With her quiet, reserved manners and muted collections it might prove difficult to think of Renli Su as an unconventional designer, but in the context of today’s hectic, fast-paced fashion, it is exactly what she is. Ignoring ever-changing seasonal trends and commercial diktats, the Fujian-born designer has chosen to focus on wearability, organic fabrics and comfort, creating clothes made to be worn, loved and lived in season after season. The collections, made with materials sourced by the designer herself in India, Tibet, China and Ireland, are the perfect combination of understated elegance and refined simplicity; proving that fashion can be ethical, interesting and meaningful at the same time.
Elsewhere met with Renli Su for the presentation of her new AW15 collection at London Fashion Week to discuss sustainability, memory and her plans for the future.
Your new AW15 collection was presented as a continuation of “Little Women”, your SS15 collection. However, it presents few striking differences, such as more prints and colours than the previous one. What was the main inspiration behind it and how would you explain these changes?
My last SS15 collection mainly featured beige and white with some accents of blue and brown, but with this new collection I wanted to bring more colours in. It’s also the first time that I’ve used prints. I would say that the target costumer for the AW15 collection is a bit older than the one “Little Women” was created for, a bit more mature. I designed it with the image of an independent and strong woman in mind, in her early 30s, who likes to dress up in a relaxed and comfortable style.
As for the inspiration, it started from the materials. I wanted to use the yak wool I found in Tibet, a very soft material which has really strong fibres. To create the collection I combined the feeling that the material gave me with an idea I had in my mind.
Fabrics are obviously an essential part of your collections. How do you source them? Does the inspiration for the collections start from the fabrics you find or do you start from a specific concept before sourcing the fabrics?
Usually it happens at the same time: I find the materials and the concept comes to me. For me, sourcing fabrics is an ongoing project that doesn’t stop between one season and the next. I research for textiles and materials every day and I try to get in contact with the producer as early as possible, because it often takes a long time to manufacture them in large quantities.
Did you use any new fabrics, materials or techniques for this collection that you didn’t use before?
For the new season I wanted to bring more textures in and I decided to use silk for the first time, whilst before I usually focused on more simple fabrics such as linen and cotton.
How would you describe your brand? What are the main beliefs and ambitions at its core?
We only use organic materials and we appreciate everything that is handmade, such as handwoven fabrics. We want to produce clothes that the costumers can and want to wear every day, not just garments that they will put in their wardrobes and wear twice a year. In three words I would say Renli Su is everyday-wear, comfortable and organic.
You want to create something that lasts in time and survives fashion seasonal trends. Time and memory are two essential concepts that you explore in each of your collections. Could you explain to us the connection between time, memories and clothes?
I don’t consider clothes simply as products, but as a way to connect with our memories. For me, the newest clothes are not the most valuable, instead I appreciate when garments are worn and have a story to tell. I love to see garments at vintage and antiques markets, because they are products of time and guardians of memories. I want to transmit this idea to my costumers, invite them to wear their clothes time after time, rediscovering the memories they protect.
When did you first consider becoming a fashion designer? Has sustainability always been in the picture or did you decide to create sustainable fashion on a later stage? Why did you decide to dedicate yourself to ethical fashion?
I decided to start studying fashion during the second year of my BA in Fine Arts at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. I realised that what I enjoyed the most was to touch and work closely with the materials and I thought fashion design would be a better field of study for me.
Afterwards, sustainability and ethical fashion came naturally to me. I visited many small villages in China and discovered many beautiful handwoven fabrics and handicrafts made by the locals. Unfortunately these villages are really poor and the majority of the young population has moved to bigger cities to work in large factories. I was shocked to find out that the elderly are the only ones left to take care of these young people’s children and are also the only ones capable of making the fabrics and crafts I saw. Some people told me that the best way to support them and their craft is to bring business to them, giving them some work and so I decided to do it. I think it’s a very positive and meaningful way to support these villages not only in China, but also in India and Tibet, creating long-lasting relationships with them.
In your opinion, what would be the best way to raise awareness on the subject of ethical fashion?
I think a good way is to demonstrate to people that ethical fashion can be fabulous too. This is why I decided to incorporate a fabric as luxurious as silk alongside more subtle materials such as cotton and ramie.
I also think that people are slowly starting to change their mind and that, eventually, consumers will get tired of fast-fashion and go back to handmade garments and handwoven, simple fabrics. I am sure they will see the beauty of it.
We recently interviewed Hans Galliker, the co-founder of Beijing-based eco brand NEEMIC, who sustained that popular awareness regarding sustainability is growing in China, especially among younger generations. Do you agree?
Yes, I agree with him. Some Chinese costumers start buying luxury items at a very young age, when they are still teenagers, but when they grow up they start to look for more sustainable, lasting and comfortable clothes. I think it’s a sort of countertrend and that it’s definitely growing.
In an interview with “The Resident” you said you are a Tibetan Buddhist. Does your faith influence your creativity and sustainable choices?
Yes, my Tibetan master helps and supports me. He lately suggested that I visit Nepal, where he said I would find other villages I can help and I will probably go very soon. I met him for the first time in Beijing, where my friends introduced me to him, and now that I live in England I keep in contact with him by phone, as he can’t travel unless for very short distances.
Let’s talk a bit about your background. You grew up in China, in Fujian, and only later moved to London. How do your Chinese roots influence your designs?
I love old Chinese patterns, which are all two-dimensional, and also the feminine shapes of the shoulders in traditional Chinese garments. I like the fact that Chinese clothes are usually loose and comfortable, but still beautiful and sensual, in a different way from the Western way. I think this influence can be found in my own designs.
What do you miss most about China?
I miss the food! Chinese take away in England is nothing like Chinese food.
Are you planning to go back or do you see your future in London?
I think I will stay in London, but I also will go back to China quite often, to source my materials and manufacture my garments.
What are you planning for the future?
I’m going to open a workshop in Potters Bar in August, where I will display my collection and also provide a made to measure service. I really want to have something real that can concretely reflect my brand identity; a place for my costumers to visit and enjoy.
A süti beállítások ennél a honlapnál engedélyezett a legjobb felhasználói élmény érdekében. Amennyiben a beállítás változtatása nélkül kerül sor a honlap használatára, vagy az "Elfogadás" gombra történik kattintás, azzal a felhasználó elfogadja a sütik használatát.