The ecology of fashion
Chinese independent designer Zhang Na had already won much praise for her fashion collection at a show in Austria. But all that praise later turned into respect when people discovered that more than 20 clothes in her collection were recycled from used clothing.
“I did not tell the organizer in advance because I didn’t want to make it a big deal. Apparently they did not expect a Chinese to do something like this,” said the 35-year-old Beijing native.
Born into a family of scholars and artists, Zhang studied fashion design at MOD’ART International Paris and Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts before moving to Shanghai in 2004, citing the city’s easy access to a “sufficient industrial chain for a fashion industry” as well as her fascination with Shanghai being where her favorite writer Eileen Chang used to live and write.
Zhang later established her fashion label Fake Natoo in 2008 and after spending a couple of years developing her own brand, she started to ponder about the necessity of producing new clothes season after season. She realized that instead of creating new clothing all the time, it would be more interesting and meaningful to turn old garments into new creations. With that in mind, she started the Reclothing Bank in 2010, determined to give old clothing a new lease of life. The creations at the Austria fashion show were the first batch of refashioned clothes by Zhang.
“It is good to see fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M provide the opportunity for young Chinese people to buy affordable clothes with similar styles as top luxury brands. But do we really need so many new clothes?” she said.
“Each used piece of clothing tells a story of their owner’s happiness or sorrows, and they deserve to be treated well,” Zhang added.
Since 2010, Zhang has refashioned nearly 500 pieces of clothing, according to the fashion seasons, for Reclothing Bank. Most of them were sold domestically. Although the act of recycling garments is free, processes such as cleaning and disinfecting, deconstruction of the clothing as well as redesign and restructuring are not. It takes Zhang between two weeks and a month to refashion a piece of clothing.
“Every piece of clothing has its unique characteristics from the age it was from, and what I am doing is to recall its special features and adapt them to the modern context,” she said.
With her own brand having successfully taken off, Zhang said that she is now able to devote half her time and efforts to building up the Reclothing Bank project. She has no plans of expanding this project but she does believe that it is only a matter of time before people embrace the principles of recycling and this way of fashion.
“It is like a flower, which only blooms when the time is right. And you will know once it is ripe,” she said.