Happy 2011! Wishing everyone all the best for the coming year :)
Here’s to the first post of 2011 and an update of my own!
Design Museum Boston is proud to present Tiffany Wan, the newest addition to our correspondents team. A graduate of Syracuse University and currently located in Beijing, Tiffany will be bringing an international perspective to DesigningAMuseum.org. An active member of the Industrial Designers Society of America, a practicing designer and avid photographer, Tiffany also catalogues her inspirations and thoughts on her personal blog.
The holiday season is the time for giving and China is second to the US in its number of billionaires, according to the Times, but not anywhere close in philanthropy support. Donations in China have “risen from $1.5 billion (10 billion rmb) in 2006 to over $7.5 billion (50 billion rmb) last year, [but] it’s a negligible fraction of the $300 billion annually donated in the U.S.” How can we increase awareness of charitable organizations and their need of financial support? One person is using design to promote and develop such awareness in his own way; this person is Nathan Zhang.
Nathan Zhang is the owner of the small charity shop, Brandnü located in Beijing’s Wudaoying Hutong near Lama Temple. Although the project is for profit, “Brandnü is an ethical trade network for rural artisans. In partnership with China’s socially-conscious designers and artists, the Brandnü project aims to help (re)design rural livelihoods by offering support, resources and better access to urban markets.”
“Nü” is the Chinese word for female (女), but it also means “new”. One of the main missions of Brandnü is to support gender equity concerns. In Zhang’s words, “Nu is women. My main work is how I can help rural women redesign their handicrafts.” In order to do so, Brandnü works closely with female artisans through collaborating with Rural Women, a non-profit that aims to develop the potential of rural Chinese women.
Nathan Zhang was kind enough to take time out of his super busy schedule to give me some background about Brandnü, which has been open for just over a year. Zhang is continually trying to build his network of non-profits and designers to contribute to his project. He says “not a lot of people are doing this kind of work in China and I’m doing it at the right time. The project is moving forward everyday.” By connecting Rural Women with urban designers, Brandnü uses traditional crafstmanship skills to contribute to contemporary designs. Collaborating designers consider traditional skills such as embroidery and metal-smithing to inspire and create products for the current market. “We use the rural women’s handicraft skills, like embroidery, one of the main skills, and the urban designers design a very contemporary piece like scarves or jewelry,” said Zhang. He provides hourly wages to rural workers and once the shop is self-sustaining, a percentage of profits will go back to these people. Current products include bags, jewelry, electronics cases, and scarves. In addition to the custom created products, Brandnü carries products previously produced from workers by fair trade standards.
You’re probably wondering how Brandnü started. After spending about 10 years in Canada and starting his family, Zhang decided to move back to China in 2008. He was burnt out from the fashion media industry and it was time for him to do something more meaningful; “inspired by Fair Trade organizations like 10,000 villages and popular second hand shops in Canada,” Zhang started Brandnü. With the support of the successful Beijing T-shirt company, Plastered8, Zhang secured a shop space inWudaoying Hutong. Nathan’s forward thinking method and his individual concept of gender equity are unique in China.
True collaboration is still at a minimum. Women in Ningxia, for example, have limited access to the post office and other delivery services. The closest post office is almost a 3 hour car ride from their village. Communication is mostly by phone, providing difficulties in understanding the exact process of embroidery production. The craft work of these women is very much traditional and done entirely by hand. Brandnü aims to get a closer collaboration and connection between the designers and the craftswomen.
The goal of Brandnü is to develop its own product lines that combine traditional Chinese skills with contemporary designs. Products will be sold to higher end markets. The business practice must be sustainable in order to continue its mission of helping under-served women. Although Zhang must still iron out the details of his project and its contribution to society, his biggest challenge now is to find further funding.
Full of enthusiasm and seemingly endless energy, Zhang’s ideas for his own product lines range from recycled goods to bags and shoes to clothing. In addition to its own products, Brandnü carries goods made all over China that have similar social missions and values. Among these products is Tranquil Tuesdays Tea, which helps women develop useful skills through working in the tea industry. There are also bags designed by PAE-Halo, candles supporting Magic Hospital, small animal dolls from Shandong, and woven sandals from Guizhou.
Of course there’s always the controversy of fair trade versusexploitation, but that’s a totally different topic. First, come to Beijing and support a little shop called Brandnü that’s trying to make a big difference.
Brandnü is located at 61 West Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng District
My attempted Chinese translation:
张慧祥开了一个小慈善商店，Brandnü在北京五道营胡同在雍和宫附近。虽然他的项目是挣钱的，“ Brandnü 是一家以经营农村妇女和其他弱势群体生产的手工艺品为主的慈善公益商店，并一直构建一个联系城市和西方设计师与中国传统手工艺生产者的爱心平台来实现农村妇女经济自立的梦想”。
“Nü” 代表汉语的‘女’，但在英语也代表‘新’。 对Brandnü最总要的目的是关于性别平等。张先生用英语说‘女是女人。我最总要的工程是帮农村妇女生活（再）设计’。Brandnü和农村的女匠一起合作，现在大部分合作是帮‘农家女’磁山组织帮他们的农村匠。