Shanghai local klee klee goes against the visual excesses fashion often stands for and successfully embodies and celebrates that most un-fashionable of things — au naturel.
Many people’s impression of “eco-fashion”, until a few years ago, could be synonymous with swathes of shapeless linen, hemp T-shirts (marijuana-leaf emblazoned on chest, naturally) or perhaps the musty scent of secondhand clothes. Not quite the pinnacle of glamour.
However, thanks to brands like klee klee — latest one in the Temper Close-Up hot seat — we have safely escaped the dare-we-say-it lack of imagination of past times and enjoy conscious stylings a-wash with color and sophistication.
In spoken Tibetan klee klee means “to slow down”. #TemperTeachings
Their minimal yet modern storefront on Anfu Lu with its kindly blue hand also “slow” down passersby, drawing them in like moths to a flame. The collections on show do much more to not only inspire but to educate on what fashion can and maybe should be in the future.
Klee klee deals in easy well-designed clothes with fresh silhouettes and bold shots of colors, for women, men, and kids, plus accessories and interior products.
The main collections in neutrals and brights are often punctuated with vivid rainbows and artisanal textiles made during collaborations with China’s ethnic minorities such as the Dulong community (Yunnan province) — within the Naze Naze project framework.
On the one hand celebrating the ageless beauty of traditional weaving techniques, the label still manages to exude a sense of timelessness with modern designs.
WE ARE LIVING IN A MATERIAL WORLD
As eco-fash lovers will know, what-to-buy/what-not-to-buy research quickly becomes a PhD-worthy enterprise. Smattered with acronyms, conflicting certifications, shoppers might be forgiven for running back to Zara, hands in the air.
But thank the sartorial gods! Klee klee knows your pain. Their sustainability and ethical standards are broken down through clear product labels and comprehensible descriptions. We dive into the Eco-Friendly Big Three – Material, Process, and Social Responsibility — to which all products one of those standards or more must adhere.
Cotton items are made using certified organic cotton (GOTS) which means no pesticides, no GMO and fair trading, or BCI (Better Cotton Initiative – literally better but not best!). Wool fabrics are free-range, silks are begotten from worms fed on organic mulberry bushes, and of course, linen takes pride of place, being one of the textiles kindest on the environment.
Even the beautiful natural landscapes where materials come from are celebrated in-store, hung significantly nearby the products themselves.
“Process” being the second aspect of klee klee’s drive towards sustainability, much fabric used gets the au natural treatment, be it hair of yak or camel (yes, you read it, camel), plant dyes like gallnut, black tea or local faves lotus seedpod. Not a thing goes to waste in creating those beautiful brights.
The favor for all things biological and re-cycled does not even escape the humble button — made either using RPET (recycled plastics) and natural materials such as horn and nuts.
A juice a day keeps the doctor away, or so they say. Indigo is the key ingredient in dyeing blue jeans; it is water and even chemical-intensive in its different applications and by-products after dying also often go unused. Klee klee uses an eco-friendly “Indigo Juice” laundering technique to apply indigo color to fabric, which uses less energy than your regular indigo.
Last but not least, since rather infamous 2015 Levi’s product life cycle report revealed that for an average pair of 501s’ consumer care (washing and drying) accounts for 37 percent of the overall climate impacts of the product, brands are doing more than ever to educate customers.
Klee klee takes care to nail this too, with notes to customers on wash and sales of eco-friendly laundry products that keep our rivers and seas clean.
Collaborations are part and parcel of today’s world, especially in fashion, and here is no exception. Working together with ethnic minorities in and around China, klee klee sees itself not just as a brand but as a pillar of the community.
Promoting traditional skills such as weaving and raising awareness about products such as coffee and mushrooms provides support to vulnerable rural indigenous culture and prevents ancient techniques and natural resources from being lost entirely.
Aside from the earlier-mentioned Naze Naze Dulong blanket project, social enterprise Norlha (run in the Qinghai-Tibet plateau) is another collaborative partner, famous for its yak wool fabrics. Besides raising awareness, part of the projects’ proceeds from are fed back into their specific regions.
Nearer to home, through “klee klee & friends” projects, further efforts towards a healthier and slower fashion industry are made. Most recently explored is a so-called buy-back library of unwanted clothing; donations of unwanted clothes are encouraged by way of the Re:form take-back scheme.
Authenticity and honesty is the name of the game not just within klee klee products but in their attitude towards beauty standards and ideals. After customers globally have often failed to see themselves reflected in the clothing and looks produced by brands, there is a sea change caused by a sense of disconnect.
Klee klee (together with company stable-mate and sustainable quirk designer swag brand ZucZug) had a head start on solving this issue and they publicly advertise for and cast regular people over models in campaigns.
On a quick unsolicited educational note, besides klee klee, also in support of this momentum for diverse imagery, other Chinese brands such as native underwear brand NEIWAI are erring on the side of “realness” with their latest campaign, embracing socially stereotyped “flaws” and ascribing to all an individual uniqueness.
THE LAST WORD…DESIGNER LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE
Temper tracks down klee klee’s head of design Yan Yan to give us the last word on what it truly means to create slow fashion.
Lawson: Have you always had an interest in designing clothing and sustainability?
Yan Yan: Fashion design is my major in university and has been my interest all along. I first came to know about the concept of sustainability at work. With little knowledge about it, I thought it is concerned with society. However, as I gained a deeper understanding of this concept, I realized that it is relevant to every individual. My interest in sustainability grew during my work and practice.
Lawson: What excites you the most as a designer and what is your favorite material to work from?
Yan Yan: I get excited when I see good materials. I prefer materials made of natural fibers.
Lawson: Klee klee’s dedication towards sustainability and slow lifestyle sets it apart. What inspired you and your team to take all the extra steps and overcome challenges to do this?
Yan Yan: At first, it was a work requirement; we started the practice of sustainability a decade ago. In the meantime, I realized that we can put the concept into practice [even] if only we identify with it. Over the 10 years, as we acquired more knowledge about this concept through learning and practicing as well as communication and collaboration with groups in support of sustainability, we were more assured about our pursuit of sustainable design. We believe that the tiny efforts of ours will make big changes.
Lawson: I bought one of the Naze cushions and it makes me smile when I think of the story behind it. How important is it that your products have meaning and what are the benefits to those customers who buy/shop sustainably?
Yan Yan: Nowadays, apart from discovering new and meaningful ideas, concepts, and products through consumption, customers will feel more engaged with them as well. As the end-user of a product, consumers will resonate with the manufacturer through [hearing] the story behind it.
Lawson: Klee klee’s name and concept mean “to slow down”. We also see a lot of slowing down this year which is difficult for so many people. Do you think we can or should all try to stay in the slow lane?
Yan Yan: Our concept is indeed “to slow down”. With great reverence for nature, we hope that our rhythm and status are in step with nature. “Fast” and “slow” are just relative ideas. If our rhythm and status are not synchronized with nature, problems will arise by themselves to slow us down. There’s no everlasting “slow lane” but only rhythm and status with reverence for nature.
Lawson: Where do you hope to see klee klee in the future?
Yan Yan: We hope that in the future, we can develop into a more professional, open, and sustainable brand with a firmer concept. We would like to build klee klee into a sustainable brand with firm convictions, a high level of professionalism and open-mindedness in the future.
Divided, opinions may very well be, but consider au naturel the latest conquest in fashion’s little black book.
Divide and conquer.
EDITED BY ELSBETH VAN PARIDON FOR THE CHINA TEMPER
FEATURED IMAGE: COURTESY OF KLEE KLEE, 2020. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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