LONDON — It hasn’t been easy for Shie Lyu to find its footing after relocating amid the pandemic from New York to China without knowing anyone in the local industry, yet she delivered a refreshing debut during Shanghai Fashion Week, which ended on Sunday.
Lyu was born in Chongqing, and studied in Australia, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. Her spring 2021 collection features beautifully beaded flapper-dress-like body accessories made of flawed industrial materials such as resin and Perspex she acquired cheaply from Chinese factories; leftovers from previous projects, some given by brands like Swarovski, and unwanted rubber tubes she took from Parsons School of Design that had been sitting in the corner of the studio for years.
Lyu said her zero-waste approach to design is not aiming to create a 100 percent sustainable brand, but was a pragmatic and resourceful way to simply get the collection done amid lockdown. She spent days and nights doing beading and embroidery work and found serenity while doing it.
“It’s like a meditation. Making stuff made me feel calm. I didn’t sketch or plan for this collection at the beginning. I just let them grow. I didn’t know how they were going to look. The whole process was very organic,” she said.
It wasn’t until May, when the pandemic subsided in China, that she managed to order new fabrics and printed research images of light traveling through translucent materials that she took during the collection’s development. She also added a series of more wearable pieces for the showroom.
Pooky Lee, a Shanghai-based fashion curator, said Lyu stood out from her counterparts during Shanghai Fashion Week because “the designer considers fashion in a much broader social context, and creates pieces that marry both exquisite textures and unconventional materials.”
From early on, Lyu developed an interest in playing with nontraditional materials. When she was completing her first master’s degree in fashion management at Japan’s Bunka Fashion Graduate University, she grew biomaterial out of glycerin and algae and used 3-D tokens from 100-Yen shops to make clothes.
The designer said her approach to fashion is different from others because she didn’t go down the traditional route. In fact, she was the only M.A. graduate at Parsons in 2018 who did not have a bachelor’s degree in fashion design.
Lyu studied finance in Australia, and during her time in Japan she interned at fashion label DressedUndressed and took night courses in pattern making, knitting and embroidery at ESMOD Toyko. She then moved to London for a portfolio preparation short course and attended couture technique workshops to advance herself.
“Now you show me any embroidery or beading work, I probably can tell you how exactly it’s made and what it is made of,” Lyu said.
Due to the nature of her design, her showpieces are not for sale. “I want them to be the signature of my brand. I don’t think my brand will ever be 100 percent sustainable, but what I can do is to share and communicate the idea of upcycling with my works — turning trash into treasure. That’s a challenge, I cannot make money from them. The revenue will be coming from commercial pieces,” she said.
Since graduation, Lyu has been shortlisted for International Talent Support and the H&M Design Award for her graduation collection and won Ones to Watch sponsorship from London’s Fashion Scout.
Now with her well-received Shanghai debut, Lyu said it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for her to meet local heavyweights in person and to attend dinners and events to introduce herself to the energetic Shanghai fashion scene.
“I feel so excited. I am new to Shanghai. I thought people are going to treat me differently but everyone I met has been super nice and many of them offer great advice on how I should develop my brand. I have decided to move my studio from Chongqing to Shanghai next year, and continue to experiment with more interesting materials with my upcycling approach,” she said.