What’s in a name… Gently moving to the sounds of rippling fabrics without being dragged out to sea by the strong currents that are “trends,” Rio Hilo is a Chinese designer brand based inside a 100-year-old stone house sitting at the foot of the Cangshan Mountain range. Temper tells the story of one designer lifestyle of conceptual sass and substance. One for all the marbles.
Under the watchful eye of Mother Nature’s most formidable yet flamboyant facial features as found stretching out wide and soaring up high across China’s southern Yunnan province, Temper tracks Rio Hilo, a brand name which literally translates as “river of threads,” located inside a renovated stone house some 8 kilometers from downtown Dali hippie city.
About past, present, and future, we gently go down the stream designer Liu Siyang’s (刘思阳 in Chinese), the worldly personification of Mother Nature — kidding, drive, a village’s coming of sustainable age and the story of one upcoming collection called “好土(hǎo tǔ)” — all good things come from the Earth. 土(tǔ) means “earth” or “soil” in Chinese; and as an adjective, it can also denote “vulgar,” “outdated.”
It’s all about reinterpreting “土” as a positive and sustainable symbol. And reinterpreting Mother Nature.
FYI, Dàlǐ (granted, 大理石| dàlǐshí — not 大理市|means “marble” in Chinese).
All About The Mater Familias
Temper: You are sowing the positive seeds of a sprouting lifestyle hub. Share with us the five w’s!
Liu: The village where we founded Rio Hilo back in 2017, and where we live as well, is called Xiayin Village. It is a very small, rural village which consists of just 20 family units.
Through our collections, Rio Hilo hopes to present an alternative lifestyle and attitude that runs freely outside of and independent from mainstream culture. Our design concept is a fusion of two seemingly “opposite” worlds: the simple and rational versus the unconventional and experimental.
After many years of studying (and working in) fashion and added to that the experience of living here, the sum of both compelled me to start thinking about how to make a difference in the industry I’m working in.
Rio Hilo believes there is a better way to make “Fashion” and “Nature” coexist. On a circular loop.
About Seasons, Samples and Series
Temper: All for one, one for all?
Liu: I am the founder and designer of this brand, as well as its pattern maker, merchandiser, at times even serving as its sample clothing tailor… Basically, I do everything — other than production. That is because there is no fashion or production industry going on in this remote area. The production factory I’m working with, and I’ll get back to in a little bit, is actually one based near my hometown of Xuzhou in Jiangsu province. Which I visit twice a year. I’ve been working with them since the very first collection back in 2018 and we’ve managed to build a strong and solid relationship.
I studied fashion engineering at Donghua University in Shanghai, so maybe that’s where the logical thinking in terms of material and clothing structure comes from. Having said that, I don’t follow SS and AW outlines. The first two collections were in fact based on stories…..
This series of design ideas is more about the life revelation that designers get when they move out to this mountain village. It is also an attempt at creating an experience that mixes both hearing and vision. If you can spot the invisible sound waves in the textures and lines of the forest, the wearer can also hear the pink noise through the unique texture of the fabric, the interlaced plaids, and stripes, as well as the smooth and fun colorings.
The name “Pink Noise” originated from the noise between white noise (1/ƒ0) and brown noise (1/ƒ2). Both waterfall sound and light rain can be called “pink noise.” A “very pleasant” type of sound, one most commonly used for acoustic testing.
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“Humans are bound to be mad to this point, that is; no madness is just another form of madness.” Bryce Paschal
This is the first sentence of Michel Foucault’s introduction to his first magnum opus “Madness and Civilization;” “The Fool’s Boat” being the first chapter of the book. This type of ship was the earliest “predecessor of a mental hospital”. In the 15th century, it was cruising across Europe, carrying on board basically another town. The “fool’s ship” was a camp of sorts, taking in the weird, marginal, and deported; it represented a world opposed to that of reason and order.
The 2019 summertime inspirational series comes from the “fool(ish)” friends surrounding one designer, the sensible lunatics, the self-aware dreamers,… The Creative Ones.
Dali Summons Inspiration
Temper: What are the top three challenges of this project?
Liu: Dali city is where the creativity flows. I also create samples there every now and then. I admittedly do not yet work with the locals, but we do hang out a lot, they invite us to their homes for dinner, we invite them to the parties in our back-| courtyard, and so on. It took me at least one year to set up the overall system in order to be able to start working from this remote village. Still, even now, it remains tough at times in terms of production due to communication difficulties. My ultimate goal is to make one garment starting from the seeds in the soil –from the fiber plant, dyeing plant, all the way down the river to hand twisting the threads, weaving and dyeing them, then sewing… To create one piece which comes courtesy of Mother Earth.
Temper: What about the communities that benefit from the Rio Hilo existence?
Liu: I don’t think I actually benefit the locals at this point, but the locals do inspire me to a great extent through their energetic and capable connection with nature. The daily farming life, hiking and collecting mushrooms, picking up tea leaves…. Mankind and nature are intrinsically linked out here — and feed off one another.
As for the communities, we have indeed already started working on more and more projects together. The shops I work with now are mainly located in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou. The Rio Hilo production collaborator is now one small workshop hiding out in a little village near my hometown of Xuzhou.
I have visited these craftsmen, even lived with them. They’re a husband and wife who hired a handful of people, all of whom had returned to their native countryside towns after working stints in the big cities, such as Shanghai.
As most people already know, China’s migrant city workers generally speaking only get to visit their children back home once a year, during Chinese New Year, and spend the remaining 11 months in the big city, making a “bigger buck” for the sake of their children’s futures.
Having returned to their hometowns and finding employment in this particular workshop has made the lives of these highly skilled artisans happier. And healthier. The vibes inside the workshop are good. And the quality is great!
Temper: The future of fabric?
Liu: The future direction of Rio Hilo will lead to the likes of organic-only fabric usage, mainly hemp, organic cotton, linen, and the occasional recycled synthetic ones. We do already mainly use hemp and the aforementioned nature-loving ones and have indeed already used recycled plastic in the previous two collections. It’s a matter of taking things (i.e. threads) to the next level.
When it comes to fabric dyeing, then, Rio Hilo aims to use as little chemical dye as possible. The past two seasons did see some chemical dye given I hadn’t mastered the natural dye skills just yet. Both time-wise and craft-wise. From the third collection onwards, I hope to launch mini-collections using natural dye only.
Last, but not least, there’s the packaging and overall production process: “compostable” is hereby the word of the day. Manufacturing and designing usually act as fashion’s frenemies. Ergo, they’re a main point on the Rio agenda: we use as little plastic as possible throughout the overall process.
The ultimate Rio Hilo goal is to establish a 100 percent recyclable, sustainable and compostable brand. Mixing fashion and Erath, hearing and vision. Rolled into one fluid sensation.
It’s the name of the game… The Rio Hilo brand follows rivers, at its own pace, telling its stories through threads and textures. Like Mother Nature.
No marbles lost here.
ALL IMAGES IN THIS FEATURE COME COURTESY OF RIO HILO, 2019. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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