DEYI 德逸 is a responsible project celebrating traditional Chinese craftsmanship. This Paris-based sustainable lifestyle brand was co-founded by Spanish fashion designer Adriana Cagigas, French creative entrepreneur Pauline Ferrières and Chinese designer Zhang Xing. The three friends have joined forces to participate in the preservation of the exceptional textile heritage of the Miao and Dong Chinese minorities in Guizhou province.
Creators: Adriana Cagigas, Pauline Fèrrieres and Zhang Xing
Ethical lifestyle brand inspired by Chinese philosophy celebrating traditional craftsmanship
“We want to give a new regard on Made in China.”
With their brand, they offer clothing with a contemporary aesthetic created with the traditional fabrics of those indigenous communities. By working hand in hand with local artisans, they aspire to enable these people to make a living from their exceptional crafts, which are in decline within the context of modernization.
Adriana, Pauline and Zhang
First, we would like to know first-hand how the beginnings of DEYI were. How did you three - Adriana, Pauline and Zhang Xing - meet and when did you decide to create a Sustainable Fashion Brand?
Pauline lived for a year in Beijing, China, in 2018, where she studied alongside Zhang Xing, who taught her traditional Chinese culture, such as the art of tea, calligraphy, floral art, etc. By chance, or rather thanks to the destiny that smiles at us since the beginning of this project, Pauline discovered the sustainable clothing designs of Adriana Cagigas on Instagram. They quickly became friends, sharing the same ethical values and passion for Chinese culture. Pauline introduced Zhang Xing to Adriana during a first meeting in Madrid and this was the beginning of a beautiful story. The three of us have the ambition to promote a more sustainable way of life, inspired by ancestral traditions, with a contemporary approach.
In April 2019, we started our first investigative trip to South of China, in the Guangxi Province, to discover the exceptional textile craftsmanship of the Miao, Yao and Dong indigenous communities. We became witnesses of the progressive disappearance of these traditional techniques, as local people are no longer able to make a living from them. We have decided to create a first sustainable fashion collection, named YUANFEN, with the traditional fabrics of these communities. We were proud to present this collection in February 2020 at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Madrid.
With such a cultural background you could establish your brand almost anywhere. What made you decide upon Paris - historically, one of the closest and most competitive markets?
Indeed, by its very essence, our project has a very strong international and intercultural dimension. Nevertheless, we have chosen to establish our brand in Paris where the competition is fierce. This choice is not insignificant. DEYI 德逸 is not intended to be a Chinese brand, but rather a European brand that pays homage to traditional Chinese craftsmanship and aesthetics, and promotes Parisian elegance. Our clothes reflect the innovative vision of our designer Adriana Cagigas on traditional Chinese fashion. The three of us are all in love with the city of Paris, the historical capital of fashion, but above all a city of culture and art that touches us deeply. The choice of Paris was an obvious choice to establish the company. The Chinese identity of our brand is already very present through the aesthetic and materials of our clothes. All our fabrics are exclusively handmade by Chinese indigenous communities.
There are few designers, like Carol Christian Poell (which we absolutely love, by the way), with such a curated treatment of the fabrics, methods and patterns as you do. Where does all your knowledge come from? How is the experimentation a process in your daily basis?
The quality of our materials is of the most important matter for us. Our first inspiration is the textile craftsmanship of Chinese minorities. We are conducting a long research study on their traditional techniques of fabric processing: hand-weaving cotton, indigo dyeing, fabric pleating, embroidery, etc. We particularly affectionate the shiny indigo fabric of the Miao minority, this fabric is glazed with rice water after the indigo dye. The starch gives it a coppery aspect with an aesthetic close to leather. We are developing this type of technique because there is a real demand among enlightened consumers to find an alternative to leather.
Our designer also regularly experiments natural coloring techniques with food waste (tea, coffee, avocado) and flowers, on cotton and silk. Experimentation is part of our DNA. We experiment new techniques inspired by ancestral know-hows, but always with an innovative and contemporary approach.
For some it may be YUANFEN, for some maybe MAKTUB, for others just Destiny. In your website you mention this was key in the creation of your collection under the same name, YUANFEN. Through your journals you explain how inspiring the women and workshops turned out to be when you were in Guizhou. How do you transform all this inspiration into an actual collection? Does inspiration come with the process or must it be something before it?
Our first collection was indeed entitled YUANFEN, which means "natural affiliations", "predestined encounters" or "destiny." Many people we met during our investigation trips in China told us that our encounter was the fruit of YUANFEN, because our exchanges were so fluid and natural. We had the feeling that we were meeting old friends again. According to local beliefs, we had surely met in a previous life. This first collection was a tribute to the people we met along our path in China. Each look in the collection represented a person we had met, with his or her values.
We believe that inspiration comes through the creative process, the collection really took shape as we discovered the landscapes and local people. Our curiosity & artistic sensibility feed our inspiration. During our travels in the remote areas of China, we were particularly sensitive to everything that makes the richness of traveling: people first of all, but also an unique atmosphere, smells, sounds, materials, everyday objects... Traditional architecture, wild landscapes, everyday clothes also were the elements that forge the essence and inspiration of the brand. Through the looks she designs in her atelier in Spain, Adriana aspires to recreate this timeless atmosphere, the soul of the place where we met with those extraordinary people.
In a documentary and heritage preservation approach, we take notes on our exchanges with the local people, we do a lot of video, photography, sound recording, etc. Adriana likes to work with notebooks where she writes down her moods and makes sketches during our trips. But it is above all the exchanges between the three founders of the brand that creates the unicity in the collection. With our different sensitivities, we share our own thoughts & feelings about what we’ve experienced together, and finalize the concept of the collection afterwards.
We too often forget what is behind the “Made in China” label. Like somehow, we dehumanize the whole process behind it. As we can read in your website you aim to change the way people see this “Made in China”, this takes a very important part in your values. For us, the way you talk about your artisans, the people responsible for making your dream tangible, your clothes, is what mainly represents this movement you are promoting. Talking about them, making them real is what really makes us connect not only with them but with your clothes too. How do you believe these small (we believe HUGE!) changes in the relationship the brand has with its supply chain can create a new paradigm for the Fashion Industry?
Indeed, transparency towards consumers and the traceability of our products throughout the value chain are two key elements of our project. Our sustainable fashion brand is part of a desire to offer new ways of producing and consuming, in harmony with nature and people. By telling the stories of these passionate women who lovingly make the fabrics of our clothes, we wish to create a real emotional link between the customer and the garment. We also want to encourage the enlightened customer to take care of the clothes. Several weeks, even sometimes months, of work are necessary to make DEYI 德逸 clothing.
Just like the indigenous communities with whom we collaborate, who take great care of their clothing that is passed on from generation to generation, we want our clothes to become true companions in life. In this, we believe we have a disruptive approach. We counteract the phenomenon of trends by offering high-quality clothing with a timeless aesthetic. We hope that the new paradigm that we are gradually designing will inspire new young designers to undertake sustainable innovative approaches that are the future of fashion.
And, quite connected to our last question. How does DEYI see the Fashion Industry in the near future? How much you believe fashion will change in the next 5 to 10 years? Or not at all?
In our opinion, the future of fashion will be green, or it won't be. Taking the sustainable turn is no longer an option but a necessity for the future. The pandemic has made us all the more aware of the positive impact on the environment when we consume and produce less. Consumer demands in terms of social and environmental responsibility will continue to grow. But we will also have to be all the more vigilant to the phenomenon of greenwashing because for some opportunistic brands « being green » is trendy. However, we remain positive about the future of sustainable fashion. Around us, we’ve already seen several inspiring sustainable initiatives emerging. In addition, consumers, often among the younger generations, are moving away from the advent of the consumer society to buy more sustainable products. We thank them for this.
The digital era will also greatly reshape the future of the fashion world. We refuse any futuristic approach to new technologies that may seem frightening, but we are taking advantage of new technologies and social networks to tell the stories of our artisans living in the middle of the rice fields and mountains of Guizhou. It is moving to think that thousands of kilometers separate us from these people who live according to the very old gestures of their ancestors, and we can follow their life live. It's quite paradoxical: it is the advent of new technologies that has caused the gradual loss of their ancestral know-hows and we wish, thanks to digital technologies, to alert the global community about the need to protect their exceptional cultural heritage. It's like a poetic revenge for us.
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Photos courtesy of DEYI