An interview with Chen Mengli

An interview with Chen Mengli, freelance entrepreneur who is currently designing creative and innovative clothing for the Li and Miao ethnic groups in Hainan. Wuzhishan where Chen Mengli is originally from is the only place on Hainan island having an ethnic minority. Her fashion show graced the ceremony of Wuzhishan Adventure Challenge, transmitted on Chinese TV.

The design of your clothes is very unique. What kind of fashion are you interested in and inspired by the most?

I’m most interested in ethnic and national fashion.

Are Chinese people also interested in it?

I think they are, just as I am. Chinese traditional culture is continuously developing and innovating, which attracts a lot of people.

What would you say is the biggest inspiration for your design?

The biggest inspiration comes from life and the world around me.

Watching your fashion shows, it is really easy to notice many traditional references. How are your projects related to the culture and history of Wuzhishan?

The clothing I am currently designing are an improvement of our traditional Li nationality clothing. It is a modern version of ethnic fashion, which is in line with today’s ethnic group character, as well as the general public. It is closely related to the Wuzhishan ethnic group in terms of culture and design.

What are the characteristics of Wuzhishan minority? What traditions do they have? What clothes do they wear?

Wuzhishan has two major ethnic groups – one is the Miao and the other is the Li. The Miao nationality uses mostly batik technology, Miao embroidery technology whereas the Li nationality uses spinning, dyeing, weaving and embroidery technology. The former ethnic groups were all wearing traditional national costumes. Today in the new era, national

costumes are gradually becoming a Chinese symbol and are worn only during special occasions as holidays or weddings.

What inspires you the most in traditional clothing?

It is a huge source of inspiration. Over the years people would wear traditional clothing only for special occasions or activities, but I wonder if our Li’s ethnic clothing can be designed into national fashion clothing that can be worn everyday, for every kind of occasions.

So how is design related to tradition?

Inheriting traditions and designing innovations in different customs will give the nation and its culture longevity and power.

I also want to ask you about your beginnings in design world. How did you start your career?

When I graduated from the Zhejiang Textile and Garment Vocational and Technical College in 2014, I returned to Qiong, my hometown to get involved in the fashion industry.

And which experience in your opinion taught you the most about fashion design?

Learning the design of national cultural costumes at the local Brocade Research Institute in Wuzhishan.

So according to all of those experiences, do you think it is hard to work in the fashion industry in China?

Yes, you can say that it is hard work. While working in the fashion industry, we must also promote the Chinese heritage so that more people can understand our nation as well as our culture.

Are Chinese people interested in national fashion?

To be honest, I cannot personally represent all Chinese, but in my opinion most people are interested.

What is most important to you when you design clothes?

The most important thing for me in the design of clothing inspired by ethnicity is to inherit the national culture in a new and innovative way.

And what does good design mean for you?

For me good design means creating possibilities to grow and develop, the chance to work on larger scale.

And for now, where can we find clothes designed by you?

Currently I am selling custom-made clothes on Taobao, WeChat and Douyin. Offline you can find them in my private studio store.

Would you like to sell your clothes also abroad?

Of course, I really hope to sell clothes abroad. I would like national and ethnic costumes to go outside of Hainan, go abroad, go out to the world so more people would have an opportunity to see them.

Wywiad przeprowadzony na zlecenie, autor: Maria Prusakowska, Hainan, Chiny, 2019