Part 1 – The Power of the Question (Shanghai)

by Matthew E May

Lots of bad stuff happening in China right now. So let’s talk about some good stuff. Like the design coming out of Shanghai.

Innovation, no matter where it occurs, always begins with a burning question (or questions), centered around “Is there a better way?” Artist-turned-designer Lu Kun has almost single-handedly put Shanghai on the international fashion map by pursuing three such questions:

Why doesn’t China’s clothing industry pay attention to detail? Why is it so cheap and uninspired? Why can’t we do it differently?

Tired of his country being perceived as one big factory, Kun is on a mission to demonstrate that creativity and innovation are alive and well in China. His bold designs are doing just that. Drawing his inspiration from what he knows best – the streets of Shanghai – Kun’s original creations are being hailed as elegant and imaginative, yet at the same time distinctly Shanghainese.

Undaunted by China’s lack of a financial backing system for developing promising fashion designers, Kun has broken new ground. Until the arrival of Mr. Lu, no Chinese designer had achieved a presence on the international catwalk.

Kun did it in less than five years. How?

It’s as if Mr. Lu took the advice of Sakichi Toyoda, who said: “Never try to design something without first gaining at least three years hands-on experience.”

Kun’s six-step path to innovation:

  1. Learning the basics of fashion design in a vocational high school.
  2. One year of cutting and sewing at a Shanghai tailor shop.
  3. One year at a startup Hong Kong label.
  4. One year teaching sewing technique and production design at LaSalle International Fashion School in Shanghai.
  5. Then out on his own as a personal fashion designer for wealthy individuals.
  6. And finally the design of an entire line of special occasion and upscale casual wear.

As with all great innovators, it’s the power of the question that drives Kun’s artistry.

Matthew E. May is the author of “IN PURSUIT OF ELEGANCE: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.” He is constantly searching for creative ideas and innovative solutions that are ‘elegant’ – a unique and elusive combination of unusual simplicity and surprising power.

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