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A splash of colors within the hutong

By Tiffany Tan | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-17 07:11

Ensconced in a courtyard along a winding hutong in northern Beijing is a shop offering clothes by some of the West's most exciting designers. There's a black laser-cut leather jacket by Gareth Pugh, a black-and-pink pleated cocktail dress by Veronique Branquinho and printed silk pajama pants by Jeremy Scott.

The latest additions at S.T.A.R.S., which opened for business in October, are pieces from the brother-and-sister design team Juma. The unisex collection includes dresses, pants, T-shirts, scarves and bags.

The label, launched in Toronto 10 years ago, has already appeared at New York Fashion Week and has been seen on Hollywood celebrities Nicki Minaj, Rachel McAdams and Solange Knowles.

The American label's character - seen in graphic digital prints, bold colors and flowy fabrics in asymmetrical cuts - reflects the Jumas' multicultural upbringing because of their parents' multinational jobs.

Jamil (born in Canada) and his sister Alia (born in the United States) spent part of their childhood in the Congo, Kenya and Kazakhstan, where they were exposed to various indigenous arts and crafts, the outdoors and local wildlife.

The brother and sister's travels to places like India, Pakistan, Thailand and China also influence their work. Their last two collections were partly inspired by Beijing's hutong neighborhoods, the pandas at Chengdu's animal reserve and the embroidered tapestries of Sichuan province.

"When we take something from a different culture, an indigenous culture, we always put our own twist on it, and we make it more contemporary," says 35-year-old Jamil.

In addition to creating a Chinese version of their online shop and starting a Chinese micro blog account, the New York-based designers think putting up temporary stores in China will help them better understand local consumers before they invest in brick-and-mortar shops here.

"China is pretty diverse - different dialects, different kinds of food," says Alia, 32. "We figured, our collection is also very diverse. It would be suitable for this kind of country."

Juma's pop-up shops in Beijing, Shanghai and Dalian will be available just for the summer, but S.T.A.R.S. will continue to carry some of its pieces.

So far, Juma's edgy designs have already attracted the interest of Chinese customers, who have managed to navigate through a maze of hutong to discover the new kid on the block.

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