Author: Helayna Raffaele
Sustainable fashion is often spoken of with an iron fist. Of course, we must change the way the industry operates, focusing on the longevity of garments over fleeting trends — but that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun while doing so.
Qingzi Gao’s SS21 collection is where sustainability and playful artistry align. The collection is representative of the Chinese toys and commodity markets Gao grew up adoring. Vibrant colours allude to storefronts and fashionable doll’s clothes, while embellishments resemble toys themselves. When all put together, the garments become a recreation of Gao’s childhood “toy fantasy.”
While designing her collection, Gao wanted to use sustainable garments to redefine what it means
for a product to be “Made In China.” The connotation to this phrase is often negative, assuming poor quality and over-production, but poses an important question: what defines a luxurious product? For Gao, the answer is longevity. She often uses recycled materials like plastics and acrylics you’d often find in toys, but elevates them into long lasting garments. Gao succeeds in reversing the narratives of mass production, quite literally turning one person’s trash into another’s treasure. To elevate these materials, the designer took to studying toy engineering. Understanding how acrylics and plastics are maneuvered into toys allowed Gao the same understanding for manipulating her textiles. The acrylic embellishments found along the garments — often in the form of butterflies or flowers — are created with a laser-cutting technique. These accentuate the doll-like aesthetic Gao strives for, turning her “toy fantasy” into a reality.
All good garments, in my opinion, tell a story. The process of mass production is unarguably at the core of this collection’s story, but there’s more. From Gao’s brand website, each outfit of her SS21 collection is assigned a “character.” The virtual characters emanate a newly boxed toy, with their own custom wardrobes and personalized names. Scrolling through this page made me feel as though I was walking through the toy aisles of Walmart like I did as a kid. Gao and I certainly had different childhoods, but this shared moment made me think: in the same way that children create stories with toys, people of all ages create stories with their clothing. Regardless of your perspective of fashion, your clothing will always have the power to convey a story. Even a simple university sweater paired with some oversized sweats practically screams stories of sleepless nights and endless studying. In connection to Gao’s collection, her playful combination of dolls and garments highlight the joy in getting dressed: creating your own story. For Gao, her clothing rewrites the narrative of the Made In China label — but perhaps for you, it is something else.
As emphasized by Gao, sustainability shouldn’t be a chore. Rather, it should be revered for the creative opportunities it presents. Viewing clothing as a vehicle for playful storytelling is just one of many ways to diversify sustainable fashion. What exactly that story says is up to you; imagine these outfits as your toys with your own universe and story to create. Perhaps this is what Gao intended, to invite us to be our creative childhood-selves once more.
Doll: “Bear Princess” featuring Outfit 3
Doll: “Stargirl” featuring Outfit 6