PHOTO BY PATRICK MCCARTHY
A little while ago, I had the pleasure of working with a beautiful, young woman by the name of Yuge Yu. She recently launched her fashion label, YUGE, and kindly agreed to answer some questions regarding her creative lifestyle and debut collection.
Previously working as a lawyer, you have made quite the change in terms of your career path. What influenced you to leave your profession, and to then design your first fashion collection?
There was never one definitive reason for moving away from practising law - a career that I loved and had worked so hard to excel in that at one point I was pretty convinced it was what I would do for the rest of my life. At the time, I felt there were many things happening in my life that called for a change; forging inspiring new relationships, moving states, experiencing a terrible home burglary and of course, a growing desire to explore working within a more creative environment. It was on the back of this sense that I decided to move towards a paralleled yet alternative passion of mine in design and fashion.
It was my partner David who really encouraged me to explore this other side of me. The pieces of clothing that he always complimented me on were the ones I had made back when I was 18 or 19 years old, so from there, I started sketching designs - a few of which were loosely based on those pieces I’d made a decade ago.
You have a unique space in which to showcase your product here in Melbourne; could you tell us more about that?
The beautiful building on Chapel Street has always been a place where David and I have based ourselves for work, but a little bit like the elves and the shoemaker, we’ve always done so hidden from the public eye and have been able to rattle around in our own little world – actually we’re probably more like the Addams family in their spooky old house!
The space has gone through several transformations since it was built at the turn of the 19th century, originally the Prahran Arcade and it went on to house Turkish baths, the old Dan Murphy’s, and a host of artists’ studios.
For me to now be able to showcase my clothing from one of its enchanting ballrooms is extremely special and it's also a privilege to be able to put it out to the public in a way that I had always envisioned. It does though cast a great responsibility to ensure that my clothing, how it’s displayed, and the traffic through the space is also sensitive to the existing subtleties of the building.
What have been the benefits of working within a creative community? Do you think that being surrounded by creative people, such as your partner and artist David Bromley, has helped you to develop as a designer?
I am surrounded by painters, designers, illustrators, photographers on a daily basis around the studio and I find that this mix of creative energy, which isn’t primarily based in fashion, has really helped me carve my own path. This path has a strong focus on building a unique identity and a product that in a sense is more about artistic expression rather than it being driven by seasonality and trends.
David, whilst he is the ultimate aesthete, is also such an inspiration and collaborator in all aspects of building my label - from design, to merchandising to business planning, production and liaising with stockists and suppliers. We brainstorm everything together, in each of our business and creative ventures. I find that without our daily talks, I can otherwise allow my lawyer trained mind to take over, which can be a bit too devil’s advocate, a lot less playful and definitely not as adventurous!
You tend to use natural fibres in your designs, and have also mentioned that you would like to make clothing that is transeasonal…
What are your thoughts on the need for a more sustainable garment industry - do you think that people should be more mindful of their consumption habits?
I think that I’m a real consumer; I love new products, gadgets, clothing, shoes... I love innovation and functionality and I love beautiful things and I think being spurred by these ideals in many ways makes me very mindful of what it is I choose to purchase.
I find that making clothing with a very strong seasonality and trend driven direction has the potential to make the previous season redundant. Both designers and consumers can be more mindful of how the garment industry is progressing, by creating and purchasing pieces that are imbued with a sense of longevity.
Do you believe there is more room for new labels in this competitive market?
I absolutely do, otherwise I wouldn’t be here!
I used to tutor a lot at university and one of my introductions to my students was always that they should look around in class and see that there are hundreds, if not thousands of other students in the same year as them, graduating around the same time as them, all pursuing and seeking out to carve a path. Now was the time to start thinking about how they could set themselves apart.
I’m not sure if it stuck with anyone, but certainly I think knowing in the back of your mind that just studying, just working, just creating without considering what is already out there can stifle creativity and that the opposite, being aware of your competition can reap great insights into what is missing out there.
What have been the challenges surrounding the launch of your label, ‘Yuge’.
It’s been a real rollercoaster ride launching my label, with challenges at almost every stage of the process! Quite honestly though, overcoming the challenges has been what’s made the entire transition into a new industry so fulfilling.
Production was quite the undertaking and I found that in launching my label, it soon took a large component of time and energy away from designing and managing the brand. Being pregnant throughout the entire process didn’t make things any easier either!! It was however one of the most rewarding experiences to finally receive my pieces in multiples, to see them hung beautifully and to have others wear them, enjoy them and make the pieces their own.
How does commercial viability affect your creativity?
I’m actually very pragmatic with the financial side of my business and am well aware of the constraints that commerciality has on the extent that I can create.
Ultimately though, commercial success was never a determining factor in the underlying ethos of my label and so I set about working on a small scale, very much at home on the sewing machine. By doing so, I had greater freedom to experiment, play with fabrics, cuts and by the time it came to undertaking production, I had a clear focus in mind as to what I would put out and portray to the public.
It’s put me in good stead moving forward, as I’ve learnt how to really manage and balance the line between creating something that is unique with the mechanics of then producing them for a wider market.
Finally, what is your vision for the label, ‘Yuge’? How will it be available to the public going forward?
In developing the label, I’ve moved towards a more bespoke direction in ongoing designs - particularly with the artists’ studio environment in which I work, where I’m surrounded by the hand-hewn, hand-embellished and one of a kind.
It has always been my desire to create clothing that will become a standout and a staple piece to be personalised by the wearer.
Beyond my current stockists, looking ahead, I’m really excited about my new website www.yugeyu.com, which will have beautiful galleries of images and an online shop outlet. Watch this space.