Susan Fang looks pleased. Unsurprisingly – we meet the day after her London Fashion Week debut. “This feels like a dream,” she gushes as she orders coffee. “I didn’t even believe it had happened until I saw the footage afterward.”
Her show was, by all accounts, a highlight of the program. The set (which she herself directed) was staged at a 1930s leisure center in Soho and featured giant custom inflatables, what she calls her “peace bubbles,” in signature marble prints floating atop the indoor pool. Lifeguards patrolled in logo T-shirts to ensure guests were safe as they navigated the perimeter to find their seats. It provided the perfect setting to see models in mesh dresses that were so light they bounced and rippled like water.
In the capable hands of Fang, fabrics do new things. Through the simple acts of tacking, weaving or beading, she creates movement and volume on the catwalk. She gives these techniques names like ‘air flowers’ and ‘nuance silk’. Beyond such aesthetic concerns lies a committed business strategy. In our conversation she regularly darts between the passion of an artist and the realpolitik of an entrepreneur.
Her career-defining bubble bag is thus contextualized within a change in material circumstances. “In China, everyone uses WeChat payments, so this means they have to carry less in their handbags and use them more like jewelry.” This astute observation resulted in the production of a childlike accessory now synonymous with her label, and helped her land a list of merchants, which once included London’s Browns and Selfridges.
Of course, this isn’t her first rodeo in town. When, in her words, “the world was a different place” (ie four years ago), she was featured on Fashion Scout’s One to Watch platform. Fang, a graduate of Central Saint Martins, was eager to return to London as soon as COVID-19 allowed it and has been here since July in preparation for the event. This concerned waking up to the grueling 3am time to catch up on the mainland – and most importantly, her mother.
It is Fang senior who does everything from managing the production to making the marbled prints on water. “I feel like I’m reliving my childhood,” she laughs as I imagine her painting on water and handmade beaded accessories. If it sounds like two, well, that’s because it is. But what’s so special about Susan is the wide-eyed authenticity she brings to her craft. Where else would you see, let alone hear, a giant plastic ball called a “peace bubble full of good wishes”?
According to influencer platform lefty, her quirky bouncy castles delivered results. Bolstered by the support of influencers and KOLs, the London outing took her to a top 10 brand ranking on Weibo with an EMV of $145,000 (1.2 million RMB). Chinese influencer Youjin Cui, who was on the show, explained that despite Fang’s early days in the industry, expectations for this season were pretty high. “After a few showcases at Shanghai Fashion Week and the collaboration with Zara, Susan now has a big name in the Chinese fashion industry.”
Expectations have been fueled by these collaborations, which were key to her (and many of her contemporaries’) successes and contributed to the commercialization of her zero-waste brand (“they pay very well,” she reveals). These come from local, such as with the Chinese fashion label bird of peace and phone brand Oppo to Fujifilm. Crocs sponsored her runway shoes and she has more in store too, including Uggs; more are currently under discussion, including one with a fancy name.
But talking to Fang makes it feel like her whimsical designs are a distraction from her personal fears — everything from loss to the post-pandemic environment to an impending world war. In fact, despite her positivity, her recognition makes her a pessimist. “Because I’ve moved so much, I’m constantly afraid to say goodbye to people, but all this time it was my mother who supported me. For me, that power is the light.” (Her collection is called Air Light.)
Since Fang has moved so much, she is well aware that she is an outsider. But it is precisely this kaleidoscope of cultures and ideas that allows her, as influencer and creative director of Møy Atelier Betty Bachz says, “to be such a breath of fresh air as a designer.”
So Fang is resolutely optimistic after the show and is confident about reviving her inventory list, some of which fell through the pandemic era due to complications from COVID-19 or the “difficulties fulfilling orders via Zoom”. More importantly, she’s confident she’s doing this on her own terms.
“For me it’s not about selling or being commercial, it’s longer. I want to build a business step by step. Perfume, even furniture. My mother says, Susan, do nice things.” And for now, it sure looks like she’s doing just that.