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Type Folio: Designer Mandy Liu on Being Sustainably Trendy

Type Folio: Designer Mandy Liu on Being Sustainably Trendy

Hong Kong-born designer and founder of 717 Creations Mandy Liu looks forward to a future in which sustainability and fashion can walk hand in hand.

Accessories designer and entrepreneur Mandy Liu not only lends her creativity to fashion houses such as Alexander Wang and Simkhai, she’s also an advocate for a sustainable fashion future. Through her design consultancy 717 Creations, she’s driving the conversation and offering sustainable solutions for today’s luxury brands and tomorrow’s emerging labels. The Hong Kong-born designer shares the inspiration behind her latest works – we’re already eyeing the gorgeous Simhai top-handle bag – and how we can make fashion less wasteful by making informed choices.

Why does product design interest you?

When I was young, my mother was already designing pouches for Christian Dior Parfums. When we went shopping, it always involved research on bag design. She’d explain to me why she thought this design was interesting or why that construction was smart because it increased production efficiency. My interest in product design started there.

Earrings for Alexander Wang
Earrings designed by Mandy Liu for Alexander Wang

Sustainability is a huge topic and challenge for the fashion industry. Do you consider sustainable solutions, technology and materials in your designs?

I champion the use of hypoallergenic high-quality stainless steel in jewellery and hardware apparel, handbags and shoes. Stainless steel is more resistant to abrasion and deoxidisation, enabling longer-lasting product quality. Pieces made from stainless steel don’t require traditional electroplating, a harmful production method that generates toxic wastewater as well as harmful emissions of air pollutants.

I’m also working with a paper box factory on utilising recycled sugarcane pulp to produce 100-percent sugarcane paper, which can be used to make 100-percent biodegradable packaging. My goal is to help brands that are seeking sustainability-driven alternatives so they can phase out existing packaging methods. This factory partnership strengthens that goal by reducing deforestation and increasing the repurposing of waste materials. Using 100-percent sugarcane paper is one of my company’s key initiatives in 2024. The paper’s already gained Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certification, a voluntary product standard accreditation that highlights my commitment against greenwashing.

I see increasingly innovative plant-based fabrics these days. There are also fabrics and yarns such as recycled nylon, recycled cotton, RPET made from plastic bottles and fabric made from bamboo lyocell, pineapple-leaf and banana-leaf fibres. There are also many more sustainable methods of making products. For example, the knitted mask brand I launched during Covid was made from upcycled Italian yarn. The technique used was knit-to-shape in 3D using German STOLL machines – this technology produces very little material waste.

What are the favourite designs you’ve done for Simkhai and Alexander Wang?

With Alexander Wang, my first collection using jade is my favourite. As I was born and raised in Hong Kong, I’ve always been fascinated by Jade jewellery. I wouldn’t necessarily wear it, because it has more of an old-fashioned feel to it – more traditional jewellery that grandmothers or old ladies would wear. Alexander Wang’s jade collection, however, completely transformed that image into a young and modernised version. The signature “a” silhouette, carved in bamboo detail, ties in with our Far Eastern roots.

The Nixi Twist handle I designed for Simkhai is also one of my favourite designs of all time. The inspiration was a playful take on the industrial edge of a twisted-metal drill bit used in building construction. I transformed the twisted-metal aesthetic into the handle by recreating the proportion, shape, and scale. This handle design can be used with different bag silhouettes. It can also be reinterpreted by changing the shape and size to create a new handle. This timeless signature hardware detail has longevity on the line.

Simkhai Nixi Twist's handle is designed by Mandy Liu
Simkhai Nixi Twist’s handle is designed by Mandy Liu

What do you like about the two fashion houses that align with your values?

I’ve liked the style that Alexander Wang has created for many years now – it’s the messiah of a casual-luxe, sports-infused lifestyle that echoes the lowbrow culture of the 1990s. I have a special attachment to New York City, as I studied art, design and business there. Alexander Wang represents that New American culture to me.

Both Alexander Wang and Jonathan Simkhai went to the same college as I – Parsons School of Design – but at different times. It’s an absolute honour now to have the opportunity to work with both of them on creating new designs, development and production.

What was the last book you read?

The Book of Ichigo Ichie – The Art of Making the Most of Every Moment, the Japanese Way, by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. It captures the idea that every moment happens only once in our life time. If we let that moment slip away, we’d lose it forever. Ichigo ichi is a greeting or saying goodbye in Japanese, which conveys that every encounter is unique and special. This attribute compels us to focus on the present moment and the importance of treasuring every moment of our life.

The Book of Ichigo Ichie – The Art of Making the Most of Every Moment, the Japanese Way
The Book of Ichigo Ichie – The Art of Making the Most of Every Moment, the Japanese Way

How would you describe your personal style?

My style is very retro. I like shopping at vintage stores and buying clothing with a retro vibe to it. I don’t really like to follow trends, I wear whatever I feel like at the time I get dressed. Some days I feel I have a closet full of clothes but nothing to wear. Other days I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go. Nowadays, I only wear jewellery or handbags I’ve worked on.

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I love planning my wardrobe for vacations in warm weather, when keeping warm isn’t a concern and I can dress up more freely, extravagantly or bravely, because I’m a tourist on holiday. I can have more fun with what I wear and care less about what people think about my attire.

Would you rather give up your bag collection or your shoes?

I’m definitely keeping my bag collection. I’m not going to give up the bags I designed or produced. Every piece I worked on has a sentimental value to me. I hope I’d have enough storage space to keep them forever.

Mandy Liu
Mandy Liu

Do you have any tips about building a capsule wardrobe?

Creating one to two looks is enough to build a capsule collection. It’s not about quantity but quality. Find what feels unique and touching for you, instead of thinking whether you can sell it or people will like it. Most important is that you love it and that you truly, deeply believe in the design. The craftsmanship and materials should be your key focus. Build the collection first and think about the rest later.

How can we all be more sustainable and still have fun with fashion?

We can try to avoid materials like PU or PVC, as they aren’t biodegraded until a million years later. Reducing unnecessary purchases is also a way to be sustainable. Reselling and recycling can help extend the life of the products and reduce waste. There are brands that focus on sustainable goals, using only plant-based or recycled materials to reduce the carbon footprint. I really like the brand Pangaia, for example. It inspires me to use more materials that are less harmful to the environment.

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Source: Prestige Online

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