Meet Melting Sadness, Adidas Originals’ Top Chinese Collaborator

In the Melting Sadness world, childhood pleasures are for everyone: after all, who ever decided that cheerful animated characters and fantasy stories were only for kids? The brand, headed by Chinese artist Zhang Quan, brings a sense of whimsicality to streetwear, recognised for its consistently striking collaborations with adidas Originals, ever since the first one in 2017. Think classic sneaker silhouettes made-over with 3D bunny ears, carrot tops, flower badges, and mini plush toy features.

The adidas Originals-favorite was started by Quan in 2013, after graduating from Nanjing University of the Arts, where the original art concept was conceived alongside his friend Hong Yang. Both Melting Sadness’ sculpture work and streetwear collections feature the bold characters of Karoro, Babo, Kuka, Best, and Messy, as seen exhibited in London, Taipei, Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, and Nanjing, and decorating Melting Sadness’ playful ready-to-wear collections. 

The brand’s uplifting shades of pastels and cartoonish illustrations all hint to a consumer base of Gen Zers. It’s among China’s youth in particular that Melting Sadness’ local experiential pop-ups find popularity on social media. Summer 2021 saw free ice cream being given out at the Shanghai flagship Randomevent store to promote adidas Originals x Melting Sadness’ namely collection, and in October 2021, the pair teamed up again to open the pop-up “Puppet Theater.”

Combining eye-catching installations with equally engaging design, Melting Sadness is the ultimate vehicle for a global name, such as adidas, to connect with China’s younger demographic, while establishing relevancy in the competitive streetwear industry. So, Jing Collabs & Drops decided to ask Quan all about it.

Jing Daily: How did Melting Sadness come about?

Zhang Quan: “Melting Sadness actually originated from my artistic creations in college. The name of the work was ‘When the carrot melts, the little rabbit is very sad,’ because at that time I wanted to make work that everyone could understand. Usually people go to art galleries and some sculptures and works of art can be difficult to understand, and its name may be untitled or very strange words, so I wanted to launch a work that children could also be interested in, using words that they would know. I hope that it can evoke the beauty of everyone’s growth.”

How would you describe your main consumer base?

“Our consumers are a young, energetic group of people who have stories and like to listen to stories. They are really interested in the Karoro family. They love each character, find their own traits in every character, and recreate these characters in various forms. This is definitely one of our intriguing assets, and it is also something that I think is different from other brands.”

Tell us about your partnership with adidas? 

“For us, our collaboration with adidas Originals was very iconic. First of all, it fulfilled my childhood dream — I think it’s probably the dream every young sneakerhead has, to work with such a big name. The team gave us a lot of creative space and worked with us to create a lot of historical moments.”

A sneaker from the adidas Originals x Melting Sadness Ice Cream Collection. Photo: Melting Sadness

What do you think Melting Sadness brings to the adidas brand?

“It’s brought youthful vitality to adidas Originals, and it has also allowed the world to know more about Chinese young people, artists, and brands. We incorporate more gamification into our products, exploring various forms of market activities that adidas Originals might not have done alone.”

What’s your design inspiration for the Melting Sadness x adidas collaborations?

“Melting Sadness has an amusement park project and every year we are telling a story that derives from it with adidas Originals: In 2020, we had the Karoro family debut (five members: Karoro, Babo, Kuak, Messy, and Best). In 2021, we completed the Valentine’s Day series and the ice cream parlor in the amusement park. In 2021, we also created the very important puppet theater. All of the sneaker creations are still more of an art-based project. I hope they’re seen as less of a product, more of a work of art.”

One design from the Melting Theater collaboration with Adidas originals. Photo: Melting Sadness

Are you currently working on any more collaborations? 

“There will be lots of collaborations in the future! 2022 is a very important year for us. We will be preparing for the Chinese Year of the Rabbit in 2023. In the middle of 2022, we will also have some fresh collaborations, other than adidas Originals which continue to have Melting Sadness drops.”


Collabs and Drops, Fashion, Global