Many young people in China saw Qiu Shuting’s work through the Mandopop superstar Jolin Tsai’s album Ugly Beauty before getting to know her. The singer sports huge metallic red lips on the album cover and black and white one piece with bold floral embroidery in her music video — both are Qiu’s signature designs. The opportunity came knocking on Qiu’s door after the VFILES runway show in September 2018, which was “transformative as it was on the official schedule of New York Fashion Week; it brought great media exposure,” Qiu said.
The last two years have been incredibly busy for the 25-year-old Hangzhou native, who took the less beaten path to study at Belgium’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp because she “was a huge fan of the ‘Antwerp Six’,” she said. It was where the head of the six, Walter Van Beirendonck, became one of her professors. Over the four years it took her to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the highly competitive school, she did little besides work on school projects, but her intense work ethic helped her launch her brand while graduating in 2019.
From the silk capital of China to the diamond capital of the world, Antwerp, Qiu has become a designer influenced by world cultures, manifested in her style of vibrant colors, bold prints, eccentric headpieces, and intricate embroideries. She relocated to Shanghai and set up a studio last December and is readying for launching a capsule collection with talent incubator and commerce platform Labelhood, as well as a digital show during Milan Fashion Week this September.
Jing Daily recently connected with her over WeChat about her formative years at the Antwerp Fashion Department, her whirlwind time after graduation and why COVID-19 is making her rethink the applications of sustainability and technology in fashion.
What was your day like when you were a student in Antwerp?
It could be quiet stressful, as the school fails something like half of the students every year. So a lot of studying and less going out. Also, a lot of sketching and working on my designs; sometimes day trips to Brussels to buy fabrics.
When did you establish your current style?
My style emerged during the latter half of my first year at university. It was quite normal for teachers to watch students develop their own styles. This was a gradual approach. And everyone had their own style at our school. It was a minimum requirement to pass.
Many people in China knew about you through Jolin Tsai’s album cover, can you talk a bit about how you got the opportunity?
Back in 2018, while I was still a student, I did the runway for VFILES at New York Fashion Week in September. It was part of the official schedule and that became a transformative experience for me. I got great media exposure and afterwards many celebrities, including Nicki Minaj and Rita Ora came to me to borrow clothes.
Then I went back to Belgium for my master’s degree, which took a year, though I was still dealing with requests from stylists about borrowing my designs. It was around December of 2018 when Tsai’s stylist reached out and said they needed an outfit for a music video.
What has it been like for you to start your own business?
When I finished New York Fashion Week in 2018, Joyce’s buyer contacted me and expressed interest in a capsule collection, but I didn’t have the time because of school. In 2019, I was travelling to China quite frequently, including for the Business of Fashion China Prize as a finalist. So I started a showroom and received orders from Browns, Joyce, SKP S, and some boutique stores.
2019 was a particularly busy year. When I finished my MA runway in June 2019, I started working on the orders by myself. Then in September, Sara Maino, deputy director of Vogue Italia and head of Vogue Talents, saw my collection at the BoF China Prize presentation and helped me get a sponsorship for Milan Fashion Week from its organizer Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI). And by the end of 2019, I set up a studio in China.
How is the production side of your business going? Does your studio still take care of all the orders?
It used to, but for my current season, some of my basic pieces like tops and legging, which I’ve received orders in the hundreds from e-commerce platforms like Net-a-Porter and Labelhood, I’m working with factories on these larger number orders.
Do you see most business opportunities in the Chinese or Western market?
Most of my orders came from overseas before COVID-19 but now the situation has flipped back since then. I think Western clients are big fans of my exuberant style, but given the COVID-19’s impact, there’s a bit less room to showcase my signature pieces there.
Within the Chinese market, however, high-end boutiques like SKP S, Joyce, and Net-a-Porter tend to buy my signature pieces. But if I want to extend my business to those more approachable stores, I may need to tweak my style and make something easier to wear for mass consumers.
Has COVID-19 affected your business at all?
My brand hasn’t been as affected as much as many other brands because we are still small, and my clients haven’t canceled any orders. But I feel that COVID-19 has slowed me down mentally, and given this, relieved some stress for me, which has been nice. I used to spend a lot of energy on runway shows, but now I spend more time thinking about products, pricing, and details, so that might be the silver lining.
The fashion industry seems to have taken some time for self-reflection about subjects including sustainability during the pandemic, what kind of lasting changes do you think there are?
As for the industry, there has definitely been more thinking about sustainability. I had used sustainable elements before COVID-19 but will now go more in-depth on my approach with it and my designs. I also started developing a new understanding of digital technologies, including artificial intelligence. I had to admit that I was quite old-fashioned. I had a friend who owns this technology that digitizes all fabrics on models so that there isn’t any need for runway shows. I was doubtful about it, but now I can also see us collaborating together.
What are some future projects we can expect from you?
I’m designing a capsule collection for Labelhood, which is an extension of my last collection, Autumn 2020. With sustainability in mind, I used my stock material to create a top, dress, leggings, gloves, shirt dress, and bags for the light collection, which has incorporated ideas from my signature pieces. I’ve also received an invitation from Vogue Talents during Milan Fashion Week in September.