Joyce Li is a fashion designer currently based in Jersey City, New Jersey, U.S.A. Joyce spent the first 12 years of her life in Taiwan, subsequently moving to Canada for a better education. After spending a few years there, she then moved to U.S.A to study at the prestigious Parsons School of Design in New York City and is currently based in the NY/NJ area. She has just launched her own collection 'Monologue', which aims to create lightweight, portable safe spaces for when the wearer needs an instant escape or privacy.
We had the chance to interview Joyce about her life so far and her current collection 'Monologue'. Here's what she had to say...
Solstice: Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What did you like to do as a child/teenager?
Joyce: I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and raised there until the age of twelve. Growing up, my parents had always known that I would not fit in with a standard Taiwanese education where a lot of focus was placed on academia. Once I graduated from elementary school in Taiwan, my family immigrated to Canada to receive a more diverse and open education. In short, a chance for me to explore my options for future occupations and not be limited by the traditional views of acquiring a degree in medicine or law.
I was quite an active kid growing up. I joined a competitive swim team for four years, at the same time as I was taking art lessons. Swimming and art were two of my favourite activities growing up. I felt so liberated and expressive when I was practicing both activities. Competitive swimming consumes a lot of time and energy. I remember having five- six swim practices a week and two practices on Friday, one as early as 5:30 A.M. In my fourth year with the team, I was at a crossroads. I had the opportunity to move up a level, but I also needed to build my art portfolio for college application. In the end, decided to disenroll from the team to concentrate on my art.
Solstice: How did you get into fashion design?
Joyce: I guess it was more an intuitive progression than an intentional arrangement. When I was six, I loved to play with Barbies – braiding their hair, styling their outfits, and coming up with stories and events for them to attend. One day, I was bored with how they were always wearing the same sets of clothes. I needed more variation of clothing for them to appear in the stories I narrated. I gathered some old socks, towels, and clothes from my dad, cut them up, and started draping on my Barbies. I had never threaded a needle before, nevertheless sewing something with it. For some reason, I just knew how to do it. I remember so vividly for a top I made, I cut the front and back separately and even with armholes and neckline without any knowledge of pattern making. Starting from then, I attended summer camps, short classes, and pre-college programs relating to fashion, which helped me realise that I enjoy designing and creating.
Solstice: Did you receive a formal education in fashion design, or did you learn on your own?
Joyce: I received my undergraduate degree in fashion design from Parsons School of Design, one of the most prestigious fashion schools in the United States! On top of receiving proper training in fashion from Parsons, I also did a fair amount of self-studying and experimentation. School taught me the rudimentary skills to many things, allowing me to explore more in-depth in the areas that interest me.
Solstice: How are you finding being a designer? What are the highs and lows?
Joyce: The hardest part of being a designer is to learn to accept when things don’t turn out as anticipated. Time spent working does not always equal the quality or quantity of the outcome. The progress of designing and making cannot be measured entirely by time or the common understanding of making progress by getting positive results and moving backward by failing. I’d like to think that every step taken during the process is a step forward. One has to try, even to fail, to get in the right direction. I have to constantly remind myself of this when I run into obstacles.
The best part of being a designer is the playful, experimental nature of our profession. Creating is like playing games-there are so many things to discover during the stages of research. Making mistakes or going against common understandings can be one of the best things to happen during the designing stages. This is when the unexpected (happy accidents) take place.
Solstice: Describe the process from concept to final realised product? What is your favourite part of the process?
Joyce: The idea of pop-up is derived from children’s pop-up books. I wanted to create an inviting feeling as a storybook gives. I studied the different techniques used in building pop-ups books and began modifying them and collaging the pop-ups on to a body, whether that is the collar, sleeves, pockets, hood… etc. The biggest challenge I encountered while making this collection was to create the same design on a much larger scale. I struggled the most with fabric rigidity and maintaining the structure. During the construction stage, I spent much time going back and forth with remaking the same structures in different materials to find the best material for each design. My favourite part of the design process is draping! I love to think with my hands and let my intuition take over. Especially with ‘Monologue,’ sketching on a sketchbook limits my imagination of transforming the garments into safe spaces. As I started to play with my hands, my designs became realistic and clear.
Solstice: Could you describe your clothing designs in one sentence?
Joyce: Minimalistic, utilitarian ready to wear with an interactive twist often inspired by structures and shape with the underlying theme of tranquility.
Solstice: This particular collection aims to give the wearer a safe space to pause and reflect. How did you come up with this idea?
Joyce: It feels as if in a city so large, our presence is engulfed by the shadows and voices drowned in the cacophony of honking and traffic. The desire for serenity initiated Monologue's objective - to temporarily withdraw our focuses from the overcrowded, saturated thoughts to have a genuine conversation with ourselves. To find out what we truly need and the goals to accomplish are the sole purposes of this temporary withdrawal- an optimistic approach to regain control of our lives.
Imagine having a psychological getaway that detoxes the impurities and stress occupying the mind; this is specially designed for people who cannot pause their schedule for a physical getaway yet desperately need instant isolation to contemplate. The garments provide a temporary and portable safe space that allows privacy and isolation from one’s surroundings. Inspired by a pop-up book, with beautifully rendered sceneries that draw the readers into its imaginative world, the collection aims to achieve the same effect - to transform the wearer into delicate and soothing narratives.
Solstice: The idea of providing a temporary safe space for introspection is very interesting, as it contradicts the idea of ‘escapism.’ Why were you so keen to avoid the collection being linked to escapism?
Joyce: I do not support the negativity in avoiding and escaping from problems. This is not what I stand for as a designer and also for my own life philosophy; therefore, I simply do not wish the purpose of my designs to be misunderstood with a pessimistic twist.
The objective of ‘Monologue’ is designed to create a positive experience for the wearer. It intends to segregate the wearer from confusion. During the time in isolation, the wearer would view things from a different perspective and results in a solution. Ultimately, the collection emphasises the optimistic influence of the garments and not the process of covering up or running away.
Solstice: The idea for the collection came a little before the current pandemic, how has the pandemic helped this collection become more important/relevant than you first envisioned it being?
Joyce: Although it was not the initial impetus for this collection, Covid-19 has highlighted the importance of self-protection and distance. The turmoil we endured during quarantine has further contextualised the significance of isolation. In ways, we learn to distance ourselves from instability and chaos aroused by the pandemic and remain calm and optimistic towards the future. When our society seems to be circulating depressing and negative news, it is crucial not to be suffocated by the pessimistic, cynical spirits. Quarantine, a metaphoric distance between us and the outside world, gives us time to reflect and gather our emotions. It helps us see clearer and prepare us to return for when the world recovers. Likewise, with Monologue, by placing distance between the issues and ourselves, we can see it directly. The purpose of 'Monologue' is not to escape from the problem entirely; it is a mere pause to find a resolution when we are ready to return.
Solstice: What kind of fabrics are used in the designs for this collection?
Joyce: The materials for each look vary depending on the finishes of each design. According to each material, I combine a different stiffening solution to ensure each look's stability and functioning. The dress that turns into a sleeping bag is made with Neoprene. Neoprene is thick but light. It provides cushioning for when it is placed on the ground. The coat is made with a wool-cashmere blend, and the extendable collar is made with patent leather lined with silk charmeuse. The top with expandable hood is made with double fused cotton sateen. Cotton sateen gives the finishes of the smooth and glossy sheen. The fabric is light yet slightly stiff and does not wrinkle easily, which is a great base for making a structural design such as the hood.
Solstice: Please describe your favourite designs from this collection?
Joyce: One design I really take pride in is the neoprene sleeping bag dress. I was able to intergrade the pop-up design in its most original form to the sleeping bag dress. Opening up the dress's front panels emulates the motion of flipping open the pages to a pop-up book, by extension, to invite the wearer to enter the realm of fantasy. It is such a fun piece to play with as many parts of the garments are detachable; therefore, many looks can derive from this one dress. The dress could be worn on its own without any of the attachment, or with all the pieces attached, and have them open and hanging from the body.
Solstice: Are you already planning your next collection? Will the theme of creating clothing transformable into safe spaces continue?
Joyce: I am currently taking a short break from designing my own collection. As a new graduate from school, I should enter the industry and gain real-life experience.
I haven’t decided if I want to continue by creating clothing that literally transforms into safe spaces yet. Still, I will continue to explore fashion that is interactive and engages with the audience. In ways and forms that tranquility will always be a part of my design identity.
Solstice: Which designers do you look up to/have influenced your work?
Joyce: I have been following Raf Simons ever since he began his position as a creative director at Dior. I adore how he doesn’t compromise with titles and let them restrain his designs. Since Jil Sander, he began working with Dior to prove that he can design couture too. He challenges himself with designing for companies with different aesthetics to demonstrate he is capable of designing beyond what the press labels him with. He terminated his contract early with Calvin Klein because Simons had a different vision for the brand from the shareholder, and I look up to him for staying true to his visions. It amazes me that after Simons attained his industrial design diploma, he changed his course to pursue fashion. It shows that art has no boundaries, and as designers, we should not set limits for ourselves.
Solstice: What do you hope you’ll be doing/where do you hope you’ll be working in ten years?
Joyce: Ten years seems so soon away yet so far from now. I’m sure what I have planned for myself now will be different five years from now. I’d like to focus on gathering more in-field experience, working for companies I admire, and learning the aspects of the industry from production to advertising to merchandising. During this time, I’d like to refine my design narrative in preparation for when I go back to school for a master’s degree. From there, I might want to establish my own brand here in New York or perhaps leaving the U.S. to design for another brand that inspired me.
Interview conducted by: Ava Fletcher
Designer: Joyce Li
Photographer: Alessandra Bonizzi
Model: Jackie Gill