Chris Tung, chief marketing officer of Alibaba, only wears a T-shirt in public once a year: at the annual Taobao Maker Festival. At a virtual press conference in late July that kickstarted the event, Tung was seen sporting a black T-shirt featuring four cartoon angels of different skin colors.
“I love what it stands for; it goes well with our theme ‘New Blood,’” Tung said, referring to the creative merchants on Taobao’s e-commerce platform. His T-shirt was designed by the Wuhan-based streetwear artist Graf Wu, who was one of the two merchants invited to the virtual conference. Similar to the more well-known Maker Faire, which offers a meet-up venue for crafters and tech enthusiasts, Taobao started hosting its own Maker Festival in 2016. This year, it decided to go with an online-offline hybrid model: four days online from August 10 to 14, and a 20-day road trip starting from July 30 that bring merchants to four cities: Hangzhou, Xi’an, Chengdu, and Wuhan.
Riding on the wave of “Guochao” (literally “national hip”), a movement that celebrates Chinese homegrown design, Taobao has put brands like Wu’s on pedestal for the fifth Taobao Maker Festival. Quite different from the likes of Feiyue sneakers that represent established brands, these fashion merchants on Taobao represent the individuality behind young creative minds in China and latest market demand.
Here, Jing Daily highlights five merchants that are showcasing Chinese fashion in their own ways.
As a Wuhan-based designer brand, Graf Wu’s eponymous brand, GRAF, sources ideas from her everyday life and pop culture. Her widely popular “Hometown Hero” series features doctors and nurses who have been fighting COVID-19 at ground zero in Wuhan, which was first hit by the virus. On one T-shirt, a doctor in goggles and a mask holds a gigantic syringe while being carried by a pair of wings, flowers, and pigeons. In addition to graphic t-shirts, her store also sells trousers, hats and accessories and frequently launches collaboration series with other artists.
Born in a family of tailors, 27-year-old Wang Mengqiao first started sewing with her grandmother. After having learned about traditional Chinese clothing, known as “Hanfu,” as a teenager, Wang soon started applying her own ideas — science fiction, rock, bold colors — to give her own “Hanfu” a theatrical effect. As a trained architect, Wang has created and interpreted “Hanfu” in a way that is applicable for different scenarios. For example, she has designed a disco “Hanfu” that was originally her own outfit for a music festival.
TaxEvasion breathes a whimsical and futuristic style into every item the team touches upon, which includes gender neutral black blazer with aluminum shards, and a hybrid of stilettos and sneakers that has been worn by American Japanese model Kiko Mizuhara for an editorial shoot. Its Taobao store carries 9 products under the brand’s name, and sells T-shirts from another homegrown brand LURE. As a maverick brand that stands out from the pack, it’s been appealed to followers through Instagram including trend leader Butterfly Princess from the “Too Cool” subculture.
Fascinated by traditional Chinese underwear “Dudou,” which was first worn during the Ming Dynasty, the brand’s founder Liu Lei dreamed up her own brand after first having studied psychology in the US and worked in media after returning to China. She believes that there is a group of Chinese women who would love to try the brand’s underwear in replacement of bras. Fine Creature also plans to launch a series of beauty products that draws inspiration from Tang and Song Dynasty.
The jewelry brand specializes in 3D printing and a material combo rarely seen in jewelry design: nylon, resin, 3D materials and precious metals. The pair of founders, who graduated from Italy’s Politecnico di Milano and Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, respectively, moved to Hangzhou, the Chinese e-commerce hub, together to start the brand’s e-commerce operations just over a year ago. On their Taobao page, GEL’s cosmic 3D earrings are the highlight of many buyers’ outfits.