China / Society

Chinese fashion mogul's culture mission

By Zhao Siyuan ( Updated: 2015-06-07 21:29

More than 30 years after Edward Said laid the foundations of post colonialism with his shock thesis of Orientalism, a female Chinese entrepreneur is seeking justice for the East.

Said, a Palestinian American intellectual may have answered the question of why by elaborating the West's patronizing and partial perception of the East in his 1978-published book on Orientalism, but stopped short of addressing the more intimidating "how to cope with it".

Echoing the issue left by Said, which also applies to Chinese culture struggling from misrepresentation in the West, Xia Hua, founder of men's apparel powerhouse Eve Group, said things might start to change with needlework hidden in remote countryside which she hopes will one day grace the world.

Xia said she spent six years trying to find a successful business model while preserving and promoting craftsmanship in mountainous areas of Southwest China's Guizhou province.

"A cultural cause can only be achieved with a functioning business model," said Xia, who in the past 20 years turned a startup into a high-end brand dressing China's business elites such as Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Lenovo leader Liu Chuanzhi.

As part of the fashion magnet's long-term pursuit to eventually challenge the West's cultural dominance, Xia said she has been bringing designers of different nationalities to mountain-enclosed villages to work with local craftswomen in centers funded by the company and its business partners.

Xia said 100 centers could spring up within a couple of years in Southeast China's Yunnan, Guizhou and Tibet, serving as workshops and exhibition areas.

"They don't speak Mandarin. They can't write their own names, but what they do is just amazing," Xia said.

She recounted how a woman was sewing 100 butterflies, each differently to one another in a display of exquisite crafts and Xia is counting on this ability to challenge Western cultural dominance, which, according to the business leader, has been eluding Chinese fashion brands from the global recognition afforded to foreign peers such as Chanel and Louis Vitton.

Hailed as a pioneer in China's luxury menswear industry, Xia is known for her bold and ambitious persona, an image intensified after appearing in the 2013 season of reality show Win In China, where entrepreneurs competed for investments.

"The media defined me as a revolutionary figure in the men's fashion scene," said Xia, referring to the company's introduction of a men's collection featuring bright colors 20 years ago in a rebellion to then prevailing dark tone, giving both financial and reputational boost to the fledging startup.

Speaking of her new project of promoting Chinese craftsmanship, Xia carried the same confidence, showing firm belief that the company's 20-year expertise will help designers encompass Chinese elements in a way Westerners understand.

Frequenting runways at Milan, London and Paris fashion weeks, Eve has been an old hand in showcasing Chinese culture-inspired designs abroad, which, according to Xia only represents fragments of the actual China that a designer must see, listen to, and feel by really living there to avoid creating a fantasy "through a looking glass".

She took foreign designers to the mountains in rural China where they found themselves flabbergasted after meeting local embroiderers.

"At first they (designers) were reluctant to go there, but after they spent some time with those craftswomen they would rather stay there than come back," she said.

Cautious about the big picture of the domestic fashion industry, Xia admitted that Chinese brands have long been looking to their Western counterparts as role models. But, she confidently predicted: "A Chinese apparel brand will rise to lead the world in the next decade ".

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