Episode 75: How preserving Indigenous artisanship led to becoming a zero carbon womenswear designer with Angel Chang




  • Preserving craftsmanship in sustainability
  • Achieving true carbon zero as a byproduct of preserving ancestral knowledge and craftsmanship
  • Interest in working with artisans and preserving their skills
  • Initial challenges and misconceptions
  • Understanding the timeline and process of creating fabric
  • Transition to using traditional methods without electricity
  • Design challenges and finding natural alternatives
  • The initial perception of sustainability as expensive and inaccessible
  • The concept of "normal" and how it varies based on different environments
  • The motivation and problem-solving process in working with the villagers
  • The potential for bigger businesses to adopt sustainable practices and the focus on circularity
  • The need to produce less and focus on higher quality
  • The long lifespan and evolving beauty of handmade garments
  • The importance of owning fewer items and the benefits of simplicity


"For them, they really appreciate that I'm bringing jobs to them and paying them to do something that is easy. It doesn't come at the cost of their health or losing their own culture. It's not like they have to become migrant workers in some coastal factory and leave their kids behind. Here they can take care of their kids. They're in charge of their own hours and they know how to make an indigo dye vat because their mothers did that and their grandmothers did that. I don't have to teach them anything. They are more the ones that are teaching me. I just have to send them the order."

Welcome to episode 75 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. I'm your host, Belinda Humphrey, and today I'm absolutely thrilled to be talking with Angel Chang, a zero-carbon women's wear designer. Angel’s self-titled Women's Wear Line was created to bring global appreciation for indigenous craftsmanship and revived traditional fabric-making practices in urgent native safeguarding. By following this knowledge, she was able to create the collection using only materials that come from the ground or the surrounding forest. And instead of electricity, the village's lifestyle was powered by sunlight, firewood, water buffalo, and their own hands. While reading up on the collection, Angel describes how one can tell the mood of the artisan that day by the tension of the yarns on the fabric, or the tightness of the stitch on the cloth. If she has strong hands, the stitch will be tight. If she's relaxed, the stitch will be looser.

The personality of the artisan is revealed on the cloth.From seed to garment,  It can take five to six months, and everything used is within a 30-mile radius. Importantly, being a zero-carbon designer is based on three principles - all-natural, locally made, and no electricity, and you can only achieve that with traditional and indigenous craftsmanship. In today's chat, Angel paints a colourful picture of what it was like to forget everything she had learned to do as a fashion designer in New York and relearn it from scratch. Following the real season of nature, no longer the fashion seasons, farming, as well as how to do business with the villages. It was a beautiful reminder that we must follow nature's timing and slow down. Please join me in welcoming the delightful Angel Chang.

Hello, Angel. Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for taking the time to come on and chat with me today. I'm thrilled to have you talking to me and the readers all the way from New York, and I'm so excited to get an insight into your brand because I think preserving craftsmanship is often overlooked when it comes to sustainability. Carbon is such a hotly discussed topic with businesses celebrating carbon neutrality. But along with all the other positive impacts your brand has had, you've also achieved true carbon zero and seemingly all as a byproduct of first focusing on preserving that ancestral knowledge and craftsmanship. 

But let's start at the beginning. You started your career in 2002 and have designed for a mix of big businesses such as Donna Karan, Chloe, and Lululemon. But it was a family trip to China that changed everything for you and put you on this new path. For the readers who aren't familiar with the beginnings of the brand, can you talk through how it all came about?

Thank you so much for having me on your podcast, Belinda. I'm a women's wear designer. I'm a zero-carbon women's wear designer, and I work with indigenous artisans to create clothing entirely by hand, using ancient processes that follow the cycles of nature. It didn't start out that way. In the beginning, I was just focused on cultural preservation, which I'll tell you about in a minute. But through that process of focusing just on how things were made in the past, we discovered, or I discovered, that we could make clothing entirely without electricity, without running water, just natural from things found in the forest. That was a huge revelation because my training was in New York, in the fashion industry. I started my career at Donna Karan in New York, and I also designed for Chloe in Paris.

I did a very short stint at Lululemon in Vancouver. And that's when I understood how polluting the fashion industry is and the scale that we're talking about here. With luxury brands, the scale is not so big, but once you get to the active sportswear lines, that's when you realize. How many skews and how much volume we're talking about. You asked me how I started in the beginning. I guess the short answer is I grew up in Indiana in the US and my parents were immigrants, and I never knew much about being Chinese or being Chinese American. I never knew much about my ancestral origins. But in 2000, I believe it was 2010, and we took a family trip out to Shanghai. And on that trip, I went to the top of the Shanghai Museum and they had a floor just dedicated towards traditional costumes of the ethnic minority tribes across the country.

When we think of China, we just think that it's monoculture. But in fact, 8% of the population are these ethnic minority tribes. I think there are about, there are over 50 of them, maybe 52 or 54, and they have their own distinct culture, their own distinct language, their own way of dressing. And they don't look like the Chinese people that you normally see. The other 92% are Chinese and the minorities include the Tibetans, the Mongolians, the Koreans, and the Miao and the Dong and the Buyei tribes, which I work with down in Guizhou now. I saw these costumes, they were so beautiful. It was in this museum. As a fashion designer, one of the ways you do research for inspiration is to go to these museums and sketch what you see. I thought these costumes had been made hundreds of years ago, but in fact, I was surprised to see in the little descriptions that they had just been made 30 years prior.

In my mind, I thought, wow, that means that people who made it are still alive. How about just going down to their village to try and find the makers themselves? Because in addition to the dates it was, finished, it also had the province and the village it came from. That weekend I found a translator and a driver down there. I took a plane down, took about a couple of hours to get, down there by plane. And then we had to drive another four hours into the village. We just went door to door to explore the techniques and meet the grandmothers, and that's how it started.

When they opened the door and you wanted to meet them and talk to them about the process, what was that experience like? Did they understand or were they a bit confused about what you were interested in?

I guess prior to my arrival, just like a couple of days before the translator had escorted the collect textile collectors of the British Museum. He knew all of the grandmothers who were focusing on certain types of embroidery. They knew him, they were familiar with him. But he told me that these textiles are going to disappear in the next five to 10 years because the next generation isn't, continuing on. You should do as the collectors did and just buy all the fabrics. I thought that was sad because why would I be a designer, first of all, if I want to work with these groups I can find a way to keep it going. And he's like, “No, whatever you do and however much you pay, the younger generation, they don't want to learn it.They want to go work in the factories.” I was skeptical, but as I couldn't speak Chinese at that time, I was dependent on him. And this is interesting because he is a Han Chinese. I was guilty of getting the filtered interpretation through someone who was not a local ethnic minority. I would say like, a couple of years later when I was finally fluent in Chinese, I could speak directly to the younger generation, the ethnic minorities, they said they would definitely make fabric for me and start a workshop if I wanted to buy their fabrics. It was the complete opposite of what he told me. Pretty quickly my experience was very different once I didn't have a translator, once I could speak directly to them myself.

Where did it go from there? Did you put together a bit of an idea about what you wanted to do with the brand? Or was it just to focus on how can I preserve what's happening in this village?

My first concern was, I would just say I just wanted fabric. I was a designer. I wanted to restart my line, which I had placed on hold for a few years, and I just wanted beautiful fabric. That's all I wanted. I just thought I would be in and out for one weekend or after a few months, I didn't realize how long it would take. This whole time, as years go by and all I wanted is my fabric. But then of course to get my fabric, I had to convince these grandmothers to make it for me. I had to figure out their farming calendar. I had to figure out the pricing and the whole supply chain and do these training programs. The weird thing is, someone told me the other day that what I was doing is like social impact development. I was like, call it whatever you want. I just wanted my fabric. That's all I wanted.

It was a means to an end at the time.

But social economic development is what it was.

Then understanding all of the timelines, like I read in your manifesto, just some of the steps that it goes through. It spells out just how long everything takes, from germinating cotton seeds and it's a long process, isn't it?

Yeah. If anything about the fashion industry, it's very opaque and how textiles are made. Even people who work in the materials department of a big brand have no idea where the materials come from. The mills don't disclose it. Maybe the mills don’t know where their raw materials come from. If I think of polyester textiles, can you trace that to the oil refinery that came from? That's why I show the entire process. As a designer before at Donna Karan, I would meet with all of these textile mills and I only saw the end process. We just take the final fabric, design the clothes, put them on the runway, and then sell them in the stores. But there is a whole chain and a whole life of these fabrics before they get into the designer's hands. That involves making the raw material, growing the sheep if it's wool, the goats if it's cashmere, and the silkworms, like where do the silkworms come from? All that stuff, which we don't know. That's what I learned when I was in these villages in my mind I just thought, fly down, get the fabric, go back.

. .

But in fact, they're like, we've got to grow the cotton. Those cotton seeds are planted in April, so they grow from April, through the summer. And then after they're grown, then you have to card it, which means, taking the cotton fluff from the seed. It's just like 10 processes. It's just like so crazy. And then rolling them into tubes and then putting them on this hand-spinning thing, 

and spinning another like two weeks, putting it on an actual handloom. And maybe even dying the yarns if you want to make stripes. And finally weaving it. By the time you weave it, it's like five months have gone by. And the weaving part is fast. Could be like a week or two, and then it's like another week to sew it. If you dye in indigo, it's another couple of weeks. But it all adds up. And for us, I don't know how long it takes an industrially produced fabric to be made, but for us, it takes five months and then like another month to sew and dye the garment. It takes about six months for each piece, from seed to the final sewing.

And the sewing is done by hand. It's not like a pedal-powered sewing machine or anything. It is by hand, isn't it?

Yes. In this region, it rains a lot. It rains every few days. It's very humid. It feels almost like a rainforest. Every time it rains, the electricity goes out. The first time it happened, I freaked out. Because it meant my mobile phone wasn't working, my laptop wasn't working, and then the sewing machine couldn't be plugged in and my life stopped. But then when I looked out the window, everyone else was still farming, they were still washing their clothes and everything was the same. It dawned on me that they don't need electricity because they're used to it. They've only had it since the mid-1990s. For them, even running water, they only got it a couple of years before I arrived there.

They used to just get buckets of water from the mountain spring every morning. There are these conveniences that we, at least me in New York, I just took for granted. I never lived without electricity, but here we were. One day, or two days I can deal with it, but not an entire week you just can't put production on hold like that. Just out of necessity, the first collection I designed, I learned a lot. We did a pilot, this was in 2012 and we showed it during Shanghai Fashion Week. I showed it later in Paris just to get a market response. We wove the fabric itself, but I did not know how to recreate the fabric.

We sewed it on normal sewing machines, and electric-powered sewing machines and put normal buttons and zippers on it. That whole process was so stressful. It was so stressful because we had to fly in everything or ship in and it would take weeks to get there because we were so remote. And then of course the electricity went out every week. It's always like start, stop, start, stop. I took a few years off, I did my Lululemon thing and then went to New York, did this TED Talks and the Smithsonian gave me this grant to start doing some pieces for a show. I thought this is the time when I'm going to use the money to start another training program and then learn from my mistakes the first time.

This time I'm just not going to use electricity. I know it sounds really crazy, but the first time was stressful cause we were trying to bring traditional techniques to the modern world and it just clashed. This time I was like, I'm going to go a hundred percent traditional and I don't want to fly anything in or ship anything. If it doesn't exist in nature, if we can't make it from what's around us, then we can't use it because it's just going to be a headache. 

What a design challenge. 

It was. For me, it was a challenge. For them, it wasn't, that's their life. This is the whole unlearning process. It took me many years to understand that. I was like, for buttons we have to make our own buttons. Metal doesn't exist in nature. There's no button whole machines out in nature. There are no art supply stores. What are we going to do? I just looked at the traditional garments and they made these hand-knotted buttons and for button holes, they just improvised, they hand embroidered buttons. Looks just like the Savile row buttons from London, which was amazing. One of them was for a jacket, we needed something that was more substantial and I couldn't figure it out. How do you make a big button for a jacket that would hold, I was having this big headache try to figure it out. I was like, you guys figure it out. The next morning I came and what the artisans had done was taken a slice of a tree branch and wrapped it with fabric and then sewn the bottom of it, and sewn it into the jacket. 

It's like the shoemaker's elves, you just come back in the morning and they've created this amazing fixture for you.

It was amazing. I wouldn't have thought of it myself. That was pretty miraculous. Then I was like, what about thread because it has to match. Of course, all threads are made from polyester for most clothing. But I wanted like cotton thread because I wanted the whole thing to be natural. For thread, they were just like, if you want it to match as we can dye the thread because it's cotton. That's a thing with polyester thread. You can't dye it. We just got a normal cotton thread and then dye it according to the colour of the garment or the fabric. They would just wrap it around a water bottle and stick it in the dye vat.

Just so simple, isn't it? They're just practical ways.

Yes, and there are other things like putting the paper pattern on the fabric to cut. We didn't have paperweights and they just used rocks that they found outside.

Just pairing everything back to the essentials.

Another one, this is the funniest one, we needed a pole to put because we wanted to garment dye some pieces and we needed someplace to dry them and we didn't have a pole. I went to lunch and when I came back, one of the artisans, she had like, miraculously got a bamboo pole. I was like, “Where did that come from?” And she's like, “It was right in front of our workshop. I just cut it down.” It was like a bamboo tree. I was like, “Perfect.”

That's funny. Once you had gotten all of your fabric and worked out your trim, how did you come up with what to design with the collection? Was it dictated by the process? Or how did you come up with the silhouettes or shapes that you wanted to use? Was it a traditional design process?

There are many different fabrics in this region. There are so many in fact that I started at a wholesale artisan textile line called Village Embassy. We were selling that for a few years at Premier Vision in Paris every January as part of Maison d'Exceptions, they invited 20 workshops focused on handmade fabrics. I can't use all those fabrics because some of them are very expensive. It's like a Ramie or Linen take months and months longer for me than my fabric. I took the very most simple base cotton fabric and that weight is for shirting. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the machine-made fabric that we're used to, sometimes has stretch in it, and sometimes it has other finishes on it. When you take all of those chemical elements away, what nature offers is very limited. Everything I designed couldn't have stretch in it. It was going to wrinkle and the pattern had to be made using fabric that was 36, 38 centimetres wide. We had a lot of limitations. But knowing that, that's what we do as designers. We're given limitations and then we just design around it. For my whole line, it's just based on shirting right now. And we do have some jackets that use heavier-weight fabric.

You would know in a traditional design role, you'd probably be given a retail price point that you have to design into or engineer into and then work backwards. Was that thought process involved at that stage? Or was it just about making the pieces for this collection? Did you consider pricing as you went?

Yes, If you ask any artisan around the world, how much a piece should be, they either give a cheap price or an expensive price because they have no idea. I was told that in China the largest bill is 100 RMB. A hundred RMB is about like 15 US dollars. It was always the biggest bill they'd ever seen. If a tourist came and they wanted to buy a jacket, they'd always say, a hundred RMB, which is like $15, which is like nothing. But then the textile collector started coming in and then the artisans got smarter. They're like, “We can charge a lot for them because they go for a lot abroad.” Suddenly it was like, a thousand, five thousand, which is the highest number could possibly come up with. And you're just like, "Okay, that doesn't make sense." I was like, "How much is the fabric?"

Because I knew a lot about the costing to create a retail price for our wholesale price, it's like you got to figure out how much the yarn and the fabric and the labour and all that stuff. In my mind, I'm just like, if you're going to sell it to me at a high price, that's fine, but if we turn it into clothing, no one's going to buy it. We have to figure this out. Do you just want to sell me the fabric this one time? Or do you want it to be like a long-term where I'm buying your fabric? They totally get it. Numbers don't lie and a watch doesn't lie either. We were just like, how long it takes to weave something or timing how long it takes to sew. And based on that, we break it down to, what is the local day rate? What is everyone making per day? Then if something takes a week or two weeks or three weeks to make, we just add those number of days and we're just like, this is must be how much it costs. And it makes sense for them also. And the same thing goes with sewing. If you think about the average pair of jeans for a fast fashion brand or any jeans in a factory, it takes about 18 minutes to sew. For us, it takes two and a half to three days to sew. We just take two and a half to three days of labour and we just add that in.

I'm also looking at the market, like what are people willing to spend on a shirt dress? I realized some of their shirt dresses cost even more than what ours are priced. We should increase our prices. Or it could be like, we could spend more time doing the embroidery on our pieces. We don't have to cost cut as much. It's a bit of both, working at both ends.

Staying on the pricing as well, I think sustainability sometimes gets talked about as being elitist because the pricing is a bit higher and your items do sit on the higher end of the market. But you've talked a little bit about this in terms of labour, but is this how much things should cost or what are the other factors that come into play when you're creating your products compared to other brands that sit at lower price points?

This is interesting because sustainability, like living in New York, eating organic and being sustainable before I started this project, felt expensive. As a young designer at that time, trying to survive, I didn't have the luxury to buy organic fabrics because they cost more and they didn't look as nice. Even something as simple as buying recycled paper. Back then it costs a lot more and it was like grey. It wasn't even white. But what surprised me was on that trip in 2010 when I went to this village for the first time, these local ethnic minority groups, were the poorest province in China at the time. And yet they were eating all organic, all-natural. They were wearing clothes that they had made themselves from cotton, they had grown themselves organically and it was all natural dye and they looked incredibly stylish and chic.

The whole village just looks so beautiful. Even though they had to make their own wooden homes and buildings by themselves by hand. They were made from trees that they had grown on their land locally because it was cheaper than buying or shipping wood from outside. It was funny cause I was like, for me as a New Yorker, it's expensive to live how you guys are living. I would post images on my Instagram and people in London would be like, “That's so aspirational.” I'm telling these villagers here, we just live like that because we're poor. We can't afford anything.

They are community rich but monetary poor.

It was just funny cause I was like, you guys are living in a way that super wealthy people, only affluent people can live. I had to tell them that. Because in their mind they're being told in this Chinese, modern Chinese culture that the way they live is backwards and that they should be having a “modern life” and buying things from the grocery store, wearing machine-made clothing and all these things that pollute. They're being told, if you want to be modern, like the dominant culture, like the Han Chinese, you need to dress like them. You need to act like them. You need to be more sophisticated like them. I came in and I was like, that is not true. What you guys are doing is better. It's healthier. You're not using pesticides on your food. You should keep doing that.

Do you think they have a word for sustainability? Do they even label it in that way? Because I feel like sometimes, the Western world just developed this because we've got disposable items and we need to differentiate. Do they even have a term for that, or does it mean something different to them? Or is it just the way they live? 

That's just how they live. Even when I started out there, sustainable business was more like your financial health as a business. It wasn't about the environment. Words evolve and they change. It depends on the context. I guess the comparison would be like, you live in Australia and you see blue skies and you see clean air, or you breathe clean air. That for you is pretty normal. You would just call it air. I'm breathing in air. Whereas someone in China, they're used to brown skies and polluted dirty air, for them, that's normal. But it's when they come and to Australia, they're like, “Your air is so clean.” And you're like, “What are you talking about? This is normal.” For me, to come in and be like, you live such a sustainable life, they're like, what are you talking about? This is normal. This is how we all live.

It's like that saying where they say the fish doesn't know it swims in water. It is just the environment. They just take it for granted in a way.

When it comes to their fabric, it's the same thing. Because previously they didn't sell their fabrics to anyone. They just made their clothes for themselves. They don’t know that there was a value to it. For them, that's why the younger generation is not continuing it because for them they just think it's worthless. For me to come in and to buy the fabric, signals that it has value that somebody wants it and that, here's a picture of that American woman who's wearing an entire outfit made from your grandmother's fabric. They're like, that's interesting.

Have you seen that shift over the time that you've worked with them? Have you seen them shift and understand how it's helping them in that way?

Of course, they're quite happy. It’s two pronged. There's like this cultural pride, I guess you could say. But I don't know which one's stronger cultural pride or that they're able to make money in their homes. Because I feel like cultural pride is something, one is about survivability, and if you have enough means to survive, then you can start to think about more of the privileged aspects of my culture. But for them, they appreciate that I'm bringing jobs to them and paying them to do something that for them is so easy. It doesn't come at the cost of their health or losing their own culture. It's not like they have to become migrant workers in some coastal factory and leave their kids behind. Here, they can take care of their kids. They're in charge of their own hours and they know how to make an indigo dye vat because their mothers did that and their grandmothers did that. I don't have to teach them anything. They are more the ones that are teaching me. I just have to send them the order. After the pandemic, they have been organizing themselves like a co-op and then training each other. It's just nice that they're able to do that.

It's amazing. I read that it's predominantly the women that take care of all of the fabric making and all of that process. What are the roles of the men in the village and what do they take charge of?

That's a good question. I have no idea. The men just seem to sit around and smoke.

Okay. There are some consistencies in different areas.

When I bring friends down, they're like, “Wow, the women are doing everything.” They're cooking, they're taking care of their kids. They're farming and they're making fabric. Everything. And if you ask the men, they will say they do things that require heavy lifting, like building the houses and bringing the wood in. But if you did an hour-by-hour comparison, it doesn't compare.

Many of the men do go to the factories to work, but I think it's like both men and women do that.

You've touched on a couple of issues that have come up and how you've problem-solved them, but as you've gone along with the way that everything's connected and integrated and it's a true partnership, how have you had to problem-solve other issues that have come up? Have you had to problem-solve it differently compared to when you worked with other businesses?

Problem-solving is interesting working in these village communities because I learned how, how humans think at a very basic level. I had to think about what motivates them. They're not motivated by money, they can live without it. They're not motivated by material things because they can make everything they need to survive. How does one motivate a grandmother to make fabric? For me, when there's that one level of problem-solving, it's like, how to speak to someone and convince them in a way that speaks to their heart and it makes them want to do it. It has nothing to do with what I want. They don't care if I have a collection or not. There is that part. Sometimes it's just like sitting with a grandmother for hours and then speaking to her grandkids, having dinner with them, coming back a few times, and then finally building some trust.

Other times I think it's just showing that you're interested. Then there's the other problem-solving part, which is, finally we're making the pieces and teaching someone how to use a ruler, everyone that I knew knows how to use a ruler, but in the villages where they don't use rulers, it's like they would place the ruler down and then they would mark a line not on the edge of the ruler, but like a centimetre away. It was like a crooked line following this. I was like, I have to teach them how to use a ruler. How to measure things. I'm just like, maybe instead of using a ruler if I want to break a piece of fabric up into four, we can't measure it, but we can fold it in half and then fold it in half again. It's like breaking up. It's like speaking in their language or using the length of a finger or the length of a hand. One foot used to be someone's foot. 

One teaspoon used to be a spoon full of tea. But getting back to the basics of how people understood measurements, it was just crazy. It's not just me, American versus Chinese culture. Even my pattern maker who came down from Shanghai, who's Chinese, they were driving her crazy too, because she would explain one way of sewing and making a button and then they would just do it in the complete opposite way.

They just wanted to do it their way.

In my experience it's like, this is how it should look and you guys can figure out how you do it. Just like that button with the tree slice. There's no way I would've thought of that.

It's a really clever approach. Finally, do you think it's possible for bigger businesses to ever incorporate this level of or this way of producing? What does the future of sustainable and ethical fashion look like to you?

With bigger businesses, it's strange. Because there's so much focus on circularity right now. And circularity makes sense if you're using polyester and synthetic textiles. I feel like in the whole industry discussion there, people are focusing on solutions using synthetic fabrics and then creating more ways to make bad fabrics. The solution isn't to make more stuff, it's to make less of it of higher quality. The strange thing is that the finance people know that. Anyone who's looking at the numbers knows that and they say that. If you take someone from like any big bank and they come in and they're like, fashion industry, you guys want to reduce pollution? We'll make less stuff. You're making a hundred billion garments a year, just make less. But then those who have been working in the fashion industry for so long, it's like you're just a zombie and you just like making things the way you've always been trained and you're just making more, making more. I see this when I go to conferences, people are like, customers always want to buy things.

You can't teach them to buy less. I'm just like, what are you talking about? And then you go talk to a customer like right now with, I'm a remake fellow and remake is a nonprofit and they're doing this 90-day challenge called No New Clothes because all of these millennials and Gen Z like don't want to buy new clothes. They want to mend what they have. You don't need to buy 64, 68 pieces of new clothing per year, which is what the average American buys, we now have three times as much clothing as our grandparents had, and uh, we threw most of it away to a landfill or whatever. It's weird that those in the fashion industry, they're so used to producing a certain way that they don't think the customers will change their behaviour. But they will. We saw how everyone changed during covid and during lockdowns and suddenly went digital. The human brain can change pretty, pretty quickly.

For sure. Do you think there was no way that the way that you produce could scale up to meet the quantities that a brand is producing at the moment? It would come back to making less and making better quality the way that you have been putting it together.

When you compare it to the way I'm making clothing, in these villages, I'm making the fabrics and the clothing exactly as the villagers have made them for thousands of years. And back then you couldn't buy clothing, you had to make it yourself. Making clothing is a human survival skill. You learn how to make your own food and you build your own shelter and then after air and water, you need clothing as well. Humans learn how to make clothing that's why they've woven and learned how to wove and weave their own fabric. They've learned how to do it for like, 20,000 years now. It's a human survival skill. In these villages, a jacket, because it would take six months minimum to make, sometimes two years, if you are adding embroidery, well you're going to keep that jacket for a long time.

For these grandmothers, they're wearing their, indigo jackets they've had for 15 or 20 years. It's just beautiful because when they first dye it, it's like this, dark purple, maybe metallic looking colour. After five years of wearing it, it turns black colour because of the chemical reaction from the sun. And if they wear it another five years, then that black turns into indigo blue, or the blue starts to reveal itself. They keep wearing it, that blue, dark blue is going to start fading and it's going to reveal the black and white diamonds that they had woven in the beginning that you never saw. It's like this life of its own. And that's like built into the design of this garment because whether or not they had thought about, they're probably not thinking, in five years it's going to turn black in five, another five years, it'll turn blue in another five years we'll see

Diamonds. They're not thinking like that. It's more like, this is just how clothing evolves, how natural dyes evolve. They don't look old. They just become more beautiful over time and they have a life of their own. You have a jacket, you have had it for 20 years. The one Miao minority who grows her cotton and weaves our fabric has five skirts that she made, five pleated indigo skirts. They all look the same. She doesn't have a closet, she just has nails in the wall. She just hangs them on her wall. that's like her closet.

In the wintertime, she'll wear leggings underneath and in the summer she'll just wear the skirts on their own, but she's always wearing the same five pieces, I feel like we don't need a closet filled with stuff that we don't wear. For me, I just wear the same thing all the time and I'm perfectly happy with that. It's like having a uniform every day. For women especially, this is important because just think about all of the stress involved in figuring out what to wear it's such a useless waste of time because you're mentally stressed out and then the minutes wasted and buying less and wearing less would be healthier for all of us. If businesses are concerned about their profit then they can do the numbers. But it just seems like if you have pieces you can still sell fewer pieces but make them more expensive of higher quality and you'll still be making the same profit or you just find a way to sell more accessories or sell services or do something creative.

Think a bit differently. For sure. I agree. Thanks so much for your time, Angel. I've had an absolute ball talking to you today. I wish I could talk to you for longer, but I don't want to keep you because you're a busy lady and I know that lots of people want to talk to you. Thank you again because I know a lot of people want to have a chat with you and also the readers are going to love getting an insight into such a pioneering brand it's just been a joy, thank you.

Thank you. The one thing that I do want to stress is that the reason why it's important to work with these traditional cultures and these indigenous artisans is because of the 7,000 languages that are spoken today, nearly half of them will disappear in our lifetime. The knowledge of how to live sustainably with the earth. It's incumbent upon our generation to keep this knowledge alive. Either keep them alive in those communities or be like me where I go in and I find ways to bring those, that knowledge out into, to bring them into a different culture where they are supported and prolonged. We have to get beyond. Brands need to not be scared of being inspired by other cultures. I know they're scared because they don't want to be outed with cultural appropriation, but this is just the risk that we have to take. There are responsible ways that you can work with indigenous communities, but we can't be scared about that because losing knowledge is even worse. Because once we lose knowledge, then it's gone forever.

Absolutely. I agree. There's a way that you've shown to have cultural appreciation versus appropriation, and that's exactly what you're doing working with the artisans in their community. Well done.

Thank you so much for having me, Belinda. 

You're welcome. Where can all readers connect with you and your brand? Have you got some information?

My email is info@angelchang.com and then of course they can find me on Instagram, angelchang.official or my personal Instagram is just Angel Chang. I'm always looking for people to collaborate with and join my team and especially students who are interns, they always reach out. It's fun to teach the younger generation how to make clothing this way. If anyone is interested, feel free to reach out to me.


My website as well is Angelchang.com.

The main one. Awesome. Thanks again.

All thank you, Belinda.


Thanks for listening to the Fashion Unearthed podcast. If you want to get in touch head over to belindahumphrey.com or you can find me on Instagram @belindahumphrey 


Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change. 


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