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Yan Yang

Multidisciplinary Artist / Designer

Yan Yang (@yuring.yan) is a Chinese fashion art designer, textile pattern designer, painter,  and installation artist, based in Chicago, U.S.A. Her work has won international awards including the Gold Medal in the Third "Yuanzhou Bei" National Casual Fashion Design Competition, and was the Outstanding Winner in the 2017 International Youth Designer competition. 

We had the chance to interview Yan about her work, experiences so far and her hopes for the future. 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?

Yan:  I was born and raised in mainland China. I was the only child in my family and had no siblings to play with, so I started drawing at a very young age. I enjoyed drawing so much that I even tried to draw the costumes worn by the characters in the show when I watched TV. Continuous drawing training gave me solid basic skills as a teenager. What I remember most vividly is that every weekend when I was a child, my father drove me to the studio on his motorcycle to learn to paint, regardless of the weather, and persisted for ten years. This is when my dream began.

Solstice: How did you get into art & design?

Yan: Art started when I was a kid with a lot of drawing training. The fashion design part started when I went to college. I took courses in design research, pattern making, vertical cutting, and sewing techniques. The solid basic skills accumulated during several years of study have helped me to create my art and design.

Solstice: How are you finding working as a creative person?  How did the pandemic affect you and your work?

Yan: My biggest feeling is that it was well worth it. Being a creative person, I find a lot of overlooked details in life. I will create different works by amplifying the details in people's lives and hearts. These works are presented to inspire people.

Due to the pandemic, each of us had a long period of home quarantine. The trajectory of everyone's life was disrupted and the long periods of time behind closed doors were very traumatic for people psychologically. During the quarantine, I drew at home every day, recording my daily emotions in different projects. I later made my drawings into fabrics and clothing through digital printing and other techniques. Through this work I hope that when we are faced with darkness, each of us can have the courage and confidence to overcome difficulties. I hope my work can encourage those who are suffering from depression and mental illnesses.

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Solstice: You work across different types of art and design, what are biggest similarities and differences between them all?

Yan: For my art and design, they are closely linked. My artwork is the inspiration for my fashion design, and I design many fabric patterns by drawing and painting. The expression of art is more pure and free. I can express what's in my head with a brush without any restrictions. The design is presented by way of clothing, and this part has to combine ergonomics, clothing functionality and other factors. They each have their own characteristics that I like.

Solstice: Your fashion designs are meant to act as a type of psychological therapy, helping to heal. Please tell us more about that?

Yan: In 2020, the COVID-19 Pandemic hit the world. A lot of people felt lost, sad, irritable, and emotionally out of control. I used my paintings as a medium for trauma therapy and recorded my moods on canvas in different colours every day. I used various positions in my art room, and I recorded the different poses. These shapes later became exaggerated silhouettes for my clothing designs. I digitally converted all 100+ drawings and designed them into fabric patterns. which were converted into fabric through digital printing technology and finished the garments accordingly to the designed silhouettes.


All my paintings were done front and back and linked together with hinges to make a room-like installation. My costume design works were filled with various parts of the painting installation, which metaphorically represented my mental state during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It was my work that cured me of my depression during this difficult time.

I hope that my work can show the importance of Mental Health in our communities. Each of us has the courage and confidence to overcome difficulties, and I hope that my fashion can help those who are struggling in mind, body, and Spirit.

Solstice: What do you think about fashion’s move to making more unisex clothing? Is it better for creativity and design or worse?

Yan:​ I think this is a very good.  Human freedom goes beyond gender. The idea of unisex and multi-sex creates a process of intermingling through integration and breaking through people’s perceived inherent boundaries. My design theme“Free Loop”represented a significant historical era while simultaneously reflecting the concept that people can constantly come up with unlimited possibilities.  I combined computer embroidery, offset printing, digital printing, and hand-painting to write "freedom" and "gender free" directly on the garment in many languages to emphasize the concept.

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Solstice: You seem to be enjoying your time in Chicago, but can you see yourself moving to New York, or another big fashion city in the future? Paris, Milan, London maybe?

Yan:  It depends. I do like Chicago. Chicago has a beautiful architectural design and a lot of great contemporary art. The city brings me a lot of inspiration. For a fashion designer, the four fashion cities of New York, Paris, Milan and London are of great help to the designer's development. I wouldn't mind going to these cities if I have the opportunity in the future. Experiencing more of the culture of different cities is very helpful for my art and design development.

Solstice: What do you hope you’ll be doing/where do you hope you’ll be working in five years?

Yan: I will always go forward in this path of fashion art. I will continue to create art and design to develop my fashion through painting. I will participate in more exhibitions and fashion shows, and will probably continue to create art and design in Chicago for some time. I hope that my designs/art can draw more attention and support social issues in the world. 

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Solstice: What are the biggest differences between Chinese design and design from U.S.A.?

Yan: There is a big difference. When I did my first master's degree in Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, I learned a lot about Chinese traditional culture and intangible heritage. I made fashion designs with traditional Chinese elements. When I worked for a Chinese design brand after graduating from BIFT, the brand concept was also focused on "Chinese style”. I then completed a second master's degree in design in the United States at School of the Art Institute of Chicago. During my studies and work in the US, there is no fixed "American style", but more of a diversity. Every artist or fashion designer has his or her own design language. It was during my years in the US that I gradually developed my own style.

Solstice: Who is your favourite designer? Who has influenced your work the most?

Yan: There is no particular designer who influences me the most. I think if I focus too much on one designer, my work may end up looking like him. I see more from the perspective of fashion trends to see what different brands are presenting each season. In addition to designers, many artists also have a deep influence on me. Through their art or design works, I feel their life, their love, and their contribution to society. These beautiful qualities will encourage me to keep working hard.

Solstice: What qualities do you think a fashion designer needs to embody or possess?

Yan:​ Creative thinking - the ability to translate design ideas well through the design medium into fashion art, or ready-to-wear to serve the public.

Paying attention to the details - the details show the uniqueness of the designer. I pay a lot of attention to the details of the design, and it is also a part of me that spends a long time, I will consider which process to use, how to present, how to present the best effect, etc.

Strong physical fitness - the whole design process is long, there are many things to do, and it is common to stay up all night, so it is difficult to carry on without a strong physical fitness.

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Solstice: How important is sustainability to you and your designs? What are you opinions on Fashion’s problem with overproduction and waste?

Yan: The topic of sustainability has always been an important one in fashion development. For my designs, I use a lot of eco-friendly recycled fabrics, and I also use a patchwork production process to reduce the waste of fabrics. Sustainable development in fashion requires the joint efforts of every fashionista, and the power of an individual is too small. There is a lot of overproduction and waste in the garment manufacturing process. The process of garment making is also accompanied by water and air pollution problems. Improvements in production technology are needed to reduce environmental pollution.  The fashion industry needs to make more use of artificial intelligence to analyse fashion consumers' choices. And predict what they want next, reducing the problem of overproduction and inventory backlogs.

Solstice: You have participated in so many international fashion design competitions, which one are you most proud of participating in and why?

Yan: Every competition is a good experience, because the theme is different and the concept I want to express is different, so I did a lot of research before each competition. Although this process is very tiring and hard, but in the end when I see the ready-made clothes, it is worth it.

I was most impressed by a denim design competition I entered in Milan, Italy. This competition brought together young designers from the world's top fashion schools, and each designer told his or her own design story. I learned a lot from the process and gained a better understanding of the balance between commercial development and design in the fashion industry.

Solstice: What would be a dream fashion project for you to work on?

Yan:​ My dream fashion project is one where I can express my design ideas in the language of clothing without any restrictions. I don't need to think too much about the market, or commercial value. I purely hope that my designs can bring people spiritual healing, and positivity.

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