Due to the garment industrialization and the lack of marketing promotion and innovation, zha-ran (a Chinese traditional stitch-resist tie-dye textile art form), one of the hidden jewels among Chinese intangible culture heritages, is started to disappear in our modern lives. From the journals I read and the interviews I had with zha-ran textile factories and museums, it also showed there is a tendency that young generation is no longer interested or aware of this 1500-thousand-year old tie-dye technique anymore. So ‘how to revive the sustainable development of Zha-ran among young generation?’ became to my question.
“It is so difficult these days to find young apprentices who can stay in our village and learn zha-ran.” Duan Shukun, the founder of Bai Ethnic Group zha-ran Museum in Dali, SW China and the owner of Puzhen Dali Tie-dye textile factory expressed his concerns when I was interviewing him. Based on my qualitative research, I found out zha-ran textile is losing the market share in fabric industry and facing the threat to pass on to the young generation.
Besides, as a journalist over 6 years in China, I noticed many of our precious cultural traditional heritages we have for ages are facing tremendous difficulties to survive nowadays. Therefore, I devoted myself to do this project as a long-term practice and see if I could make any progress for the sustainable development of Chinese traditional textile art.
In the beginning of my research, I sent online questionnaires to college students to ask what’s their impression about tie-dye. “Cheap” and “hippy” are the most frequently used words for the description. And after I showed the pictures of Chinese zha-ran, most of them are surprised and described it as “elegant” and “artistic”, which I believe that is a good sign to bring the closer connection between traditional Chinese tie-dye and young generation.
Furthermore, I interviewed Wendy Garrity, the founder of Textile Trails website which shared various knowledge about textile culture around the world and she went to Dali to learn zha-ran and filmed it. After I talked about my research question and ideas, Wendy gave me positive feedbacks. “I do believe the potential of Chinese tie-dye and I think it is important to let more young people, especially the local to learn, to join.” Wendy said.
From the secondary research, I learnt that social media can play a very important platform for me to carry out my intervention to promote Chinese tie-dye. Therefore, I choose two most popular social media platforms, Tiktok and Instagram, to register Chinese tie-dye account, as an ‘online museum’ to show and share what zha-ran is and what innovative design we could have to arouse the attention for Chinese tie-dye. Due to the Covid situation, I had to count on my stakeholders to supply me firs-hand pictures and videos, so I can build up the basic structure of this ‘online museum’ to support my first-step intervention. Thanks to the support of Dali Zha-ran museum, the only national museum about Chinese tie-dye in China, I received a lot of original documents about Chinese tie-dye art pieces which I could use to edit and post on Tiktok and Instagram.
During the past few months, I received more and more likes and comments. “Before I only seen Zha-ran as a local souvenir in Yunnan to represent their Bai ethnic group culture. But the story behind made me want to know more about zha-ran. If I will have chances in the future, I would love to go to Dali and make one zha-ran scarf for myself.” Ziyi Wang, a Chinese college student commented on my Tiktok post. Also, I received very positive feedback from my stakeholders. “Young generations spend a lot of time on social media and by using social media promotion, more and more people came to buy our products online.” Hanmin Zhang, the owner of Lanxu Zha-ran Textile company in China told me.
During the summer independent study period, I joined my stakeholders to do a live broadcast on Tiktok for Chinese Intangible Cultural Heritage Festival as another intervention. I used my expertise on media to help them organizing the content, taught them how to grasp follower’s attention and we made a huge success for a half-hour online show. The followers commented as “Chinese tie-dye is incredibly beautiful”, “this is our precious culture” “we need this organic lifestyle” and etc which inspired us tremendously. During the alive broadcast, we shared the purchase website link to the followers and we sold 856 pieces of Chinese tie-dye crafts by half-an-hour alive promotion. “Apparently if we want our next generation to know about zha-ran, we need to use their way to welcome them knowing our tradition. And we should do more this type of online activities in the near future to let more young people to join us.” Shukun Duan said after the show.
At the same time, I also interviewed one of the most famous Chinese tie-dye artist Fanglu Lin. She is one of the 30 finalists for the Craft Prize 2020 organized by the Loewe Foundation and her artworks about Chinese tie-dye is going to be exhibited in Paris soon. “I saw the possibility of using tie-dye technique for self-expression which is quite important for our young generation.” As a young artist, she brought a lot of creative ideas and new designs for traditional Chinese tie-dye technique. “Actually, a lot of foreigners are fascinated by our traditional culture and the Chinese tie-dye sofa I designed earned a lot of popularity from international furniture buyers.” Fanglu Lin said.
And from the conversation I had with Zara Korutz, a fashion critic, she also mentioned that tie-dye is gaining popularity by designers from luxurious brands, such as Louis Vuitton and Dior. From these luxurious brands’ new collections, we all can found tie-dye designs by their bags or garments, which is a very good sign for reviving Chinese tie-dye.
Zha-ran Butterfly Diffuser
By the interview with Fanglu, I started to think what kind of intervention can combine the traditional zha-ran with modern interior design together and attract people’s attention. I start to search and found out that “the global home fragrance market size is expected to reach USD 27.63 billion by 2027” (by Fortune Business Insights) which inspired me to create a home diffuser with zha-ran fabrics.
Customized zha-ran jewellery
When I keep going with the journey of exploring all the possibilities of zha-ran innovation, I noticed that young generation is very fond of unique or customized designs to present their identities. So now I came up with the idea of zha-ran 2020 Nature Collection. With the combination of tie-dye fabric and gold, the design conveyed the message of ‘the beauty of tradition’.
During the whole process of my exploration, I realized that there are a lot of opportunities to bring traditional tie-dye into our sight and Chinese zha-ran is not an “out-of-date” textile dyeing technique or a local craft but more like an artform and an expression that young generation can be interested and an organic lifestyle.
For my next-step intervention, I’m thinking to create an online platform to connect Chinese traditional tie-dye textile factories with young talent designers, fashion critics, artists to brainstorm more creative and innovative artworks to change the stereotype of Chinese tie-dye technique which has been seen as obsolete and ethnic souvenir. And I will try to talk to more stakeholders to see if I can make the Butterfly diffuser and zha-ran jewellery ideas into real business.
And I see this project as a long-term and sustainable project which I will keep making efforts to make progress. At the same time, I will keep gathering more stakeholders on board as a team to work on this project continuously and bring positive changes for the traditional textile art forms. And I believe I could use my project of Chinese tie-dye as a gesture to arouse people’s attention to rethink about our traditional culture and technique in old days and to open people’s mind to jump out of the box of stereotype.