Guangzhou-born designer, Wanbing Huang, began her fashion education at Tokyo’s prestigious Bunka University where she studied pattern-making and technical garment production. She followed this with BA Womenswear at Central Saint Martins (CSM), where she graduated in the class of '18.
Already looking ahead, Huang launched her self-named brand at Labelhood, Shanghai Fashion Week’s platform for emerging designers, whilst still midway through her BA womenswear course at CSM. Balancing rigorous study demands with building a brand, she admits growth was inevitably slow: "I had to limit production quantities for my last two ready-to-wear collections due to university projects."
Two years after its launch, Huang’s brand aesthetic has now matured. Blending couture techniques with textile innovation, suiting has unexpected textures, whilst dresses take on a sculptural element. “For my SS’18 collection, I weaved transparent glass fibre and cotton together, using a 1960s technique developed by Chanel. This created a glossy finish and fluid texture to mimic water reflections,” explains Huang.
As the brand expands, Huang is considering how her business model can be sustainable and efficient using slow, artisanal production methods. For now, she reveals it is growing steadily. “Our sales percentage growth is currently at 60 percent.”
Considering she receives no external funding, this is impressive. “I finance the promotion and production of each collection through family support, remuneration of collaborative projects, as well as making and selling contemporary art pieces,” she states. For her SS’18 presentation, she created a number of giant glass bowl sculptures with kinetic functions, which were snapped up by collectors and art enthusiasts.
“For my SS’18 collection, I weaved transparent glass fibre and cotton together, using a 1960s technique developed by Chanel. ”
Huang’s first stockist was Shanghainese boutique, Dongliang. Established by Labelhood’s founder, Tasha Liu, it features strictly up-and-coming Chinese brands, so reaching an international audience is tricky. Since graduating, Huang notes a growing interest from retailers with global prominence, including chain boutique, Joyce, which currently stocks her latest collection in their Beijing outpost.
In March 2017, Huang gained international recognition when she was selected by Stavros Karelis, founder of renowned London concept store Machine-A, to participate in NikeLab's Vision-AIRS exhibition. For the project, she developed a 3D printed material from reusable latex to create a headpiece and matching bodysuit, inspired by Nike’s new Air VaporMax sneaker.
Now based in London, Huang sees the city as a rich source of inspiration with more art and culture offerings compared to China. Keeping her production in Europe, she sources fabrics and accessories from the UK and Italy and produces collections in Slovenia, where costs are considerably lower. This close-knit strategy means she can offer top quality as well as accessibility; her retail price point is at a premium positioning, ranging from £250 to £850.
Ambitious to expand, Huang's next line of enquiry includes top retailers like Dover Street Market, Barneys New York, and L’Éclaireur. “I am also thinking about opening my own stand-alone store, where I can better curate my concepts and design vision,” says Huang.