PI­O­NEER

对话先锋

The World of Chinese - - FRONT PAGE - BY SUN JIAHUI (孙佳慧)

Paving a path for tra­di­tional cloth­ing in moder n- day China

服章之美:对话善智服饰创始人善智居士

Chen Chao­hong, better known by her Dharma name Shanzhi, is the founder of the Shanzhi Gar­ment Com­pany (善智服饰) and a de­voted Bud­dhist. She is fo­cused on the con­cept of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cloth­ing and fash­ion, hav­ing pro­vided unique de­signs for many of the world's movers and shak­ers, in­clud­ing Jack Ma, founder of the e-com­merce giant Alibaba Group, and United Na­tions Sec­re­tary-gen­eral Ban Ki-moon. She de­fines her­self as an in­her­i­tor of tra­di­tional cul­ture and has de­voted her­self to pro­mot­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese fash­ion.

HOW DID YOU BE­COME IN­TER­ESTED IN FASH­ION?

I was in­flu­enced by my grand­mother, who was a fa­mous tailor in Taizhou, Zhe­jiang Prov­ince. Even now I can still re­mem­ber her em­broi­der­ing beau­ti­ful pat­terns, stitch by stitch. She was so beau­ti­ful, and so were the clothes she was mak­ing. But when I was in univer­sity, I didn't study fash­ion. I ma­jored in fi­nance and eco­nomics. Be­fore I grad­u­ated, my two broth­ers came to Hangzhou and started their cloth­ing busi­ness. Be­cause of my in­ter­est in fash­ion, I joined them af­ter I grad­u­ated. That was around 1990. We didn't do the de­sign, just pur­chased clothes from Hong Kong and then sold them at Hangzhou Tower. That was the start of my ca­reer.

WHY DID YOU DE­CIDE TO FO­CUS ON TRA­DI­TIONAL CHI­NESE CLOTH­ING?

I didn't ac­tu­ally turn to tra­di­tional fash­ion un­til 2012. Be­fore that our busi­ness fo­cused on con­tem­po­rary clothes. In 2006, af­ter my sec­ond child was born, I de­cided to stop work­ing and went to study Bud­dhism. At that time, I thought I would never go back to fash­ion. But while I was study­ing Bud­dhism, I made some new friends, in­clud­ing en­trepreneurs and teach­ers from art col­leges who were very in­ter­ested in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cloth­ing. When they learned that I was in the cloth­ing busi­ness, they asked me to make some monas­tic gowns for them. I agreed. They liked my clothes and I felt that my zeal for cloth­ing was reignited. So I opened a small work­shop near the Lingyin Tem­ple where I could make clothes and drink tea with my friends. Dur­ing that time, I also met many monks and nuns, whose monas­tic robes in the tra­di­tional style grew on me more and more.

HOW DID YOUR WORK­SHOP DE­VELOP INTO SUCH A BIG BUSI­NESS?

At first, it was just for fun. I didn't treat it as a busi­ness. Then one day a friend came to me and in­vited me to an expo in Xi­a­men, which was about Bud­dhism. Our booth was very large, so I needed to pre­pare a lot of pieces in a short amount of time. With the help of an ex­pe­ri­enced pat­tern de­signer, I fin­ished 60 gar­ments in time and took them to the expo. To my sur­prise, my clothes at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion in that exhibition. We re­ceived many or­ders, [to­tal­ing] over 200,000 RMB, a great suc­cess. We took all those or­ders, and our busi­ness was started.

IS THERE ANY DIF­FER­ENCE BE­TWEEN THE TRA­DI­TIONAL CLOTH­ING WE KNOW TO­DAY AND WHAT PEO­PLE AC­TU­ALLY WORE?

First of all, there are var­i­ous kinds of tra­di­tional cloth­ing, or, as we say, hanfu. In an­cient times, peo­ple wore dif­fer­ent clothes for dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions. For ex­am­ple, for a sac­ri­fi­cial rite, clothes would be very solemn, for­mal, and cer­e­mo­nial; for daily life, they wore sim­pler clothes. Gar­ments also var­ied over time. To­day, there are of course new changes and in­no­va­tions. Based on cer­tain ba­sic prin­ci­ples, we make adap­ta­tions to our clothes. It may be merely a new col­lar de­sign or just to re­place tra­di­tional fas­ten­ings with mod­ern but­tons, but the ba­sic frame­work and the essence are main­tained.

YOUR BRAND CRE­ATED A TREND OF “NEW CHI­NESE STYLE” IN HANGZHOU. HOW WOULD YOU DE­FINE “NEW CHI­NESE STYLE”? WHAT’S NEW?

I think “new Chi­nese style” means recre­at­ing and de­vel­op­ing tra­di­tional cul­ture. In short, what's new is the fu­sion of tra­di­tional style and mod­ern ma­te­rial. To­day, the tra­di­tional lifestyle is com­ing back. Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to pur­sue a more com­fort­able and peace­ful life. Tea cul­ture, guqin, flower ar­rang­ing, and in­cense ap­pre­ci­a­tion are all be­com­ing more and more pop­u­lar, and so is tra­di­tional cloth­ing. But this is not a re­turn of the an­cient times; we also need to fol­low the de­vel­op­ments of time, to cre­ate a good com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tion and mod­ern styles so that peo­ple can wear our clothes in their daily life with­out being con­sid­ered weird.

SOME SAY THAT TRA­DI­TIONAL COS­TUMES ARE NO LONGER MAIN­STREAM IN MOD­ERN CHINA, THAT IT’S CUL­TUR­ALLY VALU­ABLE BUT IM­PRAC­TI­CAL. WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY TO THIS?

Ac­tu­ally, tra­di­tional cloth­ing is very prac­ti­cal. Its ma­te­ri­als are com­fort­able and the de­sign is sim­ple and con­ve­nient. More im­por­tantly, these clothes are suit­able for Chi­nese peo­ple. In mod­ern China, we wear

West­ern suits far more than our own tra­di­tional clothes, but you can tell that when Chi­nese peo­ple put on our own gar­ments, we look dif­fer­ent.

HOW DO YOU BAL­ANCE TRA­DI­TION AND FASH­ION? IS THERE ANY CON­FLICT?

Some peo­ple say that tra­di­tional cloth­ing must have strict stan­dards, that only the clothes that are iden­ti­cal to an­cient ver­sions are tra­di­tional gar­ments. But, per­son­ally, I think we need to keep pace with the trends of times. We can change, de­velop, and recre­ate. Tra­di­tion and trends can be bal­anced and com­bined. For ex­am­ple, we can wear adapted tra­di­tional clothes in our daily life and wear those for­mal, stan­dard fash­ions for solemn oc­ca­sions.

YOUR BRAND HAS PRO­VIDED CLOTHES FOR MANY CELEBRI­TIES. OF THOSE WORKS, WHICH IS YOUR FA­VORITE?

We have pro­vided clothes for Jack Ma. That was a very sim­ple gar­ment, sim­ple but el­e­gant. Just as we say, rich men wear sim­ple clothes. And Ban Ki-moon, Sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the United Na­tions, has also worn our clothes. I am very glad that our clothes can at­tract these celebri­ties be­cause their in­flu­ence can help us pro­mote our tra­di­tional gar­ments.

WHAT’S THE MOST DIF­FI­CULT PART OF YOUR IN­DUS­TRY?

I don't think there is any­thing par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult. I en­joy it. I am hap­pier than when I was do­ing trendy clothes, be­cause at least I don't have to think about catch­ing up with the new trends ev­ery day. My ca­reer is what I love, what I have pas­sion for, though it is a lot of work.

HOW DO YOU DE­FINE YOUR­SELF PRO­FES­SION­ALLY? A FASH­ION DE­SIGNER? AN EN­TREPRENEUR?

I like to call my­self a “pur­veyor of tra­di­tional cul­ture”. In fact, I don't do all this for the money. I don't pay much at­ten­tion to the mar­ket­ing and don't care about how much profit I can make. I just feel that our tra­di­tional cul­ture needs to be car­ried for­ward. I hope that more and more peo­ple can wear our tra­di­tional clothes and dis­play our na­tional char­ac­ter.

WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS FOR THE FU­TURE?

I hope that tra­di­tional Chi­nese cloth­ing can spread through­out the world, be­come in­ter­na­tional, and that Chi­nese peo­ple can com­fort­ably wear these clothes on dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions. I think that's a form of self­con­fi­dence in our cul­ture.

Pro­mo­tional event in Hangzhou

A Shanzhi Gar­ment Com­pany

"new Chi­nese style" made in the

A model in a Shanzhi-de­signed out­fit

Wear­ing cheongsam by Shanzhi

Three mod­els

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