in Beijing but is still pitching its unique pieces to a global customer base.
Image Courtesy of Design Scene
Sen Lii named his futurist, alien-like brand by merging his name with the Windows computer operating system. Lii has mentioned being inspired by old video game characters. As he recalls, these old characters looked nothing like real life people, inviting the imagination to run free as to what they would actually look like. WINDOWSEN is a brand which explores individuality, personality, and self-expression in a utopian, futuristic way. The designer uses an abundance of fabric, bright neon colours and silver leathers, and bold and audacious materials to make striking and distinct garments. Furthermore, WINDOWSEN marries his Chinese heritage with a Western aesthetic by reinventing traditional women’s costumes and using men’s sportswear materials. These creations have evidently set WINDOWSEN as an emerging force to be reckoned with and given this brand a clear distinct aesthetic.
The Future of Chinese Fashion
Innovative designs, novel use of materials and an air of self-expression flows from these amazing artists. It is easy to see why they are having such a strong impact on the global fashion scene. Merging traditional techniques and expertise with the Western modernity, they are creating authentic pieces that resonate with all. Even more impressive when we realise Chinese high fashion has only recently started to globalise! From elegant everyday womenswear to avant-garde futuristic menswear, these Gen-Z Chinese designers prove they have everything it takes to become the next big thing in fashion without forgetting the gender-blurring tendency present in many of these collections. So next time you see a Made in China label, look beyond the tag to the brand behind.
Text: Juliette Eleuterio