DC-based fashion curator FANGYÁN brings China’s best high-end indie designers to the States.
FANGYÁN showcases Chinese designers like Mukzin.
A couple of years ago, during the height of the pandemic, Juno Zhang and Simin Zhu renamed their fledgling company. They came up with FANGYÁN (fangyanstores.com) to pay homage to their aim of curating pieces from China with a culturally anchored point of view.
At first, the co-founders’ business model was strictly e-commerce. But the fashion tide turned last year when the women opened pop-up showrooms in Georgetown and New York’s Soho. This year saw a wildly successful pop-up at Westfield Montgomery, and these fashion dynamos recently signed a lease to open a brick-and-mortar boutique in Georgetown this winter—showcasing Chinese fashion brands like Mukzin (seen on Grazia with Miranda Kerr) and ZI II CI IEN (Forbes 30 Under 30), along with hidden gems Molifusu, Rimless and Kitayama Studio. Zhang sat down with us to discuss her company’s approach to sharing fashion-forward looks with DC and beyond.
FANGYÁN also carries looks from LINDŌNG.
Why did you and your partner launch FANGYÁN?
We were both born and raised in China, and we moved to the United States to pursue graduate degrees at Rhode Island School of Design and Georgetown University. Being Asian women, we were frustrated by the lack of clothing options here that were contemporary, practical and culturally diverse. At the same time, we noticed a growing trend of emerging Chinese designers who were offering niche and exciting styles to reflect personality back at home. So, we decided to introduce this trend and communicate the aesthetics with the American audience.
What’s your elevator speech for the brand?
As consumers today are starting to focus on individuality and uniqueness versus an unconscious fast-fashion cycle, it’s time for Asian designers to make the best of opportunities and present their talent to a broader community.
FANGYÁN’s mission is to open a whole new world of brand names consumers have been missing in the United States. Their raw, honest and explosive creative energy clashes with China’s history in textile and craftsmanship, often creating a very powerful combination. The result is almost like a new genre of style that taps into internationalism and storytelling.
Who are a few of the new Asian designers you love?
You get the narrative, the personality and the community when buying designs created by Zhi Chen (ZI II CI IEN), whose pioneering technique in knitting was showcased at Museum of Modern Art in New York, or talent duo Kate Han and George Feng (Mukzin), who literally research culture, functionality, politics and technology through the lens of anthropology for their qipao series.
There are likely stereotypes about Chinese fashion among fashionistas in the States. Which ones sting the most?
There are so many like, ‘God created the world, and the rest is made in China.’ FANGYÁN wants to challenge the misconception that garments made in China [are inferior]. Jokes aside, it’s true that China is the world’s largest textile manufacturer and has the most flexible supply chain. But this capability somehow has turned ‘Made in China’ into a victim of generalization today, and it’s just unfortunate.
When we opened the pop-up in Georgetown earlier this year, we had customers asking if the products were made in China. In a way, that’s synonymous with mass production, questionable manufacturing ethics and low quality. Then we came to a revelation: FANGYÁN’s role is to build understanding, insight and trust around this notion of ‘Made in China’ among fashion-loving audiences.
Ultimately, FANGYÁN is about happenings, about discovery, and we want to let more people see what we see—where ‘Made in China’ is something great, something exciting.
New looks from Wangreen X Chenclean
What is it about current Chinese fashion that you think the stylish in the States will find most surprising?
You’d be amazed by how a new generation of designers make quality and sustainability an integral part of their design and manufacturing process. We’re constantly inspired by talking with designers we work with and learning about their innovative approaches taken every step of the way. We’re currently in the middle of merchandising the AW22 collections, and it’s interesting to hear that some designers are visiting fabric manufacturers, including cashmere and silk, and seeing how they can help. From there, they come up with ideas to reuse the factory-surplus waste or leftovers and help factory owners reduce all of it. You can see both outcome and impact there.
We also discovered one of the designers on platform at Regeneration, the popular Artists & Fleas market in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Ying Yang collected wasted and unwanted fabric and vintage clothes from companies and factories and upcycled them into stunning designs—like floral ties from Pierre Cardin with Valentino corduroy blazer.
A gorgeous look from designer Molifusu
Please tell me more about the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) movement in America as a fashion project.
There’s now a business case for DEI in fashion. We have this emerging global ethos where people use consumption as an expression of beliefs and values. The push for diversity in fashion, not only in terms of race but for equality for people of all sizes, ages and different perspectives, is questioning the outdated viewpoints and practices that had been driving society for decades.
There’s a saying in Chinese called ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom.’ This summarizes the time we’re living in. If fashion’s role is to interpret the moment of this social change, FANGYÁN wants to be one of the interpreters by offering a diverse representation of Chinese talents and key trends with our cultural and commercial point of views.
Photography by: COURTESY OF FANGYÁN