Emerging New York designer duo Private Policy wants to reinvigorate fashion through political statements. Their SS17 collection, which took the stories of enslaved fishermen in Southeast Asia as influence, creating an emotionally charged and innovative exposé, realising their commitment to a brand that shines light on world news, cultural and social issues.
Designers Haoran Li and Siying Qu met in New York at the Parsons School of Design, where they say they were encouraged to create clothes with a purpose. This translates to their unflinching storytelling and authenticity, choosing to work with close friends to allow for multiple perspectives. The collection in question consisted of broken silhouettes and the use of unconventional textiles such as plastic biohazard bags and vinyl aprons, viscerally supporting their narrative. Despite the troubling subject matter, the pair say they are optimistic that discussing difficult issues through fashion will lead to greater change.
Alice Simkins: How did you both meet and what prompted you to start the label together?
Haoran Li and Siying Qu: We met at Parsons and worked shoulder-to-shoulder during the stress of senior year, we laughed and joked and helped each other make it through to graduation. That’s when we realised that we could work together. It’s hard to find the perfect partner in fashion business, or in any kind of businesses. You need someone who not only has the skill set, but most importantly believes in the same ideology. We are a match. Our opinions can be different, but we both thrive on the belief that fashion means more than clothes – it is about life and being human.
Alice: How did studying at Parsons influence your work – were you given a lot of freedom in what you could do, or were you pushed in certain directions?
Haoran Li and Siying Qu:Parsons gives us the freedom to explore. A student sometimes didn’t even have to make garments if the concept was better expressed in other ways. But Parsons also influences students with its spirit. Parsons represents the spirit of American fashion, New York style, which emphasises functionality. “What is the purpose?” our professors often asked us. Functionality is not just about wearability or commercial value anymore. It is about the relevance to others, society, the world. Parsons encourages students to find that purpose for making clothes, because obviously, humans are not lacking clothes, but lacking meaning. That is also where the idea of Private Policy comes from. We find that what gives our designs purpose is reflecting on the current time, what is happening around the world, what young people are thinking.
“What gives our designs purpose is reflecting on the current time, what is happening around the world, what young people are thinking.”
Alice: What was it about the stories of the Asian fishermen that drew you to use them as inspiration for the collection?
Haoran Li and Siying Qu:We see fashion a way to communicate, like news outlets. We think enslaving fisherman for cheap commodities is a serious issue and people should be aware of it. So we want to talk about this through our designs.
Alice: Can you tell us about your favourite pieces from the collection?
Haoran Li and Siying Qu:The pieces that we explored our creativity the most with are the special fabric garments: the biohazard red plastic look and the vinyl apron piece. With the red plastic look, we created the fabric by fuse binding biohazard plastic bags. These red plastic bags are used in hospitals for disposing anything touched human blood. That is why we chose these biohazard bags, to symbolise that the cheap fish sold has human blood on it, because the enslaved fishermen were tortured, beaten, and even killed if they did not obey or tried to escape.
The vinyl apron piece is another statement piece. We literally trapped a t-shirt, with Jonathon’s graphic drawing, in between clear vinyl. We want to create the trapped feeling of the enslaved fishermen. How they may feel like they are suffocating. And for the viewer, the vinyl apron piece may bring the idea of preservation, which is like the idea of news – preserving a piece of a story for history.
Alice: I’ve heard you prioritise working with close friends – do you find that this increases creativity and adds authenticity to your designs?
Haoran Li and Siying Qu:Collaboration is a beautiful thing. It brings out more ideas, more perspectives, more possibilities. We think it is the chemistry between us and our friends which makes the collections come to life. Our hood is New York downtown. Different kinds of people are embraced and we share the same culture. We also see them as our customers, a group of people with rebellious hearts.
“We want our designs to reflect what is happening around the world.”
Alice: Who was it who created the illustrations that feature in your collection, and how else did the people working around you influence your work?
Haoran Li and Siying Qu: The hand-drawn illustration from SS17 collection is created by Jonathan Lee. We shared the tragic stories of the fishermen with Jonathan, and he created the graphic drawings to show the restriction, torture, cruelty that the fishermen experienced.
“We want our designs to reflect what is happening around the world, so the more perspectives we get the more authentic our story will be.”
Alice: Do you think that social media means that people are more concerned about world issues than previous generations, or does Private Policy try to rectify a lack of empathy which you see around you?
Haoran Li and Siying Qu: It is a complex phenomenon with social media. On one hand people get information about what is going on around the world, and we feel more connected with others, more connected with others’ struggles or happiness. On the other hand, because of the information we receive can be overwhelming, we learn to block out things, especially things that are unpleasant, as almost a self-protection mechanism.
With Private Policy, we want to talk about those difficult issues in artistic ways, through fashion. And we find that fashion is a great method to draw attention to and start conversations about those issues, because fashion is about beauty, entertainment, leisure, and liberation. It is easier to digest and think about these issues when fashion presents them.
Alice: Why do you think it’s more important now than ever to break down boundaries and be outspoken in fashion?
Haoran Li and Siying Qu:Because of social media and global connectivity, people can express themselves more than ever. People are demanding for freedom. They want to be free from gender rules, free from inequality, free from oppression. We will continue to talk about social issues, world news, and politics – it is a part of the brand’s DNA. This is the ideology behind the name Private Policy: make your own rules.
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