“A bag is a portable container, everyone has different taste or demand, or simply a brand preference. You have a special relationship with your bag, it is part of your personality but still exist independently. For me, it is the language in which I express my attitudes and aesthetics. “
Xin Zhao, an independent bag designer in Shanghai (people also call her “Xinxin“), shared some of her thinking with me in her studio.
Xinxin and I went to the same university and studied Graphic Design in the same year in New Zealand, however we only got to know each other after we both returned to Shanghai. Now she is designing bags and running her own brand in Shanghai. After 3 years of hard work, she has found her feet in the area that she loves building upon.
I was curious what made Xinxin change her career direction into fashion, but she replied she is actually making a product and does not want to label herself with “fashion”. In China, the fashion accessory industry is developing fast but is not that mature as the apparel industry yet. Handbags out there on the streets mostly belong to the western big brands. Xinxin thinks it is a good starting point to design bags and use it as a medium to make her voice. Perhaps later she will get her hands on other categories and extend her product portfolio.
(Above is Xinxin’s ‘vintage reconstruct’ collection.)
刚开始，Xinxin的设计使用了大量复古包的材质进行重新利用，但不久后她发现这样对自己的创作有所限制。于是她重新定位了自己的品牌并改名为“Re by XinZhao”，决定将更多的个人情感意识融入到创作中，而不是追寻时尚的潮流，并将自己热爱的艺术表达与包袋使用功能更好的结合在一起。
At first, Xinxin reused a lot of vintage bag materials she collected, but soon she felt it constrained her design. Thus, she redefined her brand and renamed it “Re by XinZhao“. She gets inspiration from her personal awareness instead of following fashion trends, mixing art with functionality.
In the choice of materials, Xinxin prefers new materials instead of leather. For an independent bag designer, using leather would cause limitation on the design and production. Thanks to technology, there are lots of new materials developed and improved every year to replace leather, so Xinxin has the chance to produce her design.
X: 儿时的梦想好多好多，一直在变，接触到什么觉得很酷的，就想成为那样的人。比如当军人，像我父母那样；比如小学的时候去外国语学院上英语班，就有成为外企白领的即视感。中学开始听摇滚，当rock star也不错。始终贯穿我的成长过程的一个梦想，大概就是当个艺术家，从小接触书法绘画开始，以至于后来一直就读美术院校。
Q1: What was your childhood dream? What about now?
X: I have lots of childhood dreams and they changed constantly. I just wanted to be something cool at the time, for example to become a soldier like my parents, or a white-collar worker who speaks good English, even as cool as a rock star… Overall, probably I just wanted to become an artist. I started learning Chinese calligraphy and painting since a very young age, and later went to study in art schools.
My current dream is still to be an “artist”, so to speak, which is not just a title in a narrow sense, but a state of being free to create and self-express, in a lifestyle that I can support myself.
Q2: What made you want to shift your career from graphic design to bag design? Did you ever have any struggles or doubts?
X: It just happened. A graphic designer can do anything, because they can create images. Having a concept is the first step, and I am also very hands-on, interested in all the making part. While doing graphic design, I was quite fond of going to the printing and paper factories to understand the production process. When I was studying abroad, I fell in love with collecting vintage bags, then later I decided to make bags myself. I didn’t realise I was starting up a business since I was still relatively young, and I didn’t had any doubts or anything. I have a lot of fun along the way, each small step comes with a sense of accomplishment in return. Now looking back, everything just came naturally.
Q3: What is the most difficult part in changing your career from graphic design to bag design? Is there any fun story you can share?
X: The most difficult part is to get rid of the two dimension way of thinking, and make it real in the three dimensional world. The functional performance was not ideal at the start. Another difficulty is about thinking out of box and being original on the designs, e.g. silhouette, construction and concepts, and do not get constrained by the traditional and commercial bag design on the market. After all, the bag itself cannot carry out too much form of language, it is difficult if you want to express too much.
The most interesting and exciting part is watching the bag maker making the sample bag. It is super fun when we are discussing the process and methods.
(Those are the “Malevich” collection – A hard surfaced material in a curvy shape that fits the human body form. )
Q4: 我觉得你的上一批设计“马列维奇”系列更多的是从别的平面艺术家作品中吸取灵感，把平面演变成了立体的形式，而近期的“Knot Sure”则是表达了更多自己的情感到作品里。你自己是怎么看的，可以说说你自己的creative process吗？
X: 就像我之前说的关于我的梦想，是能够始终通过创作自由地表达自我，而包袋是刚巧在这个阶段实现这个想法地一个媒介。生活给我什么，我就想表达什么。“马列维奇”系列是我作为一个设计师，向喜爱的艺术家致敬的作品。而“Knot Sure”的开发过程是伴随着当时生活中的一道坎。当时状态不好，但感触又特别多。是默默地化作心里的结还是通过作品说出来，我选择后者。这种感受到什么就通过包袋设计表达一下的创作方式，我会一直做下去。
Q4: In my interpretation, your previous collection “Malevich” is more about getting inspiration from a famous artist, transforming 2D into 3D. But your last collection “Knot Sure” is showing more of your own emotions. How do you think of them yourself? Could you please share some of the creative process?
X: Like I said before, my dreams are all about being able to express myself freely through creating, and the ‘bag’ just happened to be the medium for me to work on at this stage. What life gives me, I express. “Malevich” is a collection that I created to pay tribute to my favourite artist. I was undergoing some issues in the process creating the “Knot Sure” collection, I was in a bad shape. Let it become a knot in my heart, or make something out of it, I choose the latter. Do what I feel, create what I want, I will keep it this way for my bag design.
（图为”Knot Sure” 系列。）
（Above is the “Knot Sure” collection.）
Q5: Bag design is an enduring and also fast-growing industry, is there any particular rules and procedures you have to follow as a new comer (eg, fashion trends, the standard shapes) ? Or, do you feel yourself more of a “rule breaker” type?
X: Brand value, product stories, fashion trends, are the important components of the enduring fashion brands, not only for a bag. I never thought I can break any rules through any special design or product. I guess I haven’t really put myself in a fixed position, or framed myself in a certain industry. I didn’t really follow any particular rules. Perhaps this is something that makes me slightly different.
Q6: How do you normally spend your day? How do you schedule your working hours?
X: I try my best to get up early but it still hasn’t become my routine yet. Adminstration, research and material purchase I usually get done in the day time and I like to design at night. My mind jumps here and there, it does effect my efficiency, but I am not intent to change anything. I allow myself to work in my own flow while there is no immediate deadline. There is no need to give myself too much pressure when unnecessary.
X: 独立，多变，利落。画面感强 。
Q7: Can you reveal a little about your new collection?
X: It’s independent, flexible and neat with strong visual impact.
X: 哈哈哈 没有，我感谢当初我什么都不知道！
Q8: As an independent designer, is there anything you know now you wish you had known when you started?
X: Hahaha, nothing, thank god that I didn’t know anything before!
(Xinxin’s work studio is connected with her personal living space. )
Xinxin is trying her best to innovate in the bag design language. But the art of balancing between the consumer’s taste and personal expression is a constant challenge.
After a period of growth, Xinxin’s design is getting more flexible and relaxed. I think it is because she has found more freedom in her heart.
Do you like Xinxin’s bag? This is where you can find
Offline shops where you can try them on:
1. XINLELU.COM Boutique
414 Shanxi Rd Nth, JingAn, Shanghai (Next to Beijing Rd Wst)
2. Yours, Life Store
804 Julu Rd, JingAn, Shanghai (Next to Fumin Rd)
1. Xinxin自营微店 | Xinxin’s own WeiDian Store:
2. 礼物定制平台BeGifted微店 | BeGifted WeiDian Store: