Bizarre to non-aficionados, illogical to non-techies and fantastical to many, wearable tech is no harum-scarum trend. It is in fact the colorifically bright and brilliant future of fashion.
Looking through the keyhole into the future of fashionable tech is the apotheosis of that “Alice in Wonderland” feel: Curiouser and curiouser. Case in point: RFactory. Through the looking glass with an indulgence in fun and a dabbling in tech!
Like Carroll’s story, wearable tech develops a characteristic mixture of vagueness and vividness. Nothing remains the same for long; the fun and magic of technology has infiltrated real wearable fashion, where, like the White Rabbit, the LED lights disappear and reappear. As “grownup” giants, we ask… Is the future of fashion an illusion?
“We find ourselves in an age of cookie-cutter sameness; there are few that are rarities. A lot of people have taste, but they don’t have the dare to be creative.” Bill Cunningham
Snug-as-a-bug settled in a corner of old Beijing’s Qiguaibaguai Hutong, fashionably futuristic RFactory’s Founder and Designer Wu Yingnan, you may call her “Océan”, runs her studio with “a mixture of hardcore factory culture, playfulness, respect for time and curiosity about the future.” In the five years since its conception, the RFactory brand has remained faithful to its initial complex design consciousness that comes to life and shines within each piece of work. “Conflict and unity, strong and full of fun” sums up the brand’s signature style.
The RFactory charm, and the brand’s knack for accessorizing its products with a perfect interpretation of cultural connotation even landed it a deal with The Walt Disney Company China to design the Star Wars bags line, including RFactory in the handful of designer brands selected to participate in the Star Wars series of cross-brand cooperation. Add to the list of partnerships heavy-hitters such as LENOVO and Maybelline and we have a veritable cross-border bigshot-to-watch on our hands.
Rfactory in September of 2016 officially landed in Beijing’s Galeries Lafayette — the only Chinese accessories brand among a host of international names. The brand counts Chinese A+ listers with the likes of Fan Bingbing, Su Mang, ANGELABABY, Yang Mi, Shang Wenjie and Han Geng, as well as international fashion names such as Diane Von Fuerstenberg, model Zuzanna Bijoch and Japan’s IT girl Suwon Hiroshi among its loyal supporters.
“The downside to our ever-swifter society is that people’s attention spans and their ability to focus are becoming ever more limited.” Océan’s Enlightenment
The creation of Rfactory in 2011 was not merely limited to the designing and manufacturing of bags and other fashionable items, the brand opted to present its clientele with a mixture showing off futuristic retro fantasy and the exploration of a future filled with interestingly accessorizing curiosities. The full spectrum of RFactory’s designs emphasizes the brand’s varied roots as well as a variety of colors and materials. With a strategically orchestrated stylized sensation, each and every creation gives off an unequivocal futuristic sense with the ever-simmering “is it a 1970 worn anew or a 2017 never-before-seen preview?” question aroused by their vintage-vibed details. It’s all an illusion.
With its now internationally trending retro core concept, the idea behind RFactory in fact aims to abandon that abovementioned illusion of fashion by respecting the different textures of different times. Characterized by a strong opposition to blind obedience, the RFactory wearer is a true advocate of her self-developed style and sense of fashionable fun. “Fun” includes dabbling in fashion tech as proven by the range of LED bags, using the 360Fash Tech “LED Bag” Kit, the brand unleashed onto Beijing Design Week on October 1 of this year. The Kit comes with everything that you need to create a LED bag from the hardware side, as well as a basic lighting pattern from the software side. With Bluetooth embedded, the kit can connect to your phone for more functionality. RFactory, or any designer willing to have a go at it, simply had to figure out what type of bag they wanted to make and how they would incorporate the kit the into the bag design — then simply fit in the pieces.
In order to provide those smart consumer cookies out there with classic, meaningful, interesting and, most importantly, innovative products, the brand’s contrivances are set to deliver. Though still a relative newborn, the brand is already breaking the barriers within consumer attitudes and product concepts, brazenly paving the way for the future of fashion right this minute.
“Science. It’s the only thing that brings us forward.” Diana Vreeland
Diana Vreeland, aka the Delphi Oracle. Girlfriend threw out the above statement some 35 years ago and it has become a global truth in fashion anno 2016. Hence, we owe it to Vreeland to set out and gather as much knowledge as our tiny fashion brains (tongue-firmly-in-cheek) can possibly grasp. Temper managed to grab hold of RFactory’s Océan and tear her away from the Shanghai Fashion Week catwalk for a quick Futuristic Fashion 101.
And as we’re all mad here anyway, together we jump though the keyhole on a fantastical excursion into the realm of LED-lit bags and fun basics for a fashionable future: Océan’s Enlightenment.
Temper: RFactory has seen the future. How about the future of China Wearable Tech? How do you bring the future into the fashionable customer’s wardrobe?
Océan: “We refer to ourselves as a ‘fun provider’. RFactory offers bags, sunglasses, as well as a smattering of other accessories. We believe that from now on, people will actually happily pay for items they deem fun, good quality and reasonably priced. The target consumers are the dudes and dudettes who represent the new generation: Young, vibrant, edgy and unique. And most importantly, not afraid to be different!
When it comes to the current state of China Fashion affairs, we see legions of traditional brands currently ‘on the out’. When we’re talking ‘wearable tech’, we at RFactory see the future of fashion in the smart-yet-fun way, i.e. powered by technology. This is the reason we teamed up with 360 Fashion Tech and used their LED Bag Kit to create some literally bling-bling bags! Sometimes, you have to set foot outside the designer box and look at the bigger picture. Technology talks in the 21st Century; full stop.
The downside to our ever-swifter society is that people’s attention spans and their ability to focus are becoming ever more limited. See, designing is the easy part here; the toughest part is your ‘branding’. The customer is no longer loyal, if you will. When it comes to fashion, or the consumer society at large, we have entered the era of ‘updating’! Your clientele needs new things and new ideas; it needs to be different and unique… Altogether, they are increasingly harder to please and in turn creating a whole new market situation for the competing brands!
The fashionista needs new brands so in with the vibrant, the changes, the designer headaches, the death of some brands and the birth of others. It’s all moving at a pace that might make you trip over your own legs. The China Fashion scene, including its wearable niche, can boast a lot of talent, ambition and opportunity, but it’s rushed. And when you’re in a rush, you easily drop a stitch.” [As they say in China: Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. A bite of Laozi’s philosophy for all you peeps.]
Temper: The RFactory designs come in all shapes and sizes, never avoiding the cheeky ‘n quirky and ever honoring the bold ‘n beautiful – in every way. Aside from your leather fetish, how does “material” inspire you? How does the RFactory vision of fun fashion translate into wearable art?
Océan: “I actually fancy all kinds of materials. I like to see their different patterns, different layers, different colors and so on. What I find essential, though, is the touch. I need to feel the materials — in every way. We experiment a lot inside the RFactory lab, running with all types and kinds of material; in fact, we play with the concept that is ‘material’! One funny example here is a series we launched called ‘MT FAKE’ (‘material fake’), which saw us actually print WALL, CHAIN and LEATHER onto leather! Quirky materialized! Overall, then, when it comes to the RFactory look… It changes with my own experiences! I can give you a little hint (tiny top secret, mind you!) about the ‘silhouette’ of my upcoming collection: It’s all about EXPRESSION and TINY. For more details, please check us on WeChat (Rfactory2012) or visit our store in Lafayette! Please note that I’m winking over here, hehe. [Noted and insert ‘wink’.]
Travel, cliché – I know, travel is what gets me excited and thus inspired every time! I never want to loose that ability to be teased so easily by what the world in se has to offer. I often visit museums, and I really do mean often… The biggest ones, the most famous ones, the most unknown ones; all of them! They form another endless source of inspiration, yet the very best inspiration simply remains up in the air, meaning you never know what, when, why and something will inspire you, but you simply get that fresh feel about you… You know that feeling? [I do, indeed. And agreed. ] For a while there, I took a lot of pictures, and I do mean lots and lots of them! Sometimes I’d snap an ice cream, a ghoulish ghost drawn by my daughter, and in such fashion I would kick off the overall pattern of my design process! Most of the time, though, I’ll figure out my key elements and information for the collection, flip through all those snapshots and start building up every item piece by piece. Like my daughter’s Lego.”
Temper: What’s your stance on sustainability — in its broadest sense — within the China Design Scene anno 2016?
Océan: “I like this question a lot and would like to talk about the ‘sustainability’ of a designer in the fashion industry. The fashion industry is cruel. It’s relatively easy to set up shop, get a collection up and running, but the tricky part is to develop it further and eventually make a name for yourself and, most of all, maintain this name – which I do believe is every brand founder’s dream. Yes, I use the term ‘founder’ on purpose. Mind you, a designer can be a brand founder too, but perhaps the designer might not be as apt at the business aspect of fashion as they may presume to be…
The cliché scenario unfolds as follows: You like to design cloth, you’ve created a few pieces, you think they’re fabulous, your friends encourage you to present your collection in a show, you open that door and discover a world of novel ideas and opportunities. You don’t hesitate, enthusiasm can overshadow reason at times hence you dive right in and start to design collections twice a year. You set up your showroom to expand your brand exposure, but then it becomes cringingly clear… Your designs don’t sell as well as you thought they would and, lo ‘n behold, doubt sets in. At the same time, you has to pay the annual rent for your teeny tiny studio, make sure your employees get their paychecks on time and things are becoming more uncomfortable by the day. To top it all off, a designer’s worst nightmare comes true and your production factory bails on you. After all is said and done, you decide to give up. This story happens to hopeful designers all over the world, every day of the month. This is the illusion of fashion shattered.
All of the above negativity aside, my point is that if you are a good designer and coincidentally have a nose for entrepreneurship: Bingo! Start up your brand and promote the hell out of it; never in history has there been a better time to gain global exposure! Nevertheless, if you are only good at designing and you want to set up shop, you better find a trustworthy partner who can handle that all-vital business aspect. This is how you will achieve sustainability!”
Temper: How do you see the China Fashion scene (and yourself in it) evolve from here on out?
Océan: “I am very proud of what we have thus far managed to accomplish with RFactory. This year alone, we were invited by Disney China to work on the STAR WARS bags series – getting the invitation was a compliment in itself as Disney only collaborates with the best a country has to offer – and the collection received much love from both the media and the market! The other thing is that we recently opened up a new brand store in Beijing’s Galeries Lafayette, where we are the only Chinese bag brand on an entire floor brimming with the big international names; I am absolutely psyched about this! As a designer label dream, then, I’d dare say we now find ourselves on a pretty high level in China and I aim to create a real and respected accessories brand which is both commercially successful as well as fun across the spectrum. After all, we do call ourselves a ‘fun provider’, remember that!”
Fashion in its very Self is the Mistress of (Optical) Illusion — just consider the visual effect of a vertical stripe or the power of a little five-layer touch-up. Nevertheless, the future of this illusion is very much a reality — a paradoxical yet facetious liaison. While desperately chasing the illusionary White Rabbit, Alice falls into the absurdly extraordinary but still vulnerable Wonderland.
Translated into fashion, when in relentless pursuit of the latest trends, we have seen many fall victim to the trappings of looking hilarious-borderline-ridiculous, all executed in very serious mode. Word to the wise: Don’t buy into the illusionary hype, don’t embark on a quest for the perfect pair of mom-jeans (speaking of paradoxical), but just create your own fashionably fun reality and make people wonder!
Original interview and text by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine
Featured image: YELLED by RFactory, 2017 All rights reserved
Images: China’s Key Opinion Leaders and fashionistas show off some RFactory love.
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