Welcome to The Green Scene. Twice a week during the month of April, we're highlighting the designers and brands working to make the world of fashion and beauty a greener, more sustainable place. The brands to support are the ones making a difference; check back every Tuesday and Thursday to meet your new favorites.
It's been a while since a knitwear brand has filled us with as much joy as Hong Kong-based YanYan has, and we're all about it. The quirky new label is the brainchild of two seasoned fashion designers, Phyllis Chan and Suzzie Chung, and it's arrived just in time for spring.
The brand was launched with an aim to fill a very specific void in the market: knitwear that's high-quality and fun, and not too outrageous of an investment. "A lot of people our age want high-quality, fun, novelty products, and are willing to invest, but so much of what is out there is either really expensive or too cheap or poor quality," says Chung.
Chan, the former director of knitwear at rag & bone, and Chung, a Hong Kong designer, have been longtime friends. The two dreamt of starting a company together as kids but didn't actually begin work on their direct-to-consumer premium knitwear brand until about two years ago, when both were looking for a "life change," as Chan calls it.
YanYan means "everyone" in Cantonese, which carries significant meaning to the brand's ethos: quality, design-driven knitwear products that are accessible to all.
Having just launched their debut capsule collection last month, the design duo drew inspiration from their heritage, designing their take on what modern Chinese clothing is today. Italian-spin tweed yarns, Scottish lamb's wool, and Japanese-spun technical yarns are knitted in China to create a colorful and quirky assortment of dresses and separates that combine cheongsam-inspired closures, hand-tied and hand-embroidered Chinese knots, with in-your-face colors and grandma-inspired floral embellishments. It's the perfect marriage of heritage and modern day.
The standouts? Electric green, scalloped bike shorts; a pocketed hoodie with pineapple knot flower embellishments; and a rainbow-striped short-sleeve maxi dress—all the ideal additions to our spring wardrobes. Prices range from $95 to $475.
But aside from being wonderfully colorful, adorable, and cozy-as-hell (something I can personally vouch for), it also has a major focus on sustainability.
First and foremost, the capsule collection uses recycled yarn; surplus leftovers that are stored at knitwear factories until they eventually "expire" (yes, before they are knit into apparel, yarns have expiration dates indicating if they'll still be malleable enough for a loom) and end up in landfills. For this specific collection, YanYan has kept more yarn out of landfills than it's put in.
The recycled yarn aspect is more of an experiment in the first capsule, and if it proves to be a feasible approach long-term—being dependent on overage yarns from other brands as well as mills' and factories' willingness to sell them—the designers will absolutely continue doing so. Still, the duo keeps sustainability, thoughtfulness, and ethics in terms of environmental, social, and economical in mind with every decision they make.
The brand operates with a "slow fashion-meets-limited edition" business model, meaning they will be releasing small-batch capsule collections every two to three months. This allows them to keep up with the fast fashion retailer turnover, without overproducing and creating waste.
When both designers first entered the fashion industry over a decade ago, sustainability wasn't really a thing. "It was more of a concept or gimmick," says Chan. "It's really hard for bigger companies to change overnight, even if they want to. It's hard to put in those changes without affecting the process or pricing, and it's hard to ask the customer to choose. "
With that said, she explains that it's much easier to start a company from scratch, having those sustainable practices in place from the very beginning. And while some think producing sustainably automatically means it'll cost more money, that's not always the case. "We have limited funds and resources, so using leftover material is both practical and economical," says Chung.
They value sustainability from a human standpoint, too. "We appreciate all the work it takes for our factory to achieve our designs, and it's important to us that they're paid fairly and work in safe conditions," says Chan. "We have a great relationship with our factory—we even share an office with the owner in Hong Kong!"
The two see sustainability as more than just implementing certain practices, but more an overall way of existing. "I think being sustainable is using common sense, and making practical and economic decisions," says Chan.
Take a closer look at YanYan's first capsule, below, and head on over to YanYanKnits.com to start shopping.