Picture this: you’re sifting through a rack of sweaters at the mall or vintage store, looking for a cozy gem to add to your closet. A thick hunter green cardigan catches your eye, and you check the tag: 75% Wool 24% Cotton, Made in China. Do you snatch it up or leave it on the rack?
The idea that something from China is of poor quality or was produced by underpaid workers is a stigma that Phillip Lim, a high fashion designer is trying to end. T-shirts from Lim’s eponymous brand, 3.1 Phillip Lim, sell upwards of $200.
Lim is from a Chinese family, though born in Taiwan and brought up in America, and his business partner, Wen Zhou, is from eastern China. The pair knows that Chinese sewn clothing can be and often is of same calibre as its international peers, but it’s rarely recognized as such by the market, the media or the masses.
“It’s going to take a long time [for this to change]. People still see [China] as a place that’s fast and huge and a black hole,” Lim said during Business of Fashion‘s (BoF) first China Summit during Shanghai Fashion Week. “Our Chinese-based factories are so used to clients who just want cheap, fast and large quantities.”
For Lim, it’s about educating the workers in his atelier in China, encouraging them to hand sew garments as they once did, rather than going for the quick and dirty way, and mass producing something with a machine. “For us being ‘Made in China’ was a privileged thing – our products were being made by the most skillful, talented people,” said Lim.
“As I get older and older I feel more connected [to China] … Wen and I are children of immigrants, first-generation Chinese immigrants,” Lim said.
Lim and Zhou are clearly proud of their heritage and it shows in each of their garments. Next time you find yourself checking tags, don’t glaze over the ‘Made in China’ text, and instead consider how it was made there.