That’s what it’s all about. Whereas Daddy and Daughter Trump both run a “fashion collection”, and I use the term loosely, that are produced in the rink dink China cheap labor way, a new generation of designers is continuously upping that stigmatized ante and creating a whole new label. A “Made in China” people can proudly flaunt. So the question becomes… The new “Made in China”: What’s it all about?
“We do this because we want to create a long lasting brand known for its great craftsmanship and excellently forged clothing. We also want to be part of the movement to create a better ‘Made in China’.” Lele and Alex of Yuzhe Studios.
The whole “Made in China” label has earned itself a globally negative hashtag over the past few decades, which in fact it is no longer deserving of. At this very moment, a tsunami of fashionable artists and designers have taken over the South China Fashion Sea — this should set tempers flaring — and have set sail towards creating amazing and original artworks. Enter Yuzhe Studios, an independent fashion studio based in Shanghai founded by Lele and Alex. The studio aims to be a part of this strong momentum we currently witness in China’s fashion scene — one that’s making waves rolling throughout the global mode market — and to be part of actually changing that negative “Made in China” prejudice. Untag, so to speak.
Lele (also known as Sun Yuzhe) originally hails from Qingdao, moved to Shanghai when she was little, studied at London’s the London College of Fashion (LCF) and then worked at Giles (the London designer). Alex is a BBC (British Born Chinese, a little China expat slang for all you chicos and chicas out there): Born in the UK, but with the family roots firmly planted in Hong Kong. He, too, studied at LCF and later on filled his days as a Product Merchandiser at Burberry HQ. Together they established Yuzhe Studios with the underlying idea of creating fashion pieces that one might call “Proud to be Made in China”.
In order to achieve this cap-level of quality, Lele and Alex create and control almost everything in their studio. However wee bit firm this may sound, when it comes to their seasonal adventures, these two crackerjacks loosen the vang by creating a more fun collection for SS, especially through print and embroidery, and a more serious and masculine line for AW. They create the original designs, patterns and drawings together with their talented team and subsequently have the pieces tightly tied together by the in-house seamstresses. The founders purposely choose to avoid outsourcing production to factories for two main reasons. And they shall explain those to you in their own words. Lele, Alex: Let the boat sing!
“We do not really like to define our ’target customer’, as we think anyone can be the Yuzhe ‘target’. The key is ‘connection’, if the person connects with our style and identity, they’re the one.” Lele and Alex.
Temper: Purposely avoiding outsourcing: How? Plus, who’s it all for?
Alex: “Firstly, we like to control everything in-house and believe that by doing things this way we can achieve a higher quality product. Secondly, outsourcing means we need to mass-produce, we dislike mass-production because we feel a garment should ‘belong’ to the customer and therefore the garment should be uniquely made for the customer. This is also the reason we offer complimentary personalized initials. Mass-production usually entails over-production and waste. In terms of clientele, then, I do not really like to define our ‘target customer’, as I believe basically anyone can be our ‘target’, be it any age group, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. The key is ‘connection’: If the person connects with our style and identity, then they are our target. Our style is to combine both the rugged and feminine feel, with some added quirky details. So, I guess the person that might connect with our collection likes our style and also appreciates excellent craftsmanship. Plus the idea that every item is a crafted and unique in-house one.”
“Our signature is to combine a ruggedness feel into a feminine collection. With an infusion of quirky details.” Lele and Alex.
Temper: What’s the Yuzhe signature style?
Yuzhe: “It is difficult to say where inspiration comes from, as it can appear anywhere. Our signature is to combine a ruggedness feel into a feminine collection. ‘Ruggedness’ comes from the tough fabrics and masculine hardware used in the collection. Another staple is the infusion of quirky details such as our one-of-a-kind in-house prints and embroideries. We were not attracted by this specific style per se, but we just naturally drifted towards it. Our first season (SS16) was based on an exhibition we went to visit inside London’s Barbican. It was called ‘Magnificent Obsessions’ and made for a showcase of the rare, kooky and eccentric things collected by artists around the world. We named our SS16 collection ‘A Wee Bit OCD’ [ for those unfamiliar with the word ‘wee’, it’s Scottish slang for ‘a little bit’]. This in turn led us to the AW16 collection. One of the ‘Magnificent Obsessions’ artists was in fact a ceramic artist. We really liked the idea of seeing different craftsman at work, paired with the unfinished art they are creating. That is why our AW16 collection features much unfinished detail, hence the name ‘Work in Progress’.”
Temper: In a world of sustainability and craftsmanship… What’s the Yuzhe favored fabric?
Yuzhe: “We certainly favor sustainable or organic fabrics. Just as a state-of-the-art example, we’re working with a Korean organic cotton producer for next season. The reason for this choice is simply the environment itself. Our planet faces huge problems, as everybody is well aware of. We just try to do our bit. However, it’s not always possible for us to choose the sustainable or organic fabrics for a number of reasons. One common obstacle is the size of our orders — usually our orders are too small for the fabric mills to actually collaborate with us. Another work in progress.”
Temper: Every creative person trips over the roadblocks now and again. How do you get those creative juices flowing?
Yuzhe: “Our creative process kicks off in any way it can. A friend of mine, for example, sent me a photo to show some tie-dye work she’d done whilst on holiday in Japan; and now here we are, exploring tie-dye. We do not have a defined process to begin creating new collections, we just try to let the creativity and collection to grow naturally and organically. Materials also play their part in the process. Like we mentioned earlier, we use sustainable and organic material whenever we can. For example, you [yes, me, The E] mentioned the cashmere we used in our AW16 collection. This could sometimes be marketed as a sustainable fiber, but actually comes with quite a few unsustainable aspects such as the overpopulation of goats for cashmere production which in turn causes desertification! Nevertheless, and coming back to that creative process, we try to be sustainable in other ways, including the in-house creation of every single item. No over-production and thus less waste.”
“China’s fashion scene moves furiously fast right now. We hope to gain some recognition amongst the people that connect with our studio and we will let the studio evolve naturally within this overall scene.” Lele and Alex.
Temper: Any ambitions to incorporate or work with one (or more) of China’s minority influences?
Alex: “To be honest, we haven’t actually looked at many other China-based fashion designers. We do really like what Uma Wang is doing — and what she has done in the past. Even though our style is not similar to Wang’s, you can see she has influenced a large number of Chinese designers today. China itself inevitably has an affect on us and our designs (albeit consciously or sub-consciously) since we are based in Shanghai and our personal backgrounds are Chinese. I myself come from the Hakka ethic group, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be concentrating on the Hakka or any particular ethnic minority group either. Those tie-dye designs I mentioned earlier are in fact historically linked to the Buyi ethnic minority group [settled in Yunnan and Guizhou Provinces]. If possible, we’d absolutely love to work with them!” [Below you find a lookylook at the Yuzhe Studios lookbook!]
Temper: China’s new fashion scene is creating tidal waves. What is the future about for Yuzhe?
Yuzhe: “We’re not entirely sure… The development of China’s fashion scene simply moves at the speed of lightning. We just want to carry on doing what we do — and enjoy — plus have fun along the way and hopefully gain some recognition amongst the people who connect with our studio. We will let Yuzhe Studios evolve naturally within this stormy fashion scene. We don’t plan on only catering for the Chinese market. We will attend the Paris SS17 trade show in order find suitable international stockists who will ‘connect’ with us; ones who feel right and fit with our identity. We don’t have any ambition to become the next huge fashion brand known to people in all four corners of the globe, but instead would like to keep our studio relatively small and continue our niche style!”
Yuzhe Studios has created a naughtical but nice niche, which in itself already is style. On that note, I say: From tie-dye to tidal, the fast and the furious for one are not what China’s modern-day modish scene is about. It’s all about that right feel and fit.
Photos: Yuzhe Studios.