Designed by Beijing native Zhang Na, the Fake Natoo label in 2008 launched itself into out-of-this-world fashionably healthy spheres, quickly landing on China’s most-wanted designer list. Jessica Laiter puts on her cloche hat and chases down this dragon for us.
“Our heritage is our everything. Old clothes hold the traces of people’s lives, of humanity,” Zhang Na.
Fake Natoo gives us reason to believe that the hopes for a healthier China have finally been reckoned for. The Post-80s and -90s make every effort to alter the global gaze on China, helping to shift focus from a country blamed for its environmentally-disastrous actions, to its more progressive individuals whose fashions serve as a looking glass into China’s softer side. Beijing-born and -bred Zhang Na marches at the forefront of this movement. A run-through:
- Zhang studied Fashion Design at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts in the department of Fashion Design Education and later attended Mod’art International Paris;
- Her label was launched in 2008 under the original brand name “Na(too)”, which later on transformed into Fake Natoo;
- Say what? “Fake”: Well, there already was a brand labeled “Natoo” and that was the harsh reality of it. Hence Zhang simply took it to the next level of exaggeration/pun. “Na”? Her first name. “Too”? Meaning “possibility”;
- Zhang’s true passion is found in her striving to create a more permanent bond between people, clothing, and the environment.
Although still quite small in China, the niche of sustainability has turned into a trend. One that is fashion forward and rooted in rich heritage.
As a descendent of Manchu nobility, Zhang harbors a strong sense of responsibility towards creating fashions that are based on her Chinese background. Going back in time a mere three years, we find a perfectly befitting example of this innate sense of heritage in Fake Natoo’s A/W 2014 opening. Hosted inside the Beijing 798 Art District, Zhang presented her collection featuring recurring themes from nomadic culture and lifestyle, playing on the notes of sincerity and authenticity of a life strongly tied to Mother Earth. Coming down the catwalk to the chants of Mongolian folk bands and grassland songs by a Xinjiang Regional band, Zhang had woven together a collective of chosen hues and featured fabrics — cashmere, alpaca, mohair and organic wool imported from Italy — that richly reflected the natural tones of Earth.
With a return to Mother Earth, comes the awareness of how we, as a global collective, have been treating Her. Chinese designers and consumers too are increasingly branching out from runway and fast fashion to the globe-sweeping phenomenon that is sustainable and organic fashion. Sustainability is rapidly turning into one of the better talked-about-topics across China’s industrious landscape. Albeit still quite small, this niche industry has somewhat turned into a trending topic — from online platforms such as Sina Weibo to the offline reality of, say, restored straight razors. It is a trend that is both fashion forward as well as rooted in rich heritage. And what better way to shed light on China’s growing environmentalist community than through fashion.
Those forming the backbone of the emerging eco-friendly brands clearly showcase China’s capability to become one of this niche’s strongest competitors.
Zhang is also taking fashion risks outside of her own label. One independent project that first commanded the audience’s attention at a 2010 art exhibition in Australia, “Reclothing Bank” was and is Zhang’s response to China’s rapid development. “Reclothing” stands for the re-making and re-designing of secondhand clothes, whilst “Bank” signifies a platform for the circulation and exchange of old materials. I myself label this a “risk” since the Chinese consumer market has of now not yet attributed significant value to sustainable fashion; it remains a novice concept. Nevertheless, those who stand behind the emerging eco-friendly brands clearly showcase China’s capability to become one of this niche’s strongest competitors. Hope floats for fashion and thank God for floaty suits. Watch as Timothy Parent of China Fashion Bloggers finds out more at the Reclothing Bank Fashion Show 2017:
This form of upcycling may be considered exotic in China, but it has definite traction within the global fashion market. Zhang works with discarded clothing and textile donations to create treasures out of unwanted materials. As the old saying goes: One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure. Zhang takes unsellable pieces from thrift shops and creates a new line of ready-to-wear items, with her passion for exploring the connection between people, dress and the environment consistently shining through. Zhang befittingly sells her Reclothing Bank designs at Brandnü, an ethical trade network collaborating with China’s socio-conscious designers and artists and at the same time arguably Beijing’s chiquest charity shop located in the Wudaoying Hutong. Taking a passion for people to the highest level, the shop donates 10 per cent of all profits to the migrant women who work with the shop and its featured brands.
“We have a plethora of older articles in our lives, a lot of which we throw away; or that we keep hidden in the back of our closets. This is not what we should be doing in terms of environmental protection. I just feel that people sometimes look back at their old things and realize their sentimental value. You need to slow down and think about the past before thinking about the present or the future.” Zhang explains in her own words. Heritage is everything.
This Chinese Gen-X designer lives by the professional code that old clothes hold the traces of people’s lives, of humanity. In the hope that wearing redesigned old clothes can make people pause and contemplate their present and future, Zhang continuously powers through on her fashion travels, taking adversity in her stride with a healthy dose of humor. Low-key she may very well be, yet high hopes we hold for her brand and the philosophy it entails.
As far as that fashionable health is concerned… As they (well, B.C. Forbes) say: “In the race for success, speed is less important that stamina. So power on through and remain brand-new!