If there is one thing someone can learn from the last few years, it is that at any given time, one can face unprecedented challenges, such as the pandemic, that require a recalibration of our plans. Academy of Art University 2021 MFA Fashion Design Aluma Ziyi Yin has found the silver lining in this experience. The detour allowed her to develop a more concrete vision for her brand ZHIRóU, launching online later this month, proving that obstacles are enrichment opportunities. These circumstances also ultimately informed the meaning of her brand.
Yin explains the meaning behind her brand’s name by stating, “Zhirou in mandarin represents that the plants grow up soft and strong- for me, it means no limitations.” She would later add that while the word comes from her Eastern roots, it also recalls the “English word ‘zero’.” Tying together these ideas, Yin sees this name as representing determination. Yin concludes, “It conveys (strength)…to me like I can start with nothing, with zero, but if I never give up, there is no limit to what I can achieve.” For her brand, she creates minimalistic unisex designs regarding cut and shape. They are also utilitarian. However, they are articulated in pastels and feature an occasional bolder hue. Some garments even feature sequins or printed linings. Overall, her unique take on minimalism arose from her ability to make the best of unforeseen circumstances and will provide a strong foundation for future collections.
Just ahead of the launch of Zhirou’s premiere collection, Yin discusses her career thus far, inspiration points, approach to design, and more.
What are your educational and professional experiences thus far?
In my senior year in undergraduate school, I created the blog “The Devil’s Shopping Notes” on the WeChat platform and wrote articles about fashion styling, designers, and history. Simultaneously, I worked in a private luxury buyer shop. I started to build my fashion style through this experience and interned at Harper’s BAZAAR China and IF FASHION. During my undergraduate studies in China, I worked in many different sectors of the fashion industry in a variety of positions as well. I worked at a fashion magazine, as a designer’s assistant, as well as a buyer, and content creator for a brand’s social media platforms.
When I came to the Academy of Art University to study. In 2018, I attended the school’s annual Fashion Week show, and my work appeared in 180, the university’s fashion magazine. In 2020, I participated in the CFDA Geoffrey Beene Scholarship Competition on behalf of the school. When I moved to San Francisco, I continued expanding my knowledge of the fashion industry by working part-time for eight months as a fashion assistant at a wedding brand Zinare Bride. During that time, I also worked full-time as a contemporary stylist at Saks Fifth Avenue.
What is your brand’s mission?
My brand’s mission is to show that beauty can go beyond gender and focus on personalities and cultures. In my mind, a piece of fabric, a textile, or a garment has no gender, but they convey kinds of culture and art. Every fashion system has ideas to segregate menswear and womenswear, depending on what they are wearing, what they are doing, and what they look like. However, I don’t think only these clues can describe and acknowledge a person. I would love to use my pieces of work to represent the spectrum of gender more inclusively and realistically…It is not necessary to divide (garments) by gender lines and put people in the same template.
What is the concept behind your brand?
A key aspect of my collection and brand is relaying the idea that even though we have different skin colours and different ethnic backgrounds, we share a love for similar aesthetics and an appreciation for all cultures! The Pandemic shifted our perceptions and created a new atmosphere in which people accept each other and allow each other to be their most authentic selves. Like this collection, the team consists of people with different cultural backgrounds and different skin colours. Yet, we all share the same appreciation for art and fashion. We support and help each other to achieve our goals in all artistic pursuits. We created a new community with a shared culture.
For the Logo, I incorporated symbolic animals into the design. The snake represents my mom’s zodiac, while the peacock traces back to my hometown of YUN NAN. Beyond that, the peacock is a sacred symbol that represents peace, love, and integrity. This imagery conveys the idea of love and acceptance— a crucial aspect of the brand.
How do you describe your design aesthetics and tendencies?
My design aesthetics draw from my life experiences and different fashion styles. Minimalism, street style, and haute couture are all influences that impact my designs. When I studied in school, I tried to design each collection in different versions and incorporated different art styles such as deconstruction, avant-garde, minimalist, feminist, and so on. Experimenting with these different art styles allowed me to realize what kind of designs I wanted to create. I wanted to create designs I could imagine in my closet- the type of garments I could justify paying high prices for.
When designing collections …I want my pieces to be timeless and something which I actually want to and could wear for many years. In a way, this is a reflection of how the consumer’s thoughts have shifted since the pandemic. This thought process and my life experiences have influenced the overall aesthetics of my brand. Not only do I want my pieces to be timeless but very versatile as well – Zhirou captures that.
The brand’s aesthetics pull from Greek and Chinese mythology. There are many references to nature, as seen in the peacock and snake brand logos. Beyond that, the designs blend masculine and feminine aesthetics and reference traditional Chinese tunics, Scottish kilts, and 90s American Sitcoms.
What are some of the inspirations behind your premiere collection?
Everything is on the street. I love to observe what’s happening there. I like to see what people are wearing and what is happening in our society. From there, I want to be able to make my designs visible in the streets and link them to our lives.
What textiles, trimmings, colours, and techniques do you plan to utilize in this collection and those in the future?
The textiles I am using include sequins. Regarding technique, I will utilize split and tiebacks, and I plan to develop these as my permanent pieces.
One era that I draw inspiration from is 1946-1956, which represents femininity and conformity. I want to keep men’s tailoring techniques to create more feminine and comfortable styles for men and women. I don’t desire to highlight gender in the clothes and colours. (I want to) show fitted natural jackets or trousers in wool, cotton, and silk. When my pieces are combined, they can be dressed up or used separately and dressed down. Nowadays, most brands are trying to convey the oversized message in everything. However, in my work, I trace back to the past centuries of fashion, and more aspects of my work are couture. I love oversized, but not with everything. I put the fashion history and the new trends together to make it creative and keep it in balance. I use the good points from each to create new fashions.
What are your plans for your brand as it grows?
I would love to collaborate with fashion stylists and celebrities to show multiple ways of styling and how to dress up and dress down. Then I would be prepared for the tiny studio to process some permanent pieces like white shirts and trousers.
What else would you like to add about your experience in fashion, approach to design, and anything else?
Fashion is not straightforward. There are always uncertain obstacles and self-doubt present. I faced many issues when I started this journey, but I don’t regret my love of fashion and design. Meanwhile, I appreciate my friends who are supporting and encouraging me. So, I will keep going (and) looking for the creative spirit and finding my voice.
To view the full ZHIRóU collection, visit zhirou.co.
all clothing. ZHIRóU
photography. Jennifer McGowan
art direction + head of design + concept. Ziyi Yin
styling. Jada Levels
make up. Sadia
model. Devynn Fergerson
photography assistant. Denise Ramos
public relation. Brittany Ann Furber