Meet Chinese design duo Private Policy

The CFDA finalists are bringing 'third culture' kids to the forefront.

by Qiuzi Zhang
14 July 2020, 10:00am

image via @privatepolicyny

Being a third culture kid means you grew up in a different culture to your parents, or hold a different passport to the place you live. Third culture children are exposed to a variety of influences, and because of that, perhaps they see the world with open minds, and are more worldly than some of their contemporaries. Alongside this, however, they can also lack a sense of belonging.

Third culture kids are present today everywhere in the world, and with their in-depth understanding of multiple cultures, they are spending making social changes on their own terms.

Private Policy is a brand founded by two schoolmates in NYC, SiYing Qu and Haoran Li. It’s quickly become well-loved by celebrities like Bella Hadid, Angelababy, Troye Sivan, Billie Eillish, Kris Wu, and more. Their success in the fashion industry is down to a mixture of talent, a small amount of luck, and extreme hard work; being third culture creatives on top of that, their journey has been and will continue to be an interesting one.

i-D talked to SiYing and Haoran about fashion as activism, being CFDA Award finalists, and being Third culture creatives.

What are the ideals of Private Policy?
SiYing: We wanted to start a brand where our audience creations that have substance with social consciousness, and fashion is a great medium to translate the stern problems we face with fun and flare. Using our voice to ignite awareness of social issues is key.
Haoran: Our slogan is “Make Your Own Rules”, we want to use fashion to make people come together with their different views.

When was the time and point where you guys thought to yourselves, I think we are on the right track?
SiYing: There were a few moments where something happened that made me feel that way. The first one was when Kendall Jenner started to wear our clothes, and it wasn’t just once, she repeatedly wore an entire outfit a few times throughout a short period. The other one was when we were the first Chinese New York based brand that was a finalist for CFDA Fashion Award 2019. To see our hard work getting recognized is definitely rewarding.
Haoran: It’s definitely being the finalist of CFDA Fashion Award, it got us recognized by industry professional’s attention like buyers or media. It was such an important moment for us.

Do you guys feel there were certain advantages and disadvantages in the fashion industry being third culture creatives?
SiYing: We face challenges every day, especially when we first started. We put a lot of efforts into learning how to create a brand, but when it hit the ground, we had to learn about the significance of pop culture influences it had on fashion, and we were very nervous about how to communicate with industry professionals. As we grow with practice, we are becoming more fluent and confident in what we are saying and doing. Being a Third Culture creative, it was much easier for us to understand the cultural differences during this unprecedented pandemic. We can work on samples in China, which won’t disturb our supply chain to the west, and because we are Chinese, we can easily grasp what our audience wants in China and the same for any Westernised countries. We stand in the middle ground to bridge the two cultures in our design elements, and this is our biggest advantage.

Haoran: We definitely had to have a crash course on the American celebrities and their influences on a brand, I had to learn quickly about who is who and what was what. On the other hand, from our background to our lives, we merge the two cultures on the daily basis. During something insane like this pandemic, it is undoubtedly helpful that we utilise different aspects of different countries to make sure we stand strong as a brand.

Can you elaborate on the 天生完美 (Born Perfect) idea?
Haoran: It was from Lady Gaga’s album for our Spring Summer 2020 collection, it was a perfect match to our brand’s DNA.
SiYing: Like Haoran said, it is the perfect match to our DNA. We will continue the encouragement in the future to our audience, including the Instagram filter we have of 天生完美 (Born Perfect).

You made a vest with $10,000 bills shredded inside, which was quite the statement piece. What was the inspiration for it?
SiYing: That vest was made for Autumn Winter 2019, we were fascinated by the relationship between people and money. It was inspired by this show in the U.K., and during our research on the matter, we stumbled upon the U.S. Bureau of Engraving, where they shred old bills into mulch. They shred old bills on a daily basis, and when you visit the site, they give you a tiny bag of the mulch as a souvenir, so we made a field trip with a bunch of friends to gather enough of it to fill the vest. To them, this is now garbage, but to us, it is still money. The process of making this vest was so much fun, it was actually a true experience on how we as people see the money.
Haoran: Yes, that was definitely super fun for us, and this idea also supports our ideology on epicycle on sustainability as a brand. We believe using existing material to create new things are very important.

Private Policy has a solid community with other creatives, why is it important for you to get people involved?
SiYing: We always want to build a space where people can come together and work with different people in all kinds of different fields. Collaboration is the glue that can bring different people together.
Haoran: In each of our collections, we work with friends or artists to enlighten our voices together, and being inclusive of the community is also part of our DNA and our future.

This question is unavoidable, so let’s talk about it. How do you guys feel about the stigma of the counterfeits culture?
SiYing: Overall, China has been linked to fakes from the previous generation’s consumer behaviours. China is not the only country consuming fakes, you can open westernise apps now and see fakes being consumed. The nature of buying fakes is people want to have a luxurious lifestyle even if they don’t actually have one, so it’s easier to buy a camouflage piece to feel that way. I remember it was taught in class that when America was coming out of the depression, and it was focusing on being a manufacturing country, they also ‘borrowed’ a lot of existing things from Europe like clothing patterns or lifestyle products.
Haoran: Fakes are now like a stamp of approval, and people often forget that the people who are buying fakes are not your true audience. They are probably never going to buy the real thing, maybe it’s the price or they don’t know who we are, so it doesn’t affect us to our core. In a sense, it can be like free marketing. With the rise of the creatives in China, we can see consumer behaviour changing, and it feels great to see.

The Chinese buying power is undeniable, especially in fashion. But with the internet and new generation of Third Culture kids, in your opinion, how has the spending changed and where do you think it will go in the future?
SiYing: The Chinese buying power doesn’t seem like it will slow down any time soon, but the new generation will buy smarter and buy things they have an interest or emotional connection to.
Haoran: Being confronted by this pandemic, I think a lot of fashion brands will have to rethink their strategy and move our old ways online; like T-Mall’s livestreams, sales presentations, and even runway shows. It can be cost-efficient as well as bring more awareness to our brand.

Racial injustice is not just a 2020 problem as we all know too well. Have you guys faced any incidents and how did you deal with it?
SiYing: I think the racial injustice towards Asian people has always been quite subtle, sometimes in a form of a joke, and sometimes is under someone’s breath. This is clearly there, we can all feel it. But after the spread of COVID-19, the subtleness has been lifted, we have been seeing racial attacks, both verbally and physically on the internet where people are getting thrown acid to their face, elderly getting kicked from the back. Luckily, I haven’t personally encountered any incidents, I believe we should not be quiet like the previous generations.
Haoran: I also haven’t had any encounters myself, but I know it’s there. As a group, Asian people used to just put our heads down and focus on making a life, but now it has to change, we have to speak up. The education or information given here can definitely misguide people and unless we correct them, communications will inflict change. This world needs more Third culture kids because we understand and live the culture differences, and we can bring realistic harmony.

What is the legacy Private Policy wants to leave for the future Third Culture kids?
SiYing: We want to encourage people to believe in themselves. We were international students, studying in New York to eventually want to make a path for ourselves here. We want to use ourselves as an example to show future Third Culture kids that just because you are not from a place, doesn’t mean you can’t make it wherever you are.
Haoran: We want to show the future Third Culture kids that the possibilities for them are endless. Nowadays, you don’t have to choose one culture to live by, you can be proud to be a Third Culture kid, live and love wider and more inclusively.

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