In a year when uncertainty seemed to hang over the fashion industry, emerging designers have been a bright spot – offering new perspectives, optimistic designs and openness with consumers.
At its core, emerging fashion brand ORAZ is all about embracing emotion and the belief that the right clothes have the power to protect and offer security to women. Empowering an audience through a shared message is key. Anna Yinan Zhou, ORAZ founder and creative director and recent graduate of the Academy of Art University, San Francisco, launched her brand in hopes that everyone who wears her designs feels confident, strong and positive about themselves, drawing inspiration from events in her own life.
Zhou’s avant-garde aesthetic comes from an early classical fine-art background paired with a design philosophy for combining sensuality and her own chic functionality, resulting in sensual vitality through a wide range of materials in an unorthodox, sophisticated way. With strong values in sustainability and maintaining a mission for long lasting fashion, ORAZ continues to practice hand crafted, couture techniques for pieces that will stand the test of time and touch multiple generations.
Here, Zhou talks to Fairchild Media Group about her unique design process, launching in COVID, the Chinese market and the future of ORAZ.
Fairchild Media Group: Your first two collections, “Unbreathable” and “Romance” carried very personal and significant inspirations – can you speak to how you have used your designs to share a message of empowerment with your audience?
Anna Yinan Zhou: During my creative process, I try to portray the emotion and message from the original concept to my audience in my design. This probably sounds a bit abstract. For example, in the “Unbreathable” collection the whole collection turned out in black so that details represent a choking, uncomfortable feeling while still portraying breathtaking beauty. It is instantly powerful.
I chose to share this unfortunate story to connect with the audience and use the beauty and power to show them that this can be overcome and how incredible every bad thing can be transformed to be.
FMG: Would you elaborate on how you have found empowerment to be a key component in your designs for ORAZ?
A.Y.Z.: Fashion design has been a powerful source of empowerment for me, which I hope to share with an audience. It has now been 20 years since I started studying fine-art and seven years since I started studying fashion and I have found design to be my best voice to communicate with other people. My work has been recognized and touched by more and more people. I have been so happy to hear others’ stories and receive feedback from my audience.
I have been able to feel brave in communicating through my designs and a means of encouragement. I believe that by sharing my story I will be able to connect and inspire more people who initially thought they couldn’t overcome their own fears.
FMG: What message do you hope to share with those who wear your designs?
A.Y.Z.: I hope women who wear ORAZ feel strong. In the same way that makeup can make someone feel elevated in their beauty, fashion can help the wearer recognize how stunning they are both inside and out. In a greater sense, my goal is for my designs to be like a shield, protecting the wearer when they face obstacles in the world.
I want my audience not to feel alone, because there are many people who, like me, have come from a troubled past. I hope my audience feels good about themselves when wearing my designs and that it helps them recognize and believe in themselves as the perfect individuals that I know them to be.
FMG: How has your early background and exposure to fine-art influenced your aesthetic?
A.Y.Z.: Fine art has allowed me to create bravely, though where fine art has influenced me the most is that I design everything as a piece of artwork. In my early studies, “bold” is a word that I received the most in feedback and I believe it demonstrates my creative process and style.
Impressionism and abstractionism inspired me the most in my early studies, also helped to establish my creative DNA and personal style.
FMG: From your perspective, who is the ORAZ consumer?
A.Y.Z.: The ORAZ consumer is someone who loves and appreciates fashion. They clearly understand what they want and dress in their own way – they don’t care to argue and are always independent. They have had life experiences and are passionate about their careers. They are a person who loves themselves, or aspires to, and they understand how to love others.
FMG: How have you been able to overcome the disruptions of the pandemic within the industry during the launch of your brand?
A.Y.Z.: The year 2020 hasn’t been a great time for business, and yet, ORAZ still launched in March 2020 out of New York.
When the lockdown order suddenly came into effect and the factories closed, I felt like nobody believed that I would keep this business going. But even though the pandemic situation wasn’t clear, my partner and I never hesitated when starting our first collection. I made the decision to move back to California where I have more contacts and we had a team built in less in a month. Still, fashion is an industry in which it is difficult to work remotely, and so I would say that I was the designer, pattern maker, cutter and sewer when we faced staff shortages.
Like everyone else, we never thought that this pandemic would last so long, and we worried that the buying market would be never as powerful as before, but rather than being passive, I’ve focused on creating editorial pieces instead of wasting my energy on sales. By doing so, the pandemic became the perfect time for me to build up my work.
In the pandemic, my team has had a great time concentrating all of our energy in the creative processes and we have delivered two seasonal collections in less than nine months. Even though it wasn’t easy work, I believe a consistent workload is the best way for a designer to overcome challenges.
FMG: What do you see for the future of ORAZ?
A.Y.Z.: ORAZ will always follow a path of artistic design and provide the best quality product to our clients. While we recognize that the fast fashion business model has made clothing more affordable and accessible to everyone, it is heartbreaking to see the negative impact caused by it. For example, fast fashion clothes made with low quality are hard to reuse and recycle, and tons of it is discarded everyday with many of fast fashion manufactures and materials highly polluting our environment.
Sustainability is something we always have top of mind at ORAZ. Our sustainability philosophy is to create only pieces with high-end, lasting quality. And as we share this philosophy with our audience, we hope that they also maintain sustainable lifestyles. Our clothes are designed and produced as pieces of artwork using many characteristics of couture and importantly, are made to last. I hope that our clients will pass down these pieces to the next generation to be continuously worn over and over again.
As ORAZ grows I also plan to focus more on Chinese markets. As a designer who grew up in China, I have always wanted to contribute more to the Chinese fashion industry. The fashion industry in China is still not as mature as the one in the Western world. I hope to change the stereotype image of Chinese fashion by sharing our creativity.