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Angel-Chang

Angel Chang is Reviving the Lost Beauty of Handmade Textiles

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“I think most people who aren’t spiritual grow up not knowing that there’s another world out there. It’s like your life is black and white, and you don’t realize that it’s actually in colour.”
—Angel Chang

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The adventurous designer Angel Chang seeks out beautiful artisanship in the most remote areas of the world.

“I booked a flight to Guizhou not really knowing how to speak Chinese. I didn’t know the area, but in my mind I thought, ‘I’m going to go and meet these weavers,’ says eco-fashion designer Angel Chang, founder of her eponymous zero carbon handmade womenswear line.

Chang was immediately drawn to the autonomous and sustainable lifestyle of the Guizhou villagers. When she first arrived, her translator took her to see the grandmothers who were home weaving. When she saw the lush, traditionally-spun, handmade fabrics, she was filled with enthusiasm. The fabrics were amazing.

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When Chang first arrived in Guizhou, she learned that all the grandmothers knew how to weave beautifully.

At the same time, Chang was confronted with the reality that this was a poor region, and young villagers were moving out of the area to become migrant workers in factories. She thought, “In the next 5 to 10 years, these crafts are going to disappear. But I’m a designer. I can create a collection.”

Inspired by that wish, Chang went on to become a Smithsonian Artist and earn accolades as a designer, winning the Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation Award and the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award, among others.

Village Embassy, her wholesale textile line aimed at reviving traditional fabrics, was the first Chinese atelier selected for the prestigious Première Vision’s Maison d’Exceptions. But Chang’s cultural crusade to protect these artisanal works would prove to be as difficult as scaling a tall mountain. On her way to the peak, she had to learn to adopt the practices and lifestyles she wanted to protect.

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Taking sustainability to even higher standards, Chang uses rainwater to create the fabrics for her brand.

Setting up shop

When Chang first arrived in Guizhou in 2009, she wandered through the villages, knocking on doors, and trying to communicate with the locals. She soon discovered that all the grandmothers know how to weave.

Chang wished to set up an artisanal workshop but couldn’t communicate her vision to the older generation. In addition to her limited language skills, there was another barrier that interfered with her plans.

The villagers had beautiful fabrics and costumes, but they didn’t have money. Their income came from working the land and they could spend a year without seeing any cash. She recalls a local saying that peasants have no more than three coins in their pockets.

For Chang, whose career had been based in New York and Paris, the financial side of fashion was embedded in her way of working and thinking. But these villagers weren’t motivated by money.

To create a profitable business, Chang knew the steps she would have to take. But she couldn’t communicate in a way that motivated the grandmothers.

“I had to go down to the deepest parts of the human soul and ask, ‘What drives people?’ They love beauty. They love connection. They want to be proud of what they’re working on.”

But she still had difficulties inspiring the elderly women, so she turned to a 16-year old she had met in the village. This young woman introduced Chang to her grandmother who had a surprise in store for them. She showed them handmade silk costumes that had been stored in a trunk for years. It was the first time the granddaughter was seeing them as well.

Chang asked the granddaughter if she could weave such fabrics. The young woman said she would set up a workshop, and that was the start of their collaboration.

In the first couple of years of her Guizhou project, Chang also worked for brands in Europe and New York. Yet despite years of professional experience with fashion houses in big cities, Chang realized she had to start over with this project.

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Every facet of making clothing in Guizhou is tied to the seasons.

“I had to relearn everything from scratch—the cycles of nature, seasons, and farming, including how to do business with the villagers,” she says.

Familiar with chemical dyes that could be used any time of year, Chang had to develop patience to work with natural dyes, waiting for the plants to be plucked in season when they were the most potent. For instance, gardenia pods and indigo dye have to be harvested in July and August when they have reached maturity.

As Chang learned more about the bond between traditional craftsmanship and the seasons, she began to connect with them more intimately. “I had to really open myself up to nature,” she says.

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Clothing from Angel Chang’s handmade womenswear line, available at angelchang.com

The power of spirituality

To weave her way through the challenges she was facing, for the first time in her life Chang began to meditate. “When meditating, the answers would just come to me,” she says. Chang even felt that the spirit of her paternal grandfather, who had lived in the Guizhou region, was guiding her on how to collaborate with the villagers.

This experience of meditation and spirituality transformed her life. “When someone was sitting next to me, I could feel their personality without even talking to them,” she says. When she returned to New York or Paris, where there was so much stimulation, she had to shut these extra sensory feelings down.

“I think most people who aren’t spiritual grow up not knowing that there’s another world out there. It’s like your life is black and white, and you don’t realize that it’s actually in colour,” she says.

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Clothing from Angel Chang’s handmade womenswear line, available at angelchang.com

The lessons Chang learned in Guizhou and her dedication to preserving indigenous craftsmanship are now extending to a collaboration with Native Americans in the American southwest.

“With the Navajo Nation in Arizona, it’s that same relationship with nature. Your ancestors come and speak to you—you pay them respect. You respect the land because everything comes from the earth,” she says.

In collaboration with local artists, Chang works to produce items in a sustainable way—in other words, she is following the pace of nature.

“If spring water is coming out, you just let it flow. You’re not like a water bottling company that comes in and takes all of it for fear that it’s going to run out one day. No, it’s been flowing like this for hundreds of years.”

“I had to go down to the deepest parts of the human soul and ask, ‘What drives people?’ They love beauty. They love connection. They want to be proud of what they’re working on.”
—Angel Chang

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 109

issue109
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Inspired for a Beautiful Life

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