Blending traditional craftsmanship with a modern aesthetic, the intrepid start-up is setting new standards for the textile world – one handmade item at a time.
East meets West
Since its launch in January this year, YUNZO's mission has been clear: reconnect the past with the young generation in order to preserve endangered craftsmanship. At its helm is Founder JIE Zhang, a proud native of Yunnan, a province in southwestern China famed for its exquisite tie-dye material.
Yet, despite its beauty and mastery, this ancient art – dating back thousands of years – remains one of China's best-kept secrets. But YUNZO is out to spread the word. Disrupting an industry overrun by machines, the start-up is bridging the gap between old and new, bringing the Bai ethnic community's handcrafted skills to a western stage in the form of high-end clothing, jewellery, tablecloths and cushion covers, all with a chic, boho twist.
"We want to help people discover the beauty of lifestyle in southwestern China," says Zhang. "The culture in my hometown is diverse with a lot of ethnic minority groups. A lot of brilliant and ancient techniques such as tie-dye and hand embroidery have been passed down from generation to generation. But, today, these skills are in danger of extinction."
There is fear as consumers turn to disposable fashion to meet an ever-growing desire for goods on demand that a market for labour-intensive craftsmanship will inevitably cease to be. That's why Zhang set about creating a business that redefined modern lifestyle and held Chinese heritage, legitimacy and creativity at its heart – a salute to the past as a creative cue.
"Modern people like to use machines to produce and print onto clothing, but I wanted to do something different; I wanted to do something that would motivate young people to recall something from ancient times," says Zhang. "That's why I try to use modern ways to express these techniques to make the craft accessible to fashionable and creative markets."
Finding a base
After spending valuable time in the UK completing a post-graduate degree in advertising and marketing, Zhang quickly grew fond of the business hub and pinpointed London as the perfect location for her new venture.
"Making sure my new brand was headquartered in London was a big priority for me when starting out," says Zhang. "What's great about London is the sheer number of industry experts located in one city. You'll always find that exact person that you wanted to talk to not far away."
With workers in China, Thailand and Hong Kong, Zhang decided that London would be and ideal place to register her company in order to access western markets and keep a finger on the fashion and lifestyle world's pulse. In a fast-moving industry, it's essential to be in a well-connected location.
After a lot of research, the YUNZO team came across office space in the brand new China Works and, "Workspace looked perfect for us," says Zhang. "At a good price and in a great location, we loved the look of it. The location is great for us because it's close to the river, which is full of nice restaurants. And I'm also very lucky with my commute. My flat is so close to Workspace that I can just walk in – it's ideal really."
Set to grow
Looking to the future, Zhang's plans are grand. Like every start-up, "We still have a lot of challenges to face as we grow," says Zhang. "But I predict business will grow greatly in the next few years."
"I'm very happy our headquarters are in London where the competition is thirsty. But we are looking for a set of basements in Shanghai, China. We do most of the production in China and we really need to set up a secondary base there to make sure that everything is on track," she says.
With sights set high and a growing appetite for alternative, fresh brands amongst western consumers, Zhang's dream of keeping a world of intangible cultural heritage alive is steadily becoming a reality. The textile world is waking up to the beauty of ancient craftsmanship.
Read more about ethical fashion and the brands doing the right thing in the next issue of homeWORK magazine. Trust, transparency and brand purpose are the key themes underpinning this issue, which celebrates the best and brightest from London's business scene. From discovering why we live in an era of distrust to tackling food waste, homeWORK will inform, challenge and inspire you.
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