New York based brand ANNA.Z. is breaking fashion norms and blurring gender binaries. Created last year by designer Anna Zhang, ANNA.Z. is a brand that brings together the beauty of bespoke customization with innovative fashion techniques in knitwear and textiles. The brand’s designs tackle what is “normal” and assumed when thinking of traditional genders and who is “meant” to wear certain clothing.
Schön! speaks with designer Anna Zhang about the brand’s commitment to ensuring inclusivity, how her childhood upbringing inspired her career, and more.
Can you share with us some highlights from your background as a child? When did you first become interested in fashion design, and how did your childhood influence your journey to where you are now?
Born into a warm family in Huizhou, China, my upbringing and hometown have always been powerful sources of inspiration for me. The architectural style of Huizhou, known for its pristine white walls and unique roof shapes, was my initial introduction to art. While not as illustrious as the famous Chinese Forbidden City, it exuded a real, clean, simple, and strong beauty that continues to resonate with me to this day.
The fusion of embroidery and knitwear in your fashion design practice is distinctive. How do you see the connection between these two fabrics and the human body in your creative process? Could you walk us through your design process a little?
The combination of embroidery and knitwear draws inspiration from the traditional production of water-soluble lace. While I’ve always been fond of lace materials, I sometimes found them lacking in mood. Consequently, I set out to create my water-soluble lace that not only exhibits delicacy but also conveys my emotions and memories.
The creative process is incredibly exciting for me. I extract sketches from old family photos and translate them into embroidery patterns, which I then meticulously embroider onto the self-designed lace. As a result, ANNA.Z’s water-soluble lace resembles a photographic memory of my family.
When it comes to creating new garments, what are some ways you explore innovative fabrics?
In my daily life, I pay close attention to different materials and always delight in discovering their potential. For instance, in my last collection, I extensively used water-soluble fabric, typically used as an accessory fabric for embroidery production. However, I recognized its potential and experimented by printing on this material and fusing it with knitwear, ultimately yielding the unique “Burning” textile.
Sustainability plays a significant role in many design processes today. How does sustainability factor into your design process? How do you believe fashion design and sustainability can intelligently coexist?
In terms of sustainability, my current focus lies in fully fashioned knit pieces, which eliminate the need for cutting and sewing, thereby minimizing waste materials.
To define a “long-lasting” garment in the context of environmental responsibility, it must first possess a unique style that transcends trends, ensuring its enduring fashionability. Additionally, it should embody wearability and practicality, providing comfort and ease to the wearer while retaining the ability to be worn for a decade.
In your opinion, can fashion schools provide upcoming designers with more tools in terms of business and marketing? What challenges did you face after graduating?
Fashion schools can certainly offer some assistance in terms of business and marketing, but their scope is limited. While some fashion career courses bring in industry experts to share their experiences and advice, fully understanding the workings of the fashion business often requires practical experience within the industry.
One of the biggest challenges I faced after graduating was grasping the realities of the industry. Commercial designers’ focus differs greatly from the emphasis in school, where we often prioritize the most avant-garde ideas and coolest silhouettes. In contrast, companies prioritize wearable styles that bring the most value to their business. As individual designers, we must preserve our precious creativity from school while immersing ourselves in the industry and learning how commercial business truly operates.
How have your experiences in the fashion industry changed your perspectives?
Through my experiences in the fashion industry, I’ve come to recognize that fashion is a language used to communicate between designers and customers, rather than a one-way expression confined to the designer’s world.
Could you share with us the last place that truly fascinated you?
North Europe is my favourite place in the world. I adore its environment and aesthetic, which bring me a sense of inner peace and energy. Living there, I feel completely at ease, far removed from contemporary society. The mood of North European countries aligns perfectly with my fashion language.
Can you tell us about one of the most interesting plans for ANNA Z?
Instead of solely presenting fashion collections on future runways, I’m devoting more time to exploring different art forms that allow me to develop a stronger personal visual language and showcase them in future exhibitions. This includes creating animation films, 3D-printed sculptures, textile installations, and other visual experiments. I find great meaning in sharing these explorations with my customers, and it brings me joy to witness their impressed reactions. At this stage, this direction holds more significance for me.