Designer Susan Fang on Shanghai, feminism, and China’s K-pop love

    Jing Daily chats with Susan Fang about what it means to be a Chinese fashion designer in 2024.
    London-based Chinese designer Susan Fang is now a fixture at London Fashion Week. Photo: Susan Fang
      Published   in Fashion

    From debuting lingerie for Victoria’s Secret on the London Fashion Week runway, to announcing a collection with &OtherStories coming for April 2024, Susan Fang has had a major year already and it’s only March.

    After spending her formative years bouncing between China, Canada, and the UK, the Ningbo-born, London-based designer founded her namesake brand in 2017. Since then, the Central Saint Martins graduate has become known for tiered tulle, bubble accessories, blooms, and pure romance — a distinct aesthetic that is being quickly snapped up by high-street brands wanting to elevate their offerings.

    Susan Fang has collaborated with Zara, Nike, & Other Stories, Victoria’s Secret, and Ugg, to name a few. Photo: Susan Fang
    Susan Fang has collaborated with Zara, Nike, & Other Stories, Victoria’s Secret, and Ugg, to name a few. Photo: Susan Fang

    Fang’s first collaboration was with major global retailer Zara in 2022 for Chinese New Year. Propelled to global recognition, her collections have since been worn by stars like Griff, Alexa Chung, and Girls Aloud’s Nicola Roberts.

    Here, we talk to Fang about her career journey and what it means to be a Chinese fashion designer in 2024.

    Did you always know that you wanted to be a fashion designer?

    “No, actually not at all. [Because] my parents were so busy working, I loved watching Disney cartoon movies and playing with Barbies. I loved drawing girls all the time. I was in my own fantasy world, making up stories, listening to story tapes.

    “I wanted to be an artist but heard it was a challenging life. Then, as in my comic books the girls were always wearing different clothes on every page, someone said, ‘Oh, why don’t you be a fashion designer?’”

    Do you think about characterizing women a lot in your work?

    “Yes, definitely. I don’t have a specific person in mind. But the person is always very happy. I think we just want anyone who wears [my work] to feel a sense of freedom and lightness and positivity.”

    How does your background influence your designs?

    “I think it was a very good experience to learn [about] the different perspectives between cultures and misunderstandings and how sometimes different perspectives can cause a lot of inspiration. We always hope to find universal connectivity between different cultures. Something that connects us all and is meaningful.”

    Susan Fang Fall 2024. Photo: Susan Fang
    Susan Fang Fall 2024. Photo: Susan Fang

    Do you think the fashion industry has changed in Shanghai since you were younger?

    “I think so. 2015 was a time when people started doing their own brand more. Shanghai Fashion Week is also coming into itself, which is cool. There was also a period when more showrooms started appearing. People are just learning about the Chinese fashion industry, and that’s quite exciting.”

    What has been your favorite moment of your career so far?

    “Every moment is super meaningful. I am really thankful for everyone. From the beginning, I have had so much support from my mom and my childhood art teacher, who is also a female, and without them, my brand could not have started. The fabrics can take like a month to make, so my mom was helping me, and [so was] my childhood art teacher, who was already a grandma — they’re both grandmas.

    “But I think [it was] in our brand’s third year when we finally broke even. It was at that time where we suddenly got more collaboration opportunities. It was a really amazing learning experience as well to reach a larger market.”

    Susan Fang’s bubble accessories are a hero piece for the brand. Photo: Susan Fang
    Susan Fang’s bubble accessories are a hero piece for the brand. Photo: Susan Fang

    Which market do you see the most interest coming from?

    “I think during Covid-19, it was China. But now it has shifted — it’s more the US or European market now. This season, [it] was very surprising to see where we’re actually growing; we saw interest from some stores in Japan and Korea. So I'm really excited because I love their aesthetics.”

    Are you stocked in Asia at the moment?

    “Yes, I think we have small amounts in China, Japan, and Korea. I feel it’s quite important to branch out in Japan and Korea, because the Japanese aesthetic, [which is] very joyful and colorful and slightly cute, fits in [with] our commercial line.

    “Now, K-pop is a big influence all over Asia. So, it can also help China sales. So that’s why we’re actually really trying to focus on Korea and Japan market. Because we think maybe from outside it can help affect growth for China.”

    What do you think are the biggest challenges that you face as a designer?

    “I think it’s balancing our vision and what we love to do, and also how to balance [creating] enough commercial products. We want to make commercial items something that we really love, not a commercial product that another brand has. We always wanted to be unique. So commercial products actually aren’t something easy for us; it’s something we have to put a lot of effort into.”

    What do you think is the key to longevity as a fashion label?

    “Not only thinking about sustainability in very obvious ways with fabrics and stuff, but also, I think your vision should never be compromised. That’s what keeps people truly interested. It’s kind of like a value that you [use to] connect with other people. Never just follow trends; [your vision] should be [about] connecting to society and also bringing an important message.”

    How do you feel about being a woman in Chinas fashion industry?

    “So far, I don't find difficulty being a woman because I feel so supported by other women. Everyone is really supporting each other so much, and they’re not afraid of challenges. Especially with the recent controversy about all luxury European creative directors being male — that gave me a wake-up call. Now, I’m wondering how we can progress even higher, as that really is the challenge. I hope it won’t hinder women. I think females are really strong in the fashion industry.”

    • The Ningbo-born, London-based designer founded her namesake brand in 2017 and has since launched collaborations with global high-street names like Zara, & Other Stories, and Victoria’s Secret.
    • The brand is famous for its bubble accessories, tiered tulle dresses, and overt feminine aesthetic.
    • Stocked all over the world, Susan Fang notes that she is increasing her focus on Asia after seeing growing interest from Korea and Japan.
    • Designing commercial products comes as a challenge for Fang, who states that it can be a struggle to balance unique design with mainstream interest and accessibility.
    • Shanghai has evolved into a major fashion hub, with an increasing number of showrooms and the establishment of Shanghai Fashion Week.
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