Susan Fang, one of China’s most innovative emerging designers, is the next highlight in Jing Daily’s community of individuals who have helped to build China’s booming luxury industry. This section profiles industry leaders who are contributing to the national and global fashion communities through their business practices, from designers and creatives to business executives and influencers.
You might think Susan Fang lives in a bubble; a glorious spume of diaphanous color. One look at her strikingly original, artisanal aesthetic conjures up a romantic world of pure escapism. From stark white canvases vibrant with paint-splotched prints or flower-sprayed to childlike accessories lovingly crocheted or beaded by hand, her imagination is a treasure trove. Her newest collection, “Air Born” is a line-up of translucent, rainbow-coloured dresses which continues this dreamlike aesthetic.
But, there is far more to Fang than playful nostalgia and her designs have quickly found fans around the world. For an emerging brand that is only three-years-old, it already has an enviable list of retailers, from local heroes such as Chengdu’s concept store Hug to global meccas like Dover Street Market. The Central Saint Martins graduate was also quickly picked up by London’s Selfridges, which already sets her apart from her creative peers redefining the “Made in China” label.
For now, Fang still manages to hand-crafts her bubble bags at home with her mother. But, they can retail at up to $2,200 and are highly sought after. The only obstacle for the LVMH shortlisted Fang therefore is retaining her artistic, hands-on approach while scaling up her brand.
During a more intimate London Fashion Week, Fang found a moment to speak to Jing Daily about her Spring 2021 collection, the pros and cons of WeChat, and securing that first global stockist.
You’ve lived and studied in London, but why was a digital debut at London Fashion Week the best fit for your brand this season?
One reason is that most of our stockists are from London so, in that way, it made sense. This season we also decided to do a showroom in London. The city is more open to the creativity of new designer brands and the press is really good. Budget-wise it was also more efficient, so with everything added together it was the best choice. I’m trusting my gut on this one.
And, you’ve already launched the collection in Shanghai with a physical show?
Yes, we did our show in Shanghai — it’s always better to have a physical show somehow. I live with my mom and we have our direct press here. I didn’t need a big budget as I have family and friends to help. It’s also creatively very open, and I can collaborate with photographers, performers, and so on. I feel it might be more challenging if I was in Europe to have this much access.
What do you find are the main differences between London and Shanghai?
Now I’m stuck in Shanghai managing production, but I feel like there is a kind of community here. I can be friends more with bloggers, photographers, and they are so open to working with young designers like me. This way I feel like I can learn a lot. I feel a little intimidated in London, where I used to live, but I also miss it. The museums are amazing and it’s easier to focus as it’s a different environment. Shanghai feels a little rushed. But there’s not a hierarchy between people here because of WeChat. In Europe, the feeling of email makes it harder to reach out to people. On WeChat its easier because of connections, you will always find someone who knows someone.
True, and so far, both cities have been quite important for your brand development, right?
Yes, I was on the Fashion Count Ones To Watch in London, and then was asked to do Labelhood in Shanghai. We got our first stockists in China three months after our first show in Shanghai but my real “wow” stockists was Selfridges in London. I’d just launched my second collection and I was just talking to a colleague about stocking there, and then we got a request from Selfridges! I was so shocked. They gave us an entire window for our bags too. They were super supportive and really cared about helping us to grow as a brand.
That growth has been pretty phenomenal, yet you still retain that handcraft and artistic approach. How long do you think this can last?
Since I was a child, I wanted to be an artist. I like art a bit more than fashion as it feels more open, but I was always drawing girls and pretty dresses. Now, I am in the early period of my brand and as I advance, I know I will look back to this time as the most precious period. We even do our own installations still, so I am trying to maintain this for as long as possible, as I love being DIY. However, we are already thinking about doing a sub-line so we can do a more mass-produced product, while still maintaining our mainline.
But we’re still very practical, like with bags. It must fit the biggest phone size and we explore how it hangs on the body. For now, I still make the bags with my mom and two aunties. We also have my dad’s retired secretary helping and my neighbor who was a machinist. They all help when we really need them. I love working together and I don’t want to lose that.
How do you keep each season fresh?
Each season is a little different. Our first collection featured what I call the air weave, a new type of technique. We make our own machine board 2.2m that we can weave on, and each time we find a new way to push this as a craft. Also, when we first did our print we wanted to redefine what print means. For example, the print flower is the translation — we used fresh flowers. We’ve also scanned natural rocks to look like abstract shapes, and scanned paper to give the allusion of a flower. I like to change the meaning into something else but generally, we hope that through design we embody change inspired by nature.
What was the inspiration behind this season’s collection?
Well, themes change each season but at the moment, we can’t avoid the emotional feeling of this period. So this season, I thought I could be blunter. It came out almost like a blessing and a wish that everything will be better in time. One of my inspirations came from a gift my brother gave me: a pair of earrings that resembled an olive branch which stands for victory and luck. I have created earrings inscribed with the words wisdom, luck, peace, and resilience. I hope the energy of this collection can be brought to the wearer.
How was this realized?
Well, this season it was about layering (one dress has five layers) and allusions, and the idea of fluidity and rebirth. It became this mix of nostalgia through certain materials but with an almost futuristic message. We wanted a very natural feeling materials, such as wood and upcycled marbles, which I felt was more healing. We also used damaged stock from a glass factory and customized it. The main print is scanned feathers and we used stills of microscopic cells for the hats which were crafted in resin.
Sometimes we play around, as we can’t define the shape and some we are draping, but the way we work is like a painting. You start with a white canvas and adapt as you go. Even with the bags, my mom and I have a rough idea, but we finalized the idea as we are beading. I generally use my hands in some way to keep that DIY element.