An intimate bond with Material Innovation–The work of Ejing Zhang
Elegance, Depth, and Innovation–These are terms that come to mind as you come in contact with designer Ejing Zhang's work and proceed to unfold its narrative.
Whether you are gazing at a disc-like pendant, a pair of slim, cuboidal earrings or a bespoke hard clutch, you are looking at a piece of jewelry or an accessory created by Ejing, whose core consists of a surprising and captivating material.
With an array of hues and textures embedded in it, this material seems to possess a deep geomorphic quality. At times, you feel as though you are looking at a snapshot of a landscape, and at times, the sliced fragment of a rock. Whatever your visual interpretation, there is no doubt that there is depth in this mysterious material, which forms the body of Ejing's creations. There seems to be a story, an engaging narrative and meaning in each piece of it.
What is this material then? Is it found or created? Natural or human-made in its origins?
Created by Ejing in her studio, this material is a cast mixture of three materials–thread, resin, and wood. Interestingly, it is the thread that heavily determines the patterns and compositions that strike you at first glance. After casting solid tiles or blocks of this composite material, Ejing slices away at their cross-section, revealing the patterned, marbled chunks seen in her works.
Here is Material Innovation at its finest–simply because we have never seen thread, or textile, behave this way. Turning fine individual strands, into the determining aesthetic of a hard cast material, Ejing's appropriation of her ingredients is innovative, to say the least.
Also significant, is the fact that unlike other composite materials that are seen in the design world today, one doesn't experience Ejing's material (and her material innovation) from afar. Instead, we hold it close to our bodies and build an intimate relationship with it. Her work brings with it the opportunity for a human-made material to be embraced and integrated into our lives in an intuitive, and natural way.
These are the qualities that set apart Ejing's work and have contributed, no doubt, to the growth of her brand and business. She has a deep understanding of her media– having studied Mixed Media Textile Design at the Royal College of Art, as well growing up in China, with exposure to the textile industry–and this understanding is evident in her work.
Often Ejing's works are created in tandem with other design products, such as her recent collection 'Wool Marble' jewelry, which is a collaboration with London-based Chinese fashion label Xuzhi. Here Ejing's creations respond to the fabric and patterns of Xuzhi's garments, employing the same yarn and wool to shape compositions. In her 'Faux Rocks' collection, both hard objects such as jewelry and interior products, as well as soft blankets and wearables draw inspiration from Italian Carrara marble quarries. Here, the imagery from hard material feeds into softer fabric compositions and vice-versa.
Ejing's studio in London is housed in Cockpit Arts, in Holborn–a charged, interdisciplinary incubator for designers, crafts businesses, and makers. Like other inhabitants of Cockpit Arts, Ejing has received business development support here and benefited in several ways, from being a part of the Cockpit Arts ecosystem.
Here is our recent conversation with Ejing, where we uncover her process, roots as a designer, and what is next for her.
MD: Ejing, where do the roots of your signature material and experimentation with resin, thread, and wood lie?
Ejing: I was in my first year at the Royal College of Art when we were asked to work on a project called 'Renegade Maker.' The project brief told us to find something small in the studio–something useful and familiar– and then to reframe it.
I drew from my childhood memories and decided to work with spools of thread, to create an 'Abacus'–a toy and tool we have all been exposed to as children. Growing up, my mother worked in the textile industry, so bobbins, laden with thread or yarn for sewing machines, were a familiar sight for me. I decided to work with them as my primary material. From this first project, came the idea to experiment further, and wrap thread in wood and plastic. These experiments eventually led me to cast thread with wood and resin–a mixture you see in my works now.
MD: Having developed a unique combination of materials at this point, what drew you to turn them into jewelry and accessories?
Ejing: At this time, I was still studying at the RCA, and to a large extent, the scale of the blocks of material that I cast was dictated by the equipment available at the college. I also knew that I wanted to work at a more portable scale, keeping users in mind. Jewelry felt like a perfect fit at this point.
Another reason was that with my background in textiles, my tendency was to design objects for the human body. Having worked at this scale extensively for awhile now, I am ready and eager to work at a larger scale.
MD: How to do people react to this composite material created by you?
Ejing: People find it beautiful, but at first glance, they may assume that it is glass or plastic. They may not guess that textile is a vital part of this material. As they interface with the material more and learn about its origins, they are always very surprised and pleased.
This feels right since I want to give people a new vision for normal; a new way to see textile–like they haven't before.
MD: You recently collaborated with Chinese designer Xuzhi Chen and his London-based label, to create a collection of ‘Wool Marble’ jewelry, where the jewelry responds to the fabric of Xuzhi's AW16 fashion collection. Tell us more about this collaboration.
Ejing: The collaboration between Xuzhi and I was very spontaneous. We met at Shanghai Fashion Week and had both been aware of each other's work for a while. Our garments and jewelry coming together seemed only natural, especially since thread is a key visual element in both our works. Xuzhi works with many layers of thread and textures for his garments.
So for his Autumn and Winter collection, Xuzhi imagined his yarn being set in my resin. I first visualized what the results would be, using Photoshop, and then used the wool yarn that Xuzhi supplied me, casting it into the resin to create the 'wool marble.'
MD: Going forward, how to do you see the format of your creations, as well as your material innovation evolving?
Ejing: I would like to keep exploring the medium that I work in just now, and experiment further with this mixture of components. In my new collection for spring and summer 2017, I combine thread and resin, without the inclusion of wood.
Within the current mixture, I would like to play with more colors and textures.
Beyond this, I am eager to work at a slightly larger scale and begin to create more future homeware and lifestyle objects.
I would also like to work more with Chinese manufacturers. I feel strongly that they have reached a bottleneck, and could benefit from fresh ideas and partnerships. In the past, I have worked with textile manufacturers in China to create the Faux Rocks collection.
For that collection, I challenged the manufacturers to work with the marbled patterns I had in mind, rather than the familiar solids they create. I took inspiration from the details in color and pattern of stone and transferred them to a softer, woven product such blankets and other textile wearables. So in this case, the fabric takes a cue from stone patterning. Going forward I think it will be exciting to draw visual cues from the landscapes of the composite resin material and transfer them to fabric. This is an exciting journey for the thread, or textile, which is at the heart of creating the marbled resin patterns in the first place.
MD. Ejing, your studio is part of Cockpit Arts in Holborn. How does being a part of Cockpit Arts play into your work and development?
Ejing: Being in Cockpit Arts has been wonderful and supportive in so many ways.
For starters, I have a great studio space, that is very close to Hatton Garden, London's jewelry quarter. So that helps a great deal with my day-to-day business.
The in-house business support we get at Cockpit Arts is immensely valuable, as well as the connections and friendship one makes here with fellow designers and makers who are residents.
MD: Thank you so much Ejing, for speaking with us! We are excited to see more beautiful work, and material innovation emerge from your studio.