Contributing Monkie Sarah Backhouse
Published on October 16, 2008
As China enjoys a period of rampant industrialization on an unprecedented scale, lowly paid factory workers are churning out mass produced textiles behind the scenes to meet the global demand. Contrast this with Chinese “anti-designer” Ma Ke, who detests assembly lines and opts for design on her own terms — which includes unique methods such as “burying the clothes in dirt to allow nature and time to (add) the finishing touches”.
Worlds away from the factory workers of Guangdong, Ma Ke employs artisans who hand loom all her sustainable materials in sunny studios. A pioneer of sustainability, Ma Ke’s designs truly reflect the seasons — from the flowing asymmetrical jersey dresses of spring/summer and the layered knits of fall to the structured jackets and coats of winter.
2007 was a celebration of not towing the party line. And it won the designer the title of Elle Magazine’s “Best Asian Fashion Designer”.
In the long tradition of art imitating life, this story is documented in “Useless” — a film by Jia Zhang-Ke, which won the Orizzonti Prize for a documentary at last year’s Venice film festival. The title refers to Ma Ke’s most recent collection, which was prepared and launched in Paris. Ma Ke is also director of one of China’s most successful brands, Exception de Mixmind. Founded in 1996, all the garments, accessories and lifestyle products rely on creativity and not sweatshops for their many successes to date.
I look forward to the far-from-mousy designs Ma Ke will deliver in the year of the rat.