Southwest China says Miao on catwalk
Our aim is ... to encourage the fashion industry to inject modern design into this ancient art form.” Deng Li, chief content officer, Marie Claire China
Vying for attention amid the thousands of haute couture collections on display during Fashion Week in New York are the embroidered offerings from the remote mountains of Southwest China.
A charity exhibition at Venue 57 in Manhattan, featuring China’s Miao embroidery, opened in New York on Thursday.
The exhibition was organized by the China Soong Ching Ling Foundation (SCLF), the government of Kaili City in Guizhou province in Southwest China and the fashion magazine Marie Claire.
Miao embroidery is a folk heritage of the Miao ethnic group from Guizhou.
Historical records show that the skillful needlework has been around since the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). It was created by Miao women and always passed down from mother to daughter.
Included in China’s first list of state-level intangible cultural heritages, Miao embroidery is widely regarded as an important component not only of Miao culture but also for Chinese national culture.
The exhibition is divided into two thematic sections: the Classical Creativity section showcases works including Miao formal costumes, accessories and jewelry, as well as reproductions of traditional costumes and other embroidery pieces.
The New Life section exhibits crossover works designed by contemporary international designers with inspiration from traditional Miao handicrafts.
Yet for various reasons, the Miao embroidery tradition has also been in danger of dying out.
“In the past 30 years, many exquisite Miao embroidery techniques have rapidly been lost. Many older people in their 60s or 70s are now the last remaining practitioners of a particular style of embroidery,” said Deng Li, chief content officer of Marie Claire China and the program’s initiator.
In 2011, SCLF and Marie Claire jointly established the SCLF Marie Claire Women’s Happiness Fund with the goal of preserving intangible cultural heritage and helping women in ethnic minority regions improve their living standard and social status.
“Our aim is, on the one hand, to protect and revive traditional Miao embroidery, and at the same time to encourage the fashion industry to inject modern design into this ancient art form and help Miao embroidery to move with the times and unleash a new energy,” Deng added.
Since its launch five years ago, the fund has organized a series of training activities in Miao embroidery techniques and skills with local women.
So far the program has provided support to eight Miao minority villages and benefited more than 600 families, with participating families seeing an annual income increase of between 3,000 to 5,000 yuan ($450-$750).
More than a thousand pieces of embroidery have been produced, and five complete replicas of traditional costumes have been made using classic Miao embroidery methods.
Through cooperation with government organizations, the program combines poverty-alleviation work with the preservation of Miao embroidery.
Silvia Morimoto, chief of staff of the regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific in the United Nations Development Program said that the project aligns with the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) that the UNDP has been promoting.
“Like poverty reduction, gender equality, inequalities reduction … basically, this (project) is very much in line with the SDGs. I really hope they can escalate this project to other minorities,” said Morimoto, who attended the show.
Following an exhibition in Paris in 2014, the weeklong 2016 China Miao Embroidery Charity Exhibition in New York is the second appearance for Miao embroidery before an international audience.
Silvia Morimoto, chief of staff of the regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific in the United Nations Development Program, browses the 2016 ChinaMiaoEmbroideryCharityExhibition in New York on Thursday.