Suzy Chan’s kitsch and sparkly project explores the children who grow up in China’s factories
The designer hopes to change people’s perceptions of China as simply a place of mass manufacturing, and look further into the families and children behind the commerce.
- Olivia Hingley
- 30 November 2022
‘Made in China’ is a term loosely thrown around, now reduced to an abstract signifier of China’s role as a mass manufacturer and exporter of goods. It’s this reduction that Suzy Chan sought to contest in her recent project, which goes by the name of the infamous term. Collaborating on a creative project with two young girls who grew up in a large fabric printing factory, Xinxin and Yu, Suzy aims to give a western audience a more nuanced perspective on such a vast and complicated topic. “Behind Made in China are families, individuals and stories,” Suzy says. “I think human stories are indispensable when discussing great abstract topics.”
The project began at the end of 2019 when Suzy found herself in Guangzhou, a city she describes as one of the “birthplaces” of ‘Made in China’ in the 1980s. Ending up at Guangzhou’s famous fabric market – a place thought to account for 50 per cent of the world’s fabric exports – Suzy recalls how “wild” of a place it was. It was during the trip while waiting for some samples that Suzy met the printing factory’s owner, soon being introduced to his two children, with whom she stayed in touch over Aliwangwang – a communication software that is used to handle sales communications between suppliers and customers.
Having recently graduated from London College of Communication and returned to China, Suzy was seeking out a project that interacted with her “familiarity” with China. But she had found herself somewhat stumped. However, after soon striking up a companionship with Xinxin and Yu, she realised how mutually beneficial a project with them could be. “As children going up in factories, they always lacked companionship,” Suzy explains. “Their parents always gave them iPads and then went to work. But they love painting, and the walls of the factory are full of their drawings.” Seeing their penchant for creativity, Suzy began bringing her art supplies to the factory and creating with them, with pens, paints and textiles. Now, their work is incorporated throughout the project, alongside digital elements, creating a playful and wonderfully hectic selection of collages.
Visual inspiration for the project came from Suzy, Xinxin and Yu’s immediate surroundings. Factory billboards, temporary advertisements and business cards are all littered around the factory, full of mis-mash visuals and “excessive information”. The area is also full of One Yuan stores – similar to Poundland shops in the UK – brimming with “kitsch” products, and being the place where Xinxin and Yu’s school bags and pencil cases were purchased from. It was the maximalist aesthetics of kitsch that Suzy sought to emulate, a visual style “determined by the complex economic and cultural history behind it”. The resulting effect – with glowing word art, sparkles in abundance and clip-art sticker aesthetic – is one dripping in nostalgia.
Venturing into what she hopes people will take away from the project, Suzy aims for it to “remove prejudice or simple moral critique”, instead forming “diverse understandings”. But, Suzy outlines that what’s most important to her is what Xinxin and Yu have got out of the project. “In fact, we were on a video call last week, and they showed me new paintings. It seems that creation has really become a habit of expression in their lives,” Suzy reflects. “It made me realise that this is a 'project' that will never end. Our relationship will always go on and change as they grow and I grow. For me, the most important thing is that they can always believe in their talents.”
GallerySuzy Chan: Made in China (Copyright © Suzy Chan, 2022)
Suzy Chan: Made in China (Copyright © Suzy Chan, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.