Earlier this year, Chen Zhi was announced as ‘Ones to Watch AW18’ by Fashion Scout under her knitwear brand, i-am-chen. Chen’s AW18 collection showcased in February at London Fashion Week. We talked to Chen about her influences, her discovery of a knitting machine and what we can expect from the i-am-chen collections. Chen Zhi explains where her journey started..
‘I have always been passionate about art and design since I was a little kid. I actually started my undergraduate career as an engineering student. Although I like technology very much and it indeed influences my design deeply today, I decided to drop out of the engineering program in order to pursue my dream in design. At that time, fashion design was the most familiar subject to me among all the design disciplines such as architecture, interior design and industrial design in which I also became very interested. Upon my graduation from Donghua University, I won a national scholarship to study at the Parsons School of Design where I spent one year. In 2017, I graduated from the master’s program with distinction from the London College of Fashion.’Why knitwear? What is it about knitwear that inspires you?
I actually never studied knitwear as a student. It was a coincidence that I found a knitting machine at school and became obsessed with it. The most inspiring aspect of knitwear is its ability to combine complexity and minimalism. I use many colours and different yarns to create intricate geometric patterns that are knitted on one piece seamlessly. Even though handcraft has its merit, I value more the precision and efficiency of machines realized without human touch, as if the piece I made was born the way it is.
Is 100% of your collection knitted? Do you plan to keep it this way?
YES! Including my spring/summer collection. I am hoping to change the understanding of knitwear which for the most part has traditionally been categorized as “hair clothes,” the way we call it in Chinese. As much as I like to work with “hairy” materials such as wool and cashmere, I would like treat knitting as a technique that is not confined as mostly winter wears. I managed to create a 50+ SKU all-knit spring/summer collection for the current season and I plan to keep it this way.
What were your reasons, desires and drives for setting up your label? Where do you get your main inspiration from?
I never wanted to do this! I knew it was going to be very difficult to start a brand right after school. It was my business partner who convinced me and promised to sell my graduation collection to New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. I am very glad that I am doing this because I get to design what I love.
There are two places I get my most inspirations from. Firstly, museums. I like to see the ways artists create their works and their ways of using colour. I get inspired a lot by Alexander Calder and David Hockney. Secondly, I love factories. I always learn something new in the factories and I try to use new techniques I learn to create interesting textures of the garments.
What type of materials do you use and why?
I am constantly testing new yarns and open to all materials as long as they are environmentally friendly.
Your collections are solely womenswear right now. Who is the woman that you design for?
Myself. I rarely shop these days and just make my own clothes. I like to keep the fun and playful spirit of the brand and bring them to everyone who has a young soul regardless of age.Any exciting projects planned?
We will be starting to collaborate with yarn suppliers to design and develop our own exclusive yarn. I am very excited about getting involved in the earliest stage of knitwear development.
Where can we find the i-am-chen collections?