Inspired by a culture of color

China Daily
Updated: June 29, 2024
At an ongoing travel festival promoting the nomadic lifestyle in Urumqi, 23-year-old designer Zhou plays the dongbula, or dombra, a Kazak traditional musical instrument, in front of her stall.[Photo provided by Hu Huhu/Xinhua]

As the latest hit TV show To the Wonder has made Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region a trendy travel destination, Zhou Fangyi, a 23-year-old fashion designer, hopes that beyond enjoying the stunning landscape, the lifestyle and fashion of the Kazak ethnic group can be appreciated by more people.

Unfolding a scarf, sold at the Xinjiang Museum in Urumqi, Zhou (right) discusses its intricate design with Zayra.[Photo provided by Hu Huhu/Xinhua]

Also known as Sholpan, the woman born in Beijing wears Kazak traditional clothing, plays the dongbula, or dombra, a Kazak traditional musical instrument, and sings Kazak songs. In her Kazak friend Zayra Ysidwulti's eyes, Zhou is more a Kazak than herself. Zayra is a visual designer and illustrator.

In the suburbs of Urumqi, Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, Zhou Fangyi (front) and her friend Zayra Ysidwulti sew newly designed patterns for clothing ornaments.[Photo provided by Hu Huhu/Xinhua]

Zhou says, "Every woman has more than one characteristic, more than one identity and more than one possibility. There should be more than one answer to define a person."

Interested in Kazak culture when she was a teenager, Zhou moved to Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture, Xinjiang, and opened her own design studio after graduation last year from University College London's The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment.

The rigors of sewing leave a raw mark on Zhou's thumb.[Photo provided by Hu Huhu/Xinhua]

She is a collector of traditional clothing in Central Asia and her chapan (a traditional Kazak gown) is used as a costume worn by Zhang Fengxia, a character in the TV show To the Wonder.

"As a Han woman, I have been fascinated by the Kazak lifestyle and culture for a long time," Zhou says, adding its geographical location determines that the culture is very inclusive and diverse, allowing locals to learn from the characteristics of the East and absorb the aesthetics of the West.

Zhou (right) introduces her collection to tourists at the festival in Urumqi.[Photo provided by Hu Huhu/Xinhua]

Meeting Zayra on social media platform Xiaohongshu(Little Red Book), the two set up a studio showcasing and promoting the nomadic fashion and lifestyle in Ili.

Although the young Kazak generation in the city have moved away from the nomadic lifestyle and started wearing trendy outfits, Zhou believes that innovation in Kazak culture brings new opportunities for business to local craftsmen, who can create traditional patterns on modern clothing, which may help to promote the ethnic culture.

Dressed in traditional clothing from Zhou's collection, Zayra, on horseback, showcases the charm of Kazak culture at the event.[Photo provided by Hu Huhu/Xinhua]

"Donning ethnic attire can be a very cool fashion element today, which can make you stand out from the crowd and represent the charm of ethnic culture," Zayra says.

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