Angel Chang

Sun, plants and mountain water: these are the only requisite ingredients for Angel Chang, the eponymously named sustainable women’s wear brand that amalgamates ancient craftsmanship techniques with comfortable, contemporary style.

Chang, an impressive academic, textiles expert and Indiana native, launched her spring 2020 collection with 16 styles, inclusive of jackets, shirts, pants and dresses, each available in four colorways. The collection is made from organic cotton, grown from native non-GMO seeds, all natural, chemical-free and limited-edition — but its major point of differentiation is that it is entirely handmade, from “seed to button.” The collection is available at Voz Sanctuary in New York’s Soho, and soon, directly through her web site.

Ironically, Chang’s line is made in southwestern China, but in Guizhou province, a bucolic and viridescent region surrounded by misty mountain tops. She works with Miao and Dong ethnic minority artisans in the area that have mastered the art of natural, organic traditional processes that have no need for chemicals, electricity or fossil fuels to create intricate handwoven fabrics. The fabrics are made by employing ancient techniques, such as organic farming, native plant dyes, hand-spinning, hand-weaving, hand-sewing and embroideries, passed on from a heritage dating back 2,000 years, and are 100 percent made by women.

Chang’s process for “manufacturing” — if one can call it that — takes a minimum of six months, from growing the cotton to the final sewing of the garment. The clothes are soft, delicate and breezy: Think of shirtdresses, loose pants, oversize dresses and smart shirt and pant combinations with no metal pieces for zippers or buttons, which are instead stylishly handmade with yarn. The colors range from crisp white to a denim blue made from Indigo-dyed cotton, to buoyant yellow. Chang said her skin loves the clothes, and she detects a difference in its feeling and appearance when she wears other fabrics or synthetics. “The fabric feels like nature resting quietly on the skin,” the brand noted.

Angel Chang

A look from Angel Chang’s collection. Photograph by Boe Marion 

And while Chang’s methods for creation are uncommon, they are hardly new. Chang reminds us that historically, apparel was always rooted in sustainability: “It is the same way humans around the world made clothing until 200 years ago, before the Industrial Revolution and invention of chemical dyes and synthetic fabrics,” she noted.

So it follows that the dyeing is wholly sustainable, too, and Chang goes directly into the mountains to scout suitable indigenous ingredients — such as Indigo or medicinal plant dyes — for the process. Interestingly, Chang’s own ancestral roots trace back to 14 generations of Chinese herbalists. “Everything required to make the clothing is grown and sewn locally within a 30-mile radius, including the wild plants we forage in the mountains for dyeing the fabrics. We grow the native cotton seed, hand-spin the fiber into yarn, hand-weave it into fabric, hand-sew it into clothing, and even make the buttons and button holes by hand.”

The clothes are made by following the cycles of nature and ancient technology, Chang said, which is a seemingly simplified and logical approach to creating sustainable apparel. To learn more about how apparel should be made in the future, Chang looked at the past. “By working with grandmothers and strictly following their traditional techniques, we discovered that we did not use any electricity, chemicals, or fossil fuels to make our collection. Clothing has historically been made in an environmentally sustainable way, but we have lost this knowledge over time. I believe reviving these indigenous practices can help us return to healthier ways of making clothing for both people and the planet.”

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