“I think the Taiwanese are blind in a way. They always consider anything from abroad to be naturally better in many aspects. I always reflect on how I can make something ‘made in Taiwan’ be regarded by people with the same importance. I don’t want people to ever think that when you stay in Taiwan, you’re not progressing.”
Hailing from the outlying township of Shuilin in Yunlin County, Juby Chiu (邱娉勻) was brought up surrounded by beautiful things. Her grandmother taught her how to be a proud country girl, sensible to her role in society. It wasn’t until entering university and finally cultivating her own talents did she find what it was that she could truly offer.
As a Taiwanese designer purposely based here, how do you feel about the way people dress and utilise fashion in the country?
JUBY: In my opinion, I think Taiwanese people are dressing worse. But I don’t blame them because right now the economy is not that good. Not many people can actually buy what they want to wear. For example, my creations are not affordable for everyone who likes my point of view as a designer. That’s part of the reason why I go abroad, like to Shanghai, to reach people that are able and willing to buy my creations. Again it’s not to blame the local people here. I just think right now, tough times are here and this should be the time and opportunity for all of us to look deeper within us and then everything will get better after – not just in fashion. My grandma inspires me for this reason because even though she didn’t have much money she always looked for solutions from the beautiful things around her. So that’s why I always make it a point as a designer to keep making clothes that are beautiful, but always think about ways to make them as accessible as I can.
Aside from money, what do you think affects people’s style?
I think the idea of ‘birds of a feather flock together’ definitely has a strong impact on peoples’ choices. Environment is a key factor. For example in Japan, the grandparents and the older people have great style and they look awesome. And when I was in Shih Chien University, my schoolmates had this particular sense of style and they put on whatever they liked. In the UK, where style is more extravagant or hyperbolic, I felt more free to dare and wear anything I wanted. There are things I dare to wear abroad, but in Taiwan, I would feel awkward because the environment here is a bit more conservative.
Some people see fashion as alienating and exclusive – what’s your say on this and how do you avoid that your own body of work?
Actually I have experienced this personally. Back in university, I dyed my hair white and my ‘look’ was so intense that it was kind of alienating for people. I thought that was just the nature of fashion back then and to be honest I did hate it somewhat… But thinking about it now, it was really about the overall persona someone chooses to portray. Of course some avant-garde/high-end styles will always have this alienating element in their design because it’s so different from the norm but it’s all just part of the ‘drama.’ So I think fashion is not really what is alienating, but it depends on people and the vision of different brands. Nice and capable people will always be nice and friendly no matter what they are wearing. And as a brand, personally, it’s my mission to make people shy away less from truly innovative clothing design. A lot of celebrities wear my designs here but if more everyday people become willing to wear my clothes – that would be such an achievement!
What is the easiest and the hardest part of running your own label?
The easiest part is naturally coming up with design concepts because I always have plenty of ideas. When I start drawing or pattern-making, ideas just pour out. As for the difficult parts, manufacturing, marketing, and selling are equally hard! It’s something I am still learning along the way because I have never worked in a big company. Actually even the place I did my internship at in France is a small studio. So how to execute mass production is something I really need to learn and work on.
As a designer what’s your take on the notion of following or, alternatively, opposing trends?
Well, personally, I never follow trends. I don’t even read magazines or websites about fashion and trends because I am worried that I would be influenced by all of these voices way too much. I just want be who I am and to protect my personal vision. Of course, there will always be fashion icons that deserve everyone’s recognition and I appreciate them myself but I think they should remain only as aspirational references. One of my favourites is the Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo (Comme des Garçons) but I don’t want to ever be considered as a second version of her.
I find that the photographic work showcasing your clothes are quite remarkable as well. What’s the usual feel that you deem cohesive with your brand?
Most of the photographs are done by photographers that I have been working with repeatedly for a long time now. Aside from the usual guidelines like not looking too commercial or making sure there’s a story being told, the most important thing for me is avoiding “pretty” or “beautiful” to be the first thing that pops into someone’s head. Just “beautiful” is boring… I find it boring. I want people to find the photos resonating or electric. If I don’t get this feeling myself, they will never see their way to my website.
What do you feel when you see your work worn by people?
Incredibly happy.. My mum likes to wear my clothes actually and she is the person that makes me the happiest whenever I see my clothes on her. Every time she sees my shows, she always reminds me of my motivation. Because my mom really likes art too, but for financial reasons she had to give up painting and creating art.
That’s why there are times when I am doing what I do, I feel like I am fulfilling my mum’s dream too.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JULIA KAO
TRANSLATOR: PO-SHAN WU