As a millennial growing up in Guangzhou, fashion designer Ning Yuan was born in the era that gave birth to China’s insatiable love for streetwear. Launched in 2021, her brand Ning Dynasty is the epitome of that exposure but with a unique twist: ’90s American hip hop culture combined with the newfound pride that she and her generation have in Chinese heritage.
The London-based label’s non-gendered collections have established a unique selling point in championing China’s historical artisanship first and foremost. In a tribute to the 5,000-year-old craft, garments are cut from 100 percent Mulberry silk under a long-term partnership with Beijing-based Huang Jin — the world’s only silk producer to bear the prestigious Forbidden Palace seal.
This luxurious artistry is brought to streetwear designs, marrying the seemingly adverse aesthetics. But it works, as shown in the latest “Core Collection,” which features a campaign with esteemed poet, model, and activist Kai-Isaiah Jamal alongside models Akima Maldonado, Emmanuel Alli, Felix Allen, and SeungHoo Kim.
To commemorate the collaboration with Jamal and the brand’s first anniversary, Jing Collabs and Drops spoke to founder Yuan.
How would you describe the first year of Ning Dynasty?
The first year was a year of finding our space within the streetwear market. We wanted to be loud and out there, showcasing how intricate we can digitally print onto our silk while celebrating Chinese culture at the same time. We also wanted to portray summery imagery to induce the festive flair of our brand. The reception has been well-received. However, we found that because we were trying to achieve a lot all at once, some of our silk messaging was lost. Over the last year we have really had to go back to basics and re-discover our brand’s true DNA, which, at its core, always came back to the Mulberry silk and our long-term partnership with Huang Jin.
Do you think there is pressure in the streetwear space to produce limited edition drops?
There definitely is pressure to produce newness and constantly stimulate the customer on all fronts, whether that is through collaborations, designs, or “viral moments.” The hype element has died down in our opinion versus a few years ago, and now even within streetwear there is more scope to tell a story. For Ning, we produce in small batches and for us it is about preserving a dying craft amongst the silk artisans — this already makes our collections limited editions while remaining timeless. Together with our story, I think we have something no one else is doing in the current silk scene — as far as heritage and the history of silk goes.
Why did you select Kai-Isaiah Jamal to be part of Ning Dynasty’s Core Collection?
Kai speaks to their audience through multiple channels. They are not only the model of the moment but, through performance poetry and as a trans-visibility campaigner, Kai has something to say in our industry that is extremely positive and empowering. We want to support and be a part of this messaging in our industry, and the shoot was our visual representation of that.
Is collaboration a big part of your brand strategy?
Yes, it is a part of our strategy. We have extraordinary silk shirts, and we want extraordinary people wearing them from any background, race, age, or gender. The Core Collection consists of 10 plain yet exquisite shirts, and we wanted to highlight each talent’s own unique personality. We didn’t want to push products to fit into a person’s look. We would rather have the shirts enhance their individuality.
Another big focus for us is to educate the customer on the quality of our fine Mulberry silk. This can be seen in the movement of the shots; the shine and the way that it drapes on each talent.
Finally, who would be the Ning Dynasty dream collaborator?
It would be our absolute dream to have the opportunity to work with a variety of global artists, talents within music, the arts, and cinema, and tastemakers within fashion.