Profile: A young Uygur's Project Runway

Source: Xinhua| 2019-06-27 10:46:48|Editor: Yang Yi
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URUMQI, June 27 (Xinhua) -- Fashion changes, but never does the eye for beauty. Mewlan Turaq had never heard of Project Runway, the American reality television series that focuses on fashion design, but the 26-year-old designer is weaving his own project to preserve traditional Uygur costumes.

In his boutique in the Old Town area of Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Mewlan draws a sketch of a dress in the sunlight by a blue window. When a customer walks in, he immediately puts down his pencil and recommends they try on the various floral headwear, dresses and boots hanging on his boutique's walls.

Mewlan's boutique sells and rents both traditional costumes and modern, modified ones that feature his unique designs. And he knows the ins and outs of each piece's fabric and pattern just like the back of his hand.

Since he was a child, Mewlan has been obsessed with traditional ethnic cultures in Xinjiang, which is home to 47 ethnic groups. He later developed his love for making ethnic minority costumes thanks to his mother Aygul Khasim, a local tailor who can make both traditional and modern clothes.

With her help, Mewlan has recreated various costumes that enjoyed popularity in Xinjiang. Videos showcasing these costumes have even gone viral on Chinese social media. And that success has given life to his long-held dream -- becoming a fashion designer.


Mewlan has loved designing things since he was a child. But later when his father got sick, he decided to study medicine at college. In 2016, then still a college student, Mewlan joined famous Uygur photographer Kurbanjan Samat's "I'm from Xinjiang" project to record and promote Xinjiang cultures.

Inspired by the popular "100 Years of Beauty" video series by American storytelling company, which highlights changes in fashion trends in a country or region over time, Mewlan and his team released their own video in 2017 to look back on trends in Uygur women's fashion over the past century. In the two-minute video, Mewlan showed the evolution of Uygur fashion in his hometown from the 1910s to the 2010s.

"We can see that time has left different marks on our clothes, and different cultures have blended," said Mewlan. From his perspective, cultures in the east and west have met and melded in Kashgar, an important trading post on the ancient Silk Road, and that has shown in the evolution of local fashion.

Without any professional training in fashion design or dress making, Mewlan asked his mother for help. To reproduce all these costumes, Mewlan and Aygul collected many historical documents and old photos, and visited many old tailors to gain inspiration.

They spent a whole week making their first costume. The cash-strapped designers had to make a prototype using some cheap fabrics before making the real piece. For a while, Mewlan took on a part-time job in a restaurant solely so he could use the printer there to print out all the file photos he found online for free.

In order to find the best jewelry to go with the costumes, Mewlan visited jewelry makers shop by shop to spark his imagination. A friend in France saw one of his social media posts asking for information about old Xinjiang jewelry and later contacted him saying they had remembered seeing a pair of old earrings in a pawnshop in Paris.

"A pair of silver earrings like that usually cost 1,000 to 2,000 yuan (145 to 290 U.S. dollars). But the pawnbroker insisted on selling them at a price of 4,000 yuan to me, not a penny less, " Mewlan said. He had to spend a big part of his savings to get hold of the earrings.

The mother and son duo spent five months sewing dozens of costumes, which are gracefully showcased by Uygur model Mireay Memet in the video.

In another video, Mewlan recreates different century-old costumes that were popular in different Xinjiang cities and prefectures.

"I hope I can show the world the real beauty of traditional costumes," said Mewlan. "The pursuit of beauty is a natural and sincere desire of people in all countries and of all ethnic groups. The world is changing. China is developing. So is Xinjiang. A changing society is reflected in local fashion trends."


The video ignited Mewlan's passion for fashion, pushing him to become a designer after graduation. His parents, hoping Mewlan would become a doctor, strongly opposed his decision. Aygul even refused to help him make more costumes.

But Mewlan did it anyway. He saw the business potential behind the growing number of tourists to Kashgar and opened his boutique in October 2018. He rents out all the costumes the pair made along with the jewelry they restored to tourists who want to experience the old city as locals. He also sold handmade floral caps and purses.

"I hope tourists can not only buy Kashgar souvenirs, but also experience the fashion and cultures of Kashgar. In this old town they can travel in time," said Mewlan.

After Mewlan's grandfather visited him at his boutique and saw how his business was booming, he helped him to convince his parents that this career path was the right one.

"Now they are all supportive of me," said the young shop owner. "One of my biggest successes is bringing new breakthroughs to my mother's tailor career."

Aygul now works full-time for her son as the ambitious designer has taken an increasing number of orders on Chinese e-commerce platforms like Taobao. Mewlan has also hired five poverty-stricken families in rural Kashgar to produce handmade accessories, a move that is supporting the government's nationwide poverty reduction drive.

Without proper training, Mewlan said his inspiration comes from the city itself. When he wanders down a winding alley, the shape of a window, the patterns of a carpet or the wooden carvings of an ornament can be his muse.

"The more I get to know about the history of the city, the beautiful stories in it, the more I come to love it," he said.

He spent most of his spare time visiting old tailors and craftsmen and going shopping at flea markets. When researching, he also stuck to old books and photos, through which he has drawn the conclusion that clothes are a recorder of history, and a language with which different cultures can communicate.

"I care about the cultures, the history and the aesthetic values behind the costumes. More importantly, I would like to see how cultures blend together and what cultures these blending elements are from," said the designer.

Recently, he's been working on modern designs with traditional features to "promote beautiful Xinjiang cultures to more young people in a way they like," he said, noting the blending of modern and traditional is a good way to pass on cultural heritage.

Mewlan plans to pursue fashion design studies in the future. "I hope I can come up with more special designs to more people who would like to know about the charms of Xinjiang."