和我決定commit to fashion的過程。
She was still too young to know that life never gives anything for nothing, and that a price is always exacted for what fate bestows.
—— 茨威格 Zweig
2018年畢業於Parsons設計學院的Bowen畢業後在紐約創立了個人品牌Bowen Hu。近年在美國時裝界更活躍的她這次來到了倫敦發表她的系列 — Lucid Dream。作為一個讀時裝的學生我當然不能放過這個機會向她reach out，於是在秀後我發了電郵給她並且得到了這個特別的機會。非常感謝她撥空抽出時間與我對談，畢竟她可是風塵僕僕的從紐約趕來倫敦辦秀並且忍著時差接受這次訪談，隔天立刻又得飛回紐約。
1. 為什麼會來倫敦辦秀? 可以說說這次秀上的作品嗎？
BH: 其實有很多方面的原因，那我們現在其實並沒有開始production (生產)，就是說我們現在還不是一個可以賣給buyer (買手)的一個品牌。所以說我們現在想要做的就是拿到更多的exposure (曝光) 然後讓大家看到我們的品牌，記住我們的名字。
因為我不想要一開始的時候就put in (投入)很多成本進去開始produce，如果反響不好的話壓力也很大。我們在紐約的時裝產業已經有一定的connection (人脈)了嘛，那我們也想看看歐洲的市場對我們的作品的反響是什麼樣子。正好有一個很好的機會，我覺得還是可以來試試！其實我這次秀上的作品呢我覺得算是比較先藝術化一點的，就是不是那麼好去發展成能行銷的產品的，商業性沒有那麼強。因為我這次秀上的作品跟心理學有關，因為我之前有學過personality psychology，所以我整個collection叫做 “Lucid Dream” 清醒夢。就是在講人在淺意識裡會激發出的最大的靈感，然後有很多很多brain waves的那種，對面料上的設計的一些靈感。
2. 你的介紹強調了心理學對你的影響 以前曾學過心理學嗎？像這樣把不同領域的知識和時裝做結合是否更多的區隔了妳和其他設計師？
BH: 我覺得是。首先我確實是覺得審美是很重要的。就是妳作為一個設計師，能distinguish (區分)你和其他人的一個重要的方面。
3. 介紹中也提到了你的設計都有用soundtrack & story來讓穿著者和garments以感官的形式去交流 感覺你是很多才多藝的設計師 所以你很習慣像這樣跨領域的用不同媒介去創作嗎？
BH: 因為其實我自己不是一個很有恆心跟毅力的人，就是從小就這樣。我會很感興趣一個東西，然後就去學，學了一半沒意思我就不學了。這其實是我非常大的一個不好的地方，但是呢我發現現在我唯一有恆心去做的就是做衣服。我有時候也會覺得很無聊。因為我很擔心我做到最後就會把這個當成是business在做，就是變成工作了。所以我覺得如果我想要嘗試一下這個，那我就去嘗試。那我這次嘗試去做音樂，其實我之前並不是一個很professional的music producer (音樂製作人)，我現在也不是，但是因為我喜歡所以我就去試，然後去找會的人教我，和他們交流。其實也是build connection的一個方法。就是你可以認識很多人，然後他們也會inspire你很多。那我覺得我也不是說以後做collection都是會跟music有關，但是他可以跟很多其他東西有關聯。就是可能我下一次對這個很感興趣，然後我就去找他們問: “你們這個是怎麼弄的呀？我們也來學一學。” 這樣多方作嘗試，但是主旨不變的是你的整個品牌的審美和設計師的審美，這些都會在你的衣服呈現 。
4. 你的設計都是unisex. 但是因為你有textile的背景 所以每個silhouette都和一般看到的unisex的設計很不同 你是怎麼詮釋unisex這個概念的？ unisex對你而言是什麼？
BH: 其實我也不知道該怎麼去形容我的東西是unisex還是womenswear或menswear。因為我感覺unisex可能是一個更概念性的服裝心理。因為現在男生和女生的區別比較模糊了，沒有那麼在意這個一定要是男生穿或女生穿，但是在traditional的fashion裡面還是分womenswear跟menswear，所以說unisex這個概念其實在production上比較難實現。雖然說我現在的系列確實是男女都可以穿，但是如果說你要把它放進production的話，就會發現有size (的問題)。男生的size和女生的size不一樣，去給工廠做的時候你會想說，那你要設計自己的一個新的size出來嗎？ 其實是我覺得比較難實現的，但是我覺得是未來的趨勢。並不是說unisex出現男裝和女裝就會越來越少了，我覺得還是會一樣的只是多了一個新的分支而已。
BH: 其實我沒有直接畢業就創了個人品牌，我現在還在打三份工吧！我在紐約The Row做freelancer，然後在一個我自己覺得適合我風格的買手店做part-time stylist和sales，我自己又是part-time model，因為可以賺一點錢嘛。
6. 創立了個人品牌之後，除了設計師以外還多了哪些身分？ 有哪些地方和開始的預期有出入的？
創立了個人品牌之後呢我發現你就是一個老闆了，要做所有的工作，你得肩負起整個公司的責任。 雖然我們的公司並沒有很大，也沒有怎麼樣有一個公司。基本上public relations (公關) 這個是我第一個發現我必須take care of的。會有很多向你reach out的人，同時你也要去reach out to other people。那因為現在要有brand recognition (品牌認知度) 嘛，就要經常去各種各樣的event 然後說： “你們看過我們的品牌沒有啊？” “給你看一下我們的品牌啊” 除了event要去 也要去reach out買手和造型師。現在像我的partner在找88 rising ，一個做音樂的廠牌，他們想要我們借他們的衣服拍MV嘛這樣子的。其實這都是剛開始的時候我們自己在做的一些事情，還有就是要安排一些來幫忙你的intern這樣子。你必須要有一些領導力(leadership)又不能太整天開開心心地亂玩，在該工作的時候就要工作，我是屬於那種整天開開心心亂玩的設計師，所以我的partner就要比較管我一點。
BH: 很快樂的時候當然就是被大家喜歡的時候！那有些時候就是 比方說有造型師來借你的東西 然後認可你的作品，想要幫你把你的作品發布出去，或是有些朋友看到你的作品很喜歡然後說： “你這個東西賣不賣呀 我願意出多少錢買” 這種時候。更開心的時候是當碰到一堆也是很有趣很有想法的人，然後每天跟他們一起bs一起合作，幹這個幹那個，跟這些人在一起你會有很多想法。就像我剛剛說比方說做音樂你認識了這樣一個人，你發現 “他挺有意思的！” 然後他想做一點事情，你也想做一點事情，如果你們倆的想法到一起的話，你們的合作就會很有趣！我覺得最開心的時候就是這時候。
讓我感到最挫折的時候應該是從畢業之後一個很有想法很想做出很多自己想做的東西但發現了市場的現實之後要做出一些退讓和改變。這時候很有挫折感。因為你自己會覺得自己的東西很好看 也有很多人覺得很好看，但是發現不賺錢。就是比如說我的一件衣服是全手縫的，可能要做一個月，我賣不出去，可以借出去，但是沒有人會覺得我要花八千美金或是六千英鎊把它買回家。沒有人會這樣想，因為像這樣的衣服可能就是 一個event會穿一穿，所以很多時候就會考慮到真正能行銷的product是怎麼樣子的。有時候你就會說：”喔！好像我們確實是要做一些t-shirt。確實是要做一些牛仔褲。” 就是做一些大家日常會做的東西。我進了The Row之後也發現一些厲害的fashion house也沒有說那麼厲害。大家也在看他們的競爭者在做的東西去尋求靈感。所以有時候真的覺得，你說fashion誰抄了誰，其實大家都在互相，還挺挫敗的這種感覺。有時候會覺得很想回國，現在國內的市場是很好的。但是國人的審美真的就讓你覺得很挫敗。這個也是需要慢慢work on的。
BH: 超級重要！就是以前我也覺得自己無所不能，覺得自己很厲害了，這個可以做那個也可以做 但是我發現根本不是這樣的。不管做什麼也好，很少是自己單幹的。我們父母那個年代就是談一個廠然後把它賣給別人，這種已經很少了。基本上都是團隊運作，一個團隊是非常重要的。這也就是為什麽我對現在美國的fashion industry感到也很挫敗。
因為美國fashion industry是很病態的，很多公司基本上推進著產品進度的人都是實習生，而且都不支薪的，所以說永遠都是這個intern做了三個月之後走了，下一個intern過來繼續做，所以他雖然是在slowly的進行，東西一直在推在賣，但是其實東西是一團糟的。因為這一個intern習慣這麼去做一件事，下一個有另一種習慣。沒有consistency (一致性)的。最可怕的是那種你的公司的團隊是那種不穩定的，就是很多人來來去去這樣的，所以，我們現在其實沒什麼用實習生。現在都是我自己做設計，要不就是我去找我覺得厲害的人做collaboration一起做，然後我的partner幫我做剩下來的一些事情，例如brand managing或是和外面的人reach out這樣的一些事情。我們現在沒有用到intern，除非是現在我們要趕一些deadline，例如這次來倫敦的這個秀，就會找一些來幫忙，但是我覺得之後自己做公司的話至少要有三個穩定的全職的，因為至少三個人能夠一直推進整個process。
BH: 哇！好難喔這個問題，但我覺得真的市場的話應該是七比三吧！七是商業性三是設計性，我覺得現在的市場是這樣。我理想的狀態當然是零比十吧！(笑) 當然不可能，理想狀態是不可能了，就是當然理想狀態是隨心所欲做自己想做的東西，但是畢竟是有市場需求的，而且我們的東西，再怎麼說還是有一個target market (目標市場)在。你不能說一個八十歲的老太太就喜歡穿我們的衣服？那也不大可能。再怎麼樣還是有一個市場指向性在的，所以說你要根據你的市場的人群，你必須得了解他們，你要知道他們的需求是什麼，沒有人會整天只需要穿一件衣服什麼都不做，對吧？你需要知道他們某些人有這樣的職業那樣的職業，他們可能今天會穿一件t-shirt一件外套，明天可能需要一件襯衣配一件外套，這些東西你都要進行一個很好的調研，進行一個很好的思考，再去有指向性的做設計並且加入你自己的審美。我覺得是這樣子的情況下你的品牌才有可能。如果你只是想一昧把自己的審美展現給大眾的話，你可以去做一個artist (藝術家)，就是我之前也是很奇怪，畢業之前我就覺得服裝是art。Fashion design is art。我後來發現不是的，fashion design是creative business，就是這還是一個business但是妳加了creativity進去。
KC: 好像不是每個設計師都會這麼想，我身邊學設計的朋友都比較不想去做讓步和妥協，對作品的商業性和藝術性的拉扯。他們會覺得和business扯上關係就不純粹了。但是對我們這些學時裝商業的人來講 at the end of the day, 你的作品必須要能賣出去，品牌必須要存活下去，才有未來可言。
每一個人都想做Alexander Mcqueen，但是Mcqueen都死了十幾年了，還沒出現下一個，並不是大家都不creative，有很多creative的人。我身邊認識太多有想法又有技術的人，但是他們那些人也都沒有做到Alexander McQueen。不是說你不要拿這個做你的夢想，你也可以拿這個做為你的夢想，如果你特別有錢又特別有閒的話，真的，你就做這個，但是就是你不會賺錢的。而且你知道Alexander McQueen最喜歡做什麼嗎，他特別喜歡到自己店裡問哪些產品賣得比較好，然後他就做更多這些東西。
KC: 我覺得Alexander McQueen是真的很不容易，設計師要是做得太商業性了時裝評論家都會說沒意思了，McQueen的作品又能讓評論家服氣又能同時暢銷，真的很厲害了。
BH: 我覺得他背後一定有一個很好的團隊，去幫他做這些RTW的，因為我很難相信他可以自己做出那些可以在博物館展的這些作品，同時做一個RTW collection。任何公司其實都是這樣，Creative director不會真的設計的，其實真的做到最後就是一些meeting，不會真的去hands on的做一些事情。那我覺得，就是我剛剛說的，團隊真的很重要，你的團隊一定要跟你很久很了解你完全知道你需要的是什麼，你想展示的是什麼，你的品牌調性，但同時也要知道這個市場。
市場一直在變，得知道市場需要的是什麼，所以是這樣的，在fashion industry你得work really hard，特別是在現在。現在的時裝產業非常的sick，就是很可憐的，特別是fast fashion(快時尚)出現之後獨立設計師更可憐了，又被抄又沒人買，你又得強調自己的品牌調性得保持品牌的attitude，又不能太高冷，其實很難存活。我身邊很多這樣的朋友，很難很難 他們真的是work really hard。一週工作六天，每天從早到晚。但也不是說他們就活不下去，只是說很艱難，如果你沒有這個思想準備的話，踏入這個產業是很難的。特別是那些還有著想要做museum pieces (放博物館的) 的同學們，當你面對現實的時候，發現有一天你爸媽不能給你錢了，你不能靠爸媽的錢做衣服的時候，你就會想，你要怎麼樣去賺到錢買布料去做衣服。
BH: 我覺得現在是這樣， 就是不要一根筋想事情，總會找到一個辦法的。像我如果真的有一天真的做到那麼大的話，我應該不會真的親自操刀做設計了。可能就是讓一群人幫我做設計，然後我可以自己幹一點別的事。可能我做到那麼大是十年之後，你永遠都不知道未來怎麼樣。
現在除了一般的runway show他們還有installation而且非常受歡迎。現在的設計師很少會做一個傳統的runway show，他們可能就做一個showroom然後做一個很有趣installation。十年後你不知道又會有什麼新的東西出現。可能我hire一堆人幫我處理市場的設計，然後我自己做別的事情呢？但是我自己知道我個人呢，是不會想要去做一個很沒有意思的事情的，而且我覺得如果有那麼一天我真的有了市場的壓力的話，代表我已經做得不錯了，有錢了，那我就更不會去做我不想做的事情了！我現在沒錢我都還堅持著不做不想做的事情，以後有錢了我幹嘛還逼自己做自己想做的事？但是我的partner可能就會比較受累了，那你要做設計師你還是得比較有自己的個性嘛！(笑)
其實誰都不知道以後的事 而且我覺得可能以後的fashion industry會有一個超級大的revolution (革命)。因為我覺得fashion industry這種運作方式已經很老了，我覺得會有一個很大的revolution出現。
BH: 資金的問題是很大的阻力啊 (笑)。 其實我不知道歐洲現在是不是這樣，但是紐約現在是有一點問題，就是你如果有錢的話你都可以做，你現在在紐約就看得到很多品牌都可以走時裝週的秀了。所以我們現在都說時裝周的秀只要你花錢就可以走了，其實真的是這樣。
現在在紐約是有這個風氣的。比如說很多雜誌的報導啊什麼的可以用錢買來。hard copy也是花錢就給你登，的確是有這樣的一個現象。有很多這樣子砸錢出來的品牌，包括你想要celebrity (名人)穿你的衣服，其實也是啊。他會有價碼 發一張照片是多少錢，talk about it是多少錢，其實現在很多有這樣子public relations的東西，一堆公關公司出現。我有朋友一個月付給PR公司三千美金，然後這個公司幫他丟給所有的(合作方)，幫他找這些connection還有提升曝光率。
這個當然是你做品牌的一種方法了。其實現在你沒有這些PR是很難的。現在就是整個世界的人都live in a bubble (活在泡沫裡)，流量就是錢。我其實現在也是很struggle，不知道我是應該play with the game還是怎樣。你可能會需要幾個revolutionary(引領革命) 的人，但是你會做那一個人嗎？你會很累又很窮，又養不了自己，然後你要去做revolutionary的事，這個世界都不純粹了，你要去做那個純粹的人就會很累又很窮。你想不想這樣？我現在也在很糾結。
BH: 對。很多人對於獨立設計師的感覺就是新鮮嘛！你這個獨立設計師有什麼特點，客戶覺得挺新鮮的！那很多獨立設計師就抓不好這個度，比如說這一季的襪子特別吸引人，下一季也做襪子， 下下季又做襪子。本來服裝已經沒有什麽東西可以做了，大家都想要待在safe zone，什麼東西賣得好就多做一點，大牌的話還好因為大牌的產品(對客戶來說)能保值。Burberry的風衣永遠都會在那裡，但是像Vetement的鞋子可能火一陣子而已，就沒了，更別提設計師品牌。你可能火了一款產品，一陣子之後就沒了。如果你沒有新的產品繼續推出，讓別人記住的話，很快就被淹沒了。這就是時裝產業，就是認為設計師品牌更多的是一個新鮮感。
還有就是這個市場的問題，這個問題在中國特別嚴重 — 大家不願意花太多的錢在設計師的產品上，但是designer brand的產品成本是很高的，因為我們的產品沒辦法大批量生產，生產量越小成本就越高，價錢就沒辦法壓低，但是如果提高售價，客人就不願意買。
KC: 大部分人不知道這背後的原因會覺得 “那我不如去買奢侈品品牌”。他們更多是覺得設計師品牌很小知名度不高，卻這麼貴，偏向用品牌知名度去衡量這樣。
BH: (笑) 以上所有說到的事情都需要改變。
首先希望時裝產業能更開放一點吧！因為說實話現在的時裝產業是很閉關的感覺，不太open to new ideas，new designers，new brands。新的形式沒有很容易被接受，我希望他們open一點，希望大家對文化和審美的教育能更多一點。特別是在中國，不要再讓數學課佔去美術課的時間了！因為說真的，你的孩子一點審美都不懂多可怕呀！最可怕的就是沒有審美，我覺得一個人在吃飽喝足之後，你不管再能賺錢，說實話賺錢已經是上個時代的事情了。當你還沒辦法吃飽喝足的時候才會想去賺錢。賺到錢了之後最重要最重要的就是你的審美。
14. 希望大家想到Bowen Hu這個品牌的時候想到什麽？
BH: 啊～這個問題很有意思。我希望以後大家想到我的品牌的時候會想到很多很有趣的故事吧！就是我希望每一季都有新的collaboration 新的東西融入在我的衣服裡。還有就是好玩，就是覺得喔這個品牌是一個很有意思的。大家看了每一季會覺得好像聽了一個故事 雖然這麼講很概念化 但是理想狀態是這樣的。如果要說現實一點就是希望大家想到我的品牌就是想買唄！多買一點！
15. 會不會考慮結合sustainability (永續發展)到自己的作品裡？
BH: 其實我覺得這已經不是一個考不考慮的問題了。因為時裝產業真的是污染最大的產業之一了。其實五年前你問設計師會不會想做sustainability? 這還是一個比較先鋒的問題。現在已經不是考慮不考慮的範圍內了，你必須得做。這就是一個你必須deal with的問題而不是一個選擇了。因為我們的地球媽媽已經非常screwed up了。這沒辦法避免了。
BH: 不要偷懶不要拖延！我現在已經好了很多了，以前更拖延。我以前有很多的小聰明。什麽考試和作業都會找到一個最快速的方法去完成，所以做的都比別人快，於是就拖到最後一秒再去做。 但是我發現服裝設計不是這樣的，你做不完就真的做不完了！所以我現在已經好很多了，雖然還算是很拖延的。
基本上我對自己有一個了解大概一個時間段能做完一件事，那我就會拖到deadline前四天開始做，最後就把自己搞得很焦慮。我的partner也會給我設很多deadline，因為時裝產業現在變得太快了，fast fashion出現以後一週一季，變成你必須趕上這個速度，不能拖延。而且你會發現，以後會有很多機會找上你，如果你手上沒有一定量的東西的話就可能抓不住那個機會了。 比如說這次這場秀如果我沒有足夠的look可以秀的話我也沒辦法來。
我們計劃是下一季會有一個collaboration，然後再下一季就開始做小批量的production，開始往市場靠攏了。那種手縫一個月的就不復存在了，也許我free的時候會再自己縫那些東西，但是我們會在自己的審美和市場中間找到屬於我們自己的balance，然後可能之後慢慢會有很多買手來找我們之後，就會開始生產了！其實現在也有買手來找我們，但是我們真的不知道有哪些東西能生產。因為全都是手縫，沒有工廠願意幫我們做。所以每次買手來找我們，我們都只能回答：對不起！我們不知道我們可以生產什麽 (笑) 不知道能賣什麽給你。
BH: 好，我會take a note of it。
KC: 很期待妳接下來的發展 我是真的很喜歡你的作品，也很感謝你今天特別抽空出來。訪談過程都很inspire我讓我有很多新的想法。現在時裝產業的走向在我看來是需要很多改變的，那我認為扶持獨立設計師是可以解決很多問題，而且提供很多新的氣象的。首先就是要先empower你們這些獨立設計師。
在這個社群媒體達到前所未有的興盛的時代，多數消費者能輕鬆地在自己關注的網紅的淘寶店或是快時尚買到相似於獨立設計師 (甚至是一模一樣) 的設計款，獨立設計師的生存之道愈發困難。作為消費者的我們，或許下次在逛Zara或是網紅的淘寶店的時候，忍住放入購物車的衝動，多去了解並試著支持獨立設計師的設計。相信他們對時裝的熱愛會反映在他們的作品的布料、剪裁、及版型上面，不會讓你失望的！想看更多Bowen的作品點這裡
Photo Via Bowen Hu
I was very lucky to have the opportunity to sit down and have hour-long conversation with Bowen Hu, the Parsons graduate designer. When I send her the email request for an interview, I never actually thought she’d say yes — but she did!
Bowen graduated from Parsons in 2018 and founded her own brand — Bowen Hu. She has been quite active in New York and is no doubt an emerging talent in the New York fashion indsutry. Her visit to London this time is to showcase her Lucid Dream collection. As a fashion student I was thrilled, so after the show ended I reached out to her and shortly recieved her reply! I’m still very thankful for her to make time for me as she had a very busy schedule that day and still suffer from jetlag.
In the hour-long interview, Bowen talk me through the inspiration behind her work, work ethic, fashion industry behind the scene, and the difficulty independent designers face.
1. Why did you choose London for your show this season? Could you elaborate on the concept behind the work of this show?
BH: It’s actually a decision made due to multiple aspects. We have not started production yet which means we are not a brand that could sell our products to buyers. First thing we’ve got to do is to gain as much exposure as possible so people could remember our brand. I don’t want to invest in too much capital into production just yet since we are just beginning. If the feedback were not as expected it could put quite a lot of pressure on us. We already have certain scale of connection in New York. This is a great opportunity to come over to London and see the reaction and the feedback of the market in Europe. To be frank, the pieces I presented during this show are more aesthetic-oriented rather than commercial. They are not that easy in terms of selling as products. They were inspired by psychology. I call this collection “Lucid Dream”, meaning the inspirations sparked in human’s subconscious mind when dreaming. I also was inspired by brain waves and turned them into the design on the fabrics.
2. Your introduction emphasizes on the influence psychology has on your designs. Have you studied psychology before? Does integrating study from other discipline with fashion sets you apart from other designers?
BH: First of all I do think aesthetic is very important as a designer. It is one of the aspects that distinguishes you and the others. Personally I like making music and try doing all kinds of experiment, so I do think if we were to do collaborations with people in different field could spark new possibility. It’s something I consider quite interesting.
3. The introduction also mentions the use of soundtrack and background story to create interaction between the wearer and the garments. Are you accustomed to work across different discipline?
BH: I am not someone who has great perseverance ever since I was little. I’d be interested in one thing and dive into learning all about it and stop once I lost interest. This is actually one of my weaknesses. Nevertheless, I now realized the making garments is something I could persist in doing. Sometimes I do get bored sometimes and I am afraid I’ll treat it as a business rather than something I enjoy doing. If I would like to try something else, I’ll do it right away. I wasn’t a professional music producer before this collection. I am still not qualified as one, but I give everything I am interested a try, and look for people who are professional to teach me about it. Interacting with them is also a way of building connection. You get to know so many people and they inspire you a lot. I am not saying all coming collections are going to be associated with music, but it can be associated with many other things. I’ll probably get interested into something else next time and look for people and ask: “How do you do this?” and learn about it. Experimenting in different direction but what remains static is the aesthetic of the brand, as it shows in your garments.
4. Your design is unisex, but your background in textile makes your silhouette quite different from the typical unisex design we see. What does unisex mean to you and how do you approach it?
BH: I am not sure if I should describe my garments as unisex, womenswear, or menswear. Unisex is a more like a conceptual mentality. The boundary between men and women is more blurry than before and people don’t necessarily think a garment belongs to only men or women. However, there are still categories of menswear and womenswear in the traditional fashion realm, so the concept of unisex is rather difficult to put into realisation when it comes to production. That being said, the collections I have on hand are wearable for both men and women, but when you put it into production you’ll find there will be problems in terms of sizes. It’s actually rather difficult to realise, but it is a trend that will progress in the future. The appearance of unisex doesn’t mean menswear and womenswear will be replaced. I tend to think unisex will be something equal to menswear and womenswear under the umbrella of fashion.
5. Why did you decide to start your own brand after graduating?
BH: I wouldn’t say I started my brand right after my graduation. I have three part-time job in New York now. I work at The Row as a freelancer and as a part-time stylist and sales associate at a select shop that matches with my style. I also work as part-time model to make up for extra expenses. I have never worked in retail before, so the role I took on in the select shop allows me to get in direct contact with customers. As a designer, You have to get to the frontline and know your market. You can see what kind of products customers want. Furthermore, the shop I chose is the kind of shop I would imagine my brand to work with in the future. It gives you the chance to observe your competitors and see what’s their best sellers and how do they attract customers each season et cetera. You get to learn so much. The Row is simply a brand I admire. I also get to experience how does a brand function as a company. This is also one of the reason one I have not started producing my own products — I do not have much time to invest in my own brand right now. We’ve been updating what we already have on hand and we’ve just debuted a new jewelry collection to build up a stable crowd that follows us. Once we built up enough customer base we’ll be ready for production.
6. What identity do you have other than being a designer after founding your brand?
BH: After founding my own brand I realized that I am a boss now. I gotta do all the work and carry the responsibility of the company, although our company is rather small. Public relations is the first aspect I found that I need to take care of. There will be people reaching out to you, at the same time you’ll have to reach out to other people as well. Because we are at the stage where we need brand recognition, so we’ll go to all kinds of event and promote our brands to other people. Apart from events, we will also reach out to buyers and stylists. My partner is now reaching out to 88 Rising. They want to borrow our pieces for their music videos and what not. These are actually what we are doing in the beginning. I also need to arrange interns when we need extra hands on deck. You have to be in a leadership position and not joking around all day. You need to work when it’s time for work. I am the type of designer who would become too excited and play around all day, so my partner will have to take charge and remind me from time to time.
7. As an independent designer, are there moments that make you most accomplished? When are you most frustrated?
BH: The most satisfying moment is no doubt when being liked by people! For instance, sometimes when stylist approved of my work and would like to borrow your work so they can let more people see you or when some friends offer to buy your stuff out of the love for your work. What even makes me more excited is when meeting a bunch of people with great insight and interesting ideas, and work with them together, doing this and that. Being with these people sparks a lot of new ideas. Say, like, you met a person when doing music, you’d think: “This person is interesting.” You both want to do something and when your ideas collide the collaboration turns out quite compelling. This is probably the most thrilled moment to me.
What frustrated me the most is when ideal and reality collide. After graduating I had various ideas and thoughts and would like to put it into practice but realize I’ll have to compromise due to the reality of the market. It’s very frustrating. You’ll find out that everyone including yourself think your work is amazing but it couldn’t generate profit. For instance, I had a piece that is completely hand-sewed from top to bottom and it require a month to finish. The piece could be borrowed by stylists and what not but it won’t sell. Nobody is willing to spend 8000 dollars or 6000 pounds on this piece, nobody. A garment like this is probably suitable for an one-time event. A lot of time I’ll have to consider what makes a product really sell. You’ll come to a point where you think: “Oh, it seems like we will have to do t-shirts, jeans, and daily items.” After working at The Row I found that fashion houses are not as “great” as I thought. Every brand is observing its competitors and what they are doing, and take inspiration from them. Sometimes you’d think a brand is copying from another brand, but it’s actually a mutual action. It’s quite frustrating. Sometimes I’ll have the urge to go back to China because how good the market in China is right now, but generally, the aesthetics of people in China can be frustrating as well. It’ll need more time to get better.
I used to think there is nothing I can’t do, but later it proved that it’s just not how things work. A team is crucial.
8. How important is a great team to an independent designer?
BH: It’s super important! I used to think there is nothing I can’t do, but later it proved that it’s just not how things work. It doesn’t matter what you do, you rarely do it all by yourself. Most of the time you’ll need a team to function. A team is crucial, which is also why I can feel defeated sometimes. The fashion industry in the U.S is, I would say, sick. A lot of times the people who are propelling the progression of a product are the interns, and they don’t get paid. The result is that when this particular intern leaves after three months, another intern will come and pick up at where the previous one stops. Despite it’s still slowly progressing, and the products are still selling, the outcome is very messy. That is because every intern has different habit when doing things, so there is no consistency. The most horrible situation is when the interns come and go in a fast pace, the quality could be unstable. This is why I don’t use intern, unless we have deadline approaching like we did for this show. Later on I do think I’ll need at least three full-time intern to propel the process.
9. How do you balance between keeping your work artsy while also “commercial”? What do you think is the ratio of the two?
BH: Tough question. I think it’s 7:3 market-wise. 7 being the commercial aspect and 3 being the artistic aspect. My idealistic status is 0:10, but it’s not possible. Ideally we all prefer doing things we want to do, but the market needs are there and there has to be a target market for every brand. It is very unlikely that an eighty-year-old lady would like to wear our garments. So you’ll have to design in accordance to your target audience. You’ve got to know them, know their needs. Nobody just sit there all day does nothing other than wearing a piece of fancy garment, right? You’ll need to know what kind of occupation they have. They might need a t-shirt and a jacket today, a shirt and a coat tomorrow. A very thorough research and a great deal of thinking are required. Then you add in your aesthetic into further develop your design. I think you do need to keep your brand on this rhythm that it is likely to prosper. If you simply want to show your aesthetics to people you could become an artist. Before I graduate from college I used to perceive fashion as a form of art. Fashion design is art. Later I realized fashion design is creative business. This is still a business but with creativity.
KC: Not every designers think this way. The friends I know who are doing fashion design tend to reject compromising with the market needs. They tend to put more weight on the artistic aspect of fashion design and little to none on the business aspect. Among many of them, it is considered “no longer authentic” once it’s associated with business. However, to us who are doing fashion business, at the end of the day, your work has to sell, so the brand survives. There won’t be any future season if it can’t survive on the market.
BH: I was thinking the same thing as your friends. At the time I thought I would exhibit my pieces in museums. No doubt if your work is qualified as museum pieces, you are dope. The question is if you can really make it. I personally think I can’t. Everybody wants to be the next Alexander McQueen, but McQueen has passed away for a decade now and we still haven’t seen the next one. Not that people are not creative enough, there are tons of creative people. I know way too many people with good ideas, talent, and techniques, but they are not even close to the height of Alexander McQueen. I’m not saying this can’t be your dream — you can, if you are affluent and have plenty of time. If so then just do it, but you aren’t making any money. Not to mention, Alexander McQueen himself used to go to his store and ask: “What are my best sellers?” and he just went and made more.
KC: He is truly an amazing designer. When a designer makes too many items that sells, critics would criticise the relevancy of him in the fashion industry. McQueen’s work maintain the balance so well, so brilliant.
BH: I think there must be a very supportive and talented team behind him and help him take care of the RTW collection. It’s hard to believe that he made all those amazing museum pieces and at the same time those RTW collections by himself. Creative directors don’t involve in every tiny bits of design process, a lot of the times there are more meetings than hands on activities. Like I said, a good team is crucial — your team will have to know you well to know what you need, what do you want to show, your brand identity, and know the market at the same time. The market is constantly changing. You’ve got to work really hard in the fashion industry, especially now. The fashion industry today is very sick, especially after the emergence of fast fashion. Designer brands are being pushed to a poor condition where they have to struggle to survive. Fast fashion brands copy their work resulting their real effort is not being valued and people are less willing to shop designer brands because they can always find similar style at fast fashion company. Designer brands need to reinforce their brand tonality and identity while also build attachment with customers — it’s difficult. I have seen friends around me who work really hard in order to survive in this industry. They work six days a week, from morning to evening. I’m not saying they can’t survive; I’m just saying it’s very hard to if you do not prepare yourself for this before you step into the fashion industry. Especially those who still possess the dream of making museum pieces. When you face the reality, realized your parents can no longer support your design dream financially, you’ll have to think how are you going to make money to make more garments.
10. Would you reject the idea of becoming a commercial brand?
BH: Let me put it this way, do not think in a way that’s too straight-forward. There’s always a way out. If one day I really make it big, I’ll probably not be the one designing. I’ll probably hire a group of people and do the design and I’ll do something else. It’ll probably be ten years later and you’ll never know what is the fashion industry like ten years later. They have this installation format other than the traditional runway show now and it’s getting very popular. Seldom does a designer today still use traditional runway show for new collections. They’ll probably build a showroom and an interesting installation. You never know what’s going to pop out in ten years. I’ll possibly hire people to deal with the design for the market and I’ll do something else. All I know and can be sure about is I personally will not want to do something that is boring. If there ever comes a day when I have the pressure of having to decide whether to scale my brand and become a commercial brand, that means I am doing quite alright. If I am doing quite alright that means I have the money, and if I have money on hand I will NOT do something I do not want for sure! I don’t have the money now and still hanging on to it and insist in doing what I do — why would I do something I don’t like to do when I have the money? However my partner will probably have to deal with more trouble, but as a designer you’ve got to have your own temper and personality! To be frank, nobody knows what’s gonna happen in the future. I do think there is going to be a huge revolution in the fashion industry because the way it works is getting very old. I think a huge revolution is coming.
KC: I agree. Fashion industry is coming to a turning point now. Especially now when the traditional (magazine) is losing its strength.
BH: Yeah! Perhaps in the future people just wear digital clothes. You never know.
11. What kind of difficulty does an independent designer faces? What obstacles have you encountered?
BH: The problem with money is one big obstacle. I don’t know what’s the situation like in Europe, but there are some problem in New York. If you have enough money you can do basically everything. You can see a lot of the brands getting on to the runway of NYFW. Sometimes we joke about how people can buy their way in to NYFW — things like this does exist. You can buy coverage in magazines, buy more exposure by paying celebrities to talk about it or post about it and each has its price. There are tons of PR agency that would do all these stuff for you. I have a friend who pays a PR agency 3000 dollars per month to have the company to deal with public relation, things like looking for connection and raise exposure. This is of course one way to build brands. It’s actually quite difficult without PR. I know a designer who is a CFDA awarded designer and have worked for big brands. He left the company and started his own label. His instagram account has only 500 or so followers and the products are not selling that well because he tend to keep everything low profile and he is not accustomed to do these PR things. People nowadays live in a bubble. Relevancy is the new currency. I am struggling as well. I don’t know if I should just play with the game or what. You might need several revolutionary people, but would you be that person? You’ll probably end up very tired and poor, barely making it for being the one leading revolution. The world is just not authentic, if you were to be the authentic person you’ll be exhausted and poor, would you like to be that person? I personally is facing this inner turmoil too.
KC: So just continue to walk and see.
BH: Yes. Right now I’ll try my best to do things I like to do. I’m still young so there is no need to compromise, right? If I’m in my thirties and still couldn’t support myself, that’s when I’ll probably compromise. If you could support yourself and make a living then there’s nothing to bother. If your parents don’t need too much help from you financially then just do what you do and accept all living condition you might have.
What people don’t know is that the costs for designer brand products are high because we cannot produce in large amount of batches.
12. What aspects in the fashion industry that are not so friendly towards independent designers?
BH: There is a terrible downside to independent designers — they disappear very easily
KC: They just sort of disappear from the scene after few seasons.
BH: Yes. Many perceive independent designer brands as something fresh and interesting. People like each designer for his/her own distinct character. Nevertheless a lot of independent designer could not get a grasp it. For instance if the socks of this season brings attention to the designer, so the designer continues on doing all kinds of socks the next following seasons without bringing up new element. It’s easy for everyone to stay in the safe zone — design whatever sells. Luxury brands could get by doing this because for their customers, their products never go out of style, like Burberry trench coat. As for designers, your specific design might get you popularity and massive exposure, but it won’t last forever. If you do not debut new products you’ll get forgotten by people very easily with other brands and trends coming up. This is the way fashion industry is. More often they shop independent designer brands for a sense of novelty.
Also, independent designers have a hard time finding a space to stand on in the industry. I have a friend who designed a sunglasses for a brand. It got viral on instagram, but the credit is no where to be found. They won’t mention your name let alone giving you any credit because you are merely a small designer. Despite the fact that it’s your work, they just will not support small designers. Another unfriendly aspect has something to do with the market — people are not willing to spend too much on designer products. What people don’t know is that the costs for designer brand products are very high because we cannot produce in large amount of batches. The less you order the factory to produce, the higher the cost, which reflects on the retail price. If the price is too high, people are just unwilling to buy.
KC: People would rather shop at either luxury brands or high street brands. Most of the time people tend to judge if the price is reasonable based on the name of the brand and it’s hard to understand why designer brands with little reputation could cost so much.
BH: Exactly. People would rather go shop luxury brands! Even Taobao! What’s worse is you finally have a piece that go viral and your brand is finally known by people, only to find out there are tons of counterfeit on Taobao, things like this.
13. What changes or adjustments do you wish to see in the fashion industry ?
BH: All of which I just mentioned need to change. *laughs*
First of all, the fashion industry right now is very conservative — not open to new ideas, new designers, new brands. There isn’t a wide acceptance towards new form of doing things as well. I hope it could be more open and people could have a more thorough education on culture and aesthetic. Especially in China. Stop teaching math when it’s time for art class! To be honest, it’s quite scary to not have aesthetic taste at all — it’s satisfies your mental needs after you meet your physical needs. It is crucial and I think a lot of times what you do reflects your aesthetic taste as well.
14. What do you hope people think of when think of the brand Bowen Hu?
BH: Interesting question. I hope that in the future, when people think of my brand they think of stories that are captivating, interesting, and playful. I do hope that each season there is something new — new collaboration or new element. I want people go: “Oh, this brand is very intriguing.” I want people feel like they’ve witnessed a story as each season debuts. Although it sounds very conceptual, but that’s the ideal status. On the practical side, I hope everyone would want to shop my brand when they think of my brand, buy as much as you can!
15. Will you consider incorporate sustainability into your work ?
BH: Actually I think this is not something whether you’d like to or not. Fashion industry is one of the most polluting industries. If you ask a designer about sustainability five years ago, it would be considered a pioneering question. Right now, it’s no longer a choice, but a must. You must to it. It’s just something you have to deal with rather than a choice. Our mother earth is already very screwed up. Sustainability is inevitable.
16. If you were to travel back in time to the time when you haven’t started your brand what advice would you give yourself ?
BH: Do not procrastinate! It’s not that big of an issue now to me. I used to be a huge procrastinator. I tend to look for the fastest way to complete assignments and excel exams, so I could do things faster, resulting leaving everything until the last minute. Until I realized that’s not how things done in fashion design. If you are not finishing up you are not finished. Basically I have an understanding of how long does it take for me to complete a particular task so I’d leave four days before the deadline and start doing it and stressing myself out. My partner would set up deadlines for me to speed me up. The fashion industry has become so fast. Ever since fast fashion popped out it’s one season per week! You’ll have to catch up on the speed and not procrastinate. Another thing is that when opportunities come to you but you do not have enough work on hand, you won’t be able to catch the opportunity.
17. What’s next?
The next thing on my plan is to receive visa for artists in New York because I’m Chinese. It’s actually quite hard to get a work visa in New York. My advantage is that I have exposure and awards I’ve received and what not, so I’m counting on those. I’ll continue doing what I’m doing for at lease one to two years. Our next move is to have another collaboration the next season and the season after that we’ll begin a small production and begin to move towards the market. The 100% hand-sewed piece will no longer exist. Perhaps I’ll do it during my free time, but we’ll try to look for the right balance between our aesthetic and the market. Hopefully the buyers will come to us and start production. There are few buyers who would come to us now but at the moment we don’t really know what to produce because all of them are hand-sewed. No factory is willing to produce. Every time when buyers approached us we could only say: “Sorry! We do not know what can we produce and what can we sell you at the moment.”
KC: I love the jewelry collection from your previous season! It should be easier to produce.
BH: We are considering putting the jewelry collection into production as many people have been asking about buying it.
KC: I’d like to buy as well. *laughs*
BH: Sure I’ll take a note of it.
KC: Thank you so much for making time for this interview. You inspired me a lot throughout the interview. I do think the fashion industry needs a new transformation and improvements here and there. I do think supporting and empowering independent designers like you could solve a lot of problems and inject new energy. I look forward to see more of your work in the future!
This short meeting gave me a glimpse into the not-so-glamorous world of independent designers. Despite the tremendous obstacles, independent fashion designers continues to dive into this industry out of their love for their garments.
As consumers, it is easy for us to turn to fast fashion brands or Taobao for affordable yet environmental-damaging products with similar (sometimes 100% similar) design that’s riff-off from designers’ hard work. Maybe we could stop for a moment before putting them into the shopping basket and give independent designers a chance — get to know them, their work, and maybe even support them. Trust me, the quality of designer’s product will prove this decision prudent, it speaks for itself.
I remember my first time going to Thailand — I was five, and the only memory I’ve got was parasailing (yes I was THAT in love with heights) and riding an elephant with my parents. It wasn’t until I was around 16 that I found out that elephants in Thailand were abused to entertain people, and my supposedly “happy” memory became a profound guilt within me. Since then I have been reminding myself not to support such activity anymore.
As I was choosing accomodation for my trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand on Airbnb, Chai Lai Orchid came across and the pictures featuring people waking up with elephants doing morning calls immediately got my attention. I clicked in and found that Chai Lai Orchid is actually a non-profit accomodation where rescued elephants were taken care of and all profits goes towards these elephants.
Still, I was skeptical about it — can it be possible? Elephants treated properly and not forced into cruel labor? I read through every review I could find (Airbnb, Facebook, Google) and went on the official website of Chai Lai Orchid, expected to see reviews that prove my doubt to be true, but no, most of the reviews were positive and many claim to go back once more.
I decided to give it a try and booked for one night, which turned out to be the biggest mistake I made.
I am going to be honest with you: I came prepared for the worst. I went to Nepal few years ago for a mission trip and where I lived had no A/C and no shower and I prepared myself for the same as I was going to the Chai Lai Orchid.
Turned out I was just paranoid — there was A/C and shower and the most comfortable bed ever! I was so surprised. The whole place was very natural, other than the interior of the rooms, the modern renovation was kept to the minimum everywhere else. The guests get to meet elephants on their way to the room.
In fact, I encountered an elephant on my way to breakfast the next morning. It was SURREAL. I was frozen when the elepahnt turned around and walked straight towards us because of how huge it is. I just stood there and slowly drew back. The staff who happened to pass by told me it’s very old and very gentle; it won’t harm us. I reached out and touched its nose. It’s definitely a magical moment.
What’s more exciting was the elephant morning call, where staff brings you a bag of bananas and an elephant to your room and “wakes you up”. I guess nobody could stay asleep knowing an elephant is coming because I certainly can’t! I was STOKED for this morning call.
The staff encouraged me to feed the elephants with my mouth biting the banana and I did it! It’s not the most sanitary decision I’ve made but definitely worth it.
Remember I said staying here for one night was my biggest mistake? I should have booked for two or three nights! Darn it! I promist I’ll come back again and sign up for elephant bathing. The Chai Lai Orchid experience has been absolutely marvelous. I will always recall moments such as waking up to elephants’ voices and meeting elephants on my way to breakfast. Forever grateful for this experience.