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Looking in the first lady's mirror

Updated: 2013-04-03 05:32
By Chen Jie ( China Daily)

She was tired of creating trendy collections every season and describes the process as being an actor creating an illusion.

"I prefer to make clothes for real life," she says.


Exclusive interview with Ma Ke
Designs by Ma Ke

Following her heart, Ma began her new life in 2006. She left Guangzhou, retaining the title of artistic consultant at Exception, and established the new label, Wu Yong (means "useless"), a charity and eco-fashion workshop promoting heritage craftsmanship in Zhuhai, Guangdong province.

Explaining the brand name she says her label turns what some people term "useless" into fashion. "We live in a time of people overusing resources. We don't need so many clothes or furniture. It's not necessary to change our wardrobe every season," Ma says.

She found a private garden that used to belong to Tang Shaoyi (1862-1938), the first premier of the Republic of China, to base her workshop. She then recruited some 20 craftsmen to spin silk, weave and dye the cloth, on machines used a century ago.

In a world where consuming fast fashion is the trend, a craftsman in Ma's workshop takes three months to make a quilt.

"It's my field and I want all the crops in it to grow slowly and naturally," she says. "I want to inspire people to live a simple life and have a free spirit."

She says that in Exception's first small office there were always a lot of fashion magazines, but in the Wu Yong workshop, there aren't any. She claims not to have gone shopping for seven years.

While Exception has boutiques in most cities, competing with international luxury labels, Wu Yong has just one workshop and only a few close friends like Peng are able to wear her clothes. Ma says before 35, she learned the language of design, but since then she has focused on expressing herself through Wu Yong.

In February 2007, she became the first Chinese designer to present a show at Paris Fashion Week. The Wu Yong show created a stir because the audience walked around the seated models dressed in earth-colored robes, rather than strutting around on the stage.

Since then she has appeared to be more like a contemporary artist, providing exhibitions of her work in Shenzhen, Venice and London.

Ma adds her first role model was Jane Goodall. At 8, she read all about her work with chimpanzees in Tanzania and wanted to devote herself to animal welfare issues, which likely explains the presence of eight dogs at her Wu Yong workshop.

"Living with animals makes me aware of the importance of the balance between nature and humanity. It's the basis of my creativity now," she says.

"Professor Peng shares the same values. She devotes herself to environmental protection and welfare issues. Our common goal is to raise people's awareness and to treasure the Earth and make the sky clear, water clean and life better."

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(China Daily 04/03/2013 page18)

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