I first came across the Beijing brand Plastered 8 after my brother returned from his year studying in ‘the jing’ and constantly wore one of the brand’s t-shirts. It was not until the end of my own year abroad three years later that I would come across the brand again. Before returning to the UK I interned for a company in Beijing which was hosting an evening talk for foreign students, the key-note speaker was Plastered’s founder and creative director Dominic Johnson-Hill. During my internship I had helped run a few such talks but this one really caught every student’s attention. Both the more relaxed in work ethic and the most number-crunching were enthused by Johnson-Hill’s explanation of the brand’s less conventional conception. By the time of this evening event, I had been writing for the Chinese-English fashion website AnyWearStyle for nine months and thought I should write something about this inspirational entrepreneur. At the end of the evening I proposed the dea to Johnson-Hill; fortunately he had heard of AnyWearStyle and was interested. My connection and interest with Plastered 8 has only strengthened over the last three years.
So how did this original apparel brand come about? The evening I met Johnson-Hill he described his OCD-like tendencies, his impulsiveness and pursuit of his imagination to points where many would judge their own ideas as fanciful or down-right silly. Johnson-Hill entered China as a backpacker in 1993 but now lives and works in a hutong (a characteristically complicated alley found in the Chinese capital), he also boasts impressive Mandarin skills. The first Plastered t-shirt was conceived when Johnson-Hill saw someone “…wearing a really crap t-shirt with a terrible graphic that read ‘I climbed the Great Wall’. That was in 2005 and I realised that in all my years in Beijing no one was designing any good Beijing-related t-shirts so I decided I’d give it a go. I then designed my first t-shirt by simply ‘plastering’ a woman in a bikini I downloaded online on to one of those very crap designs to create a uniquely Beijing t-shirt. To date it’s my favourite but no one bought it. This really shows you the importance of following through with your ideas no matter how strange, as they might just lead on to something.”
Plastered celebrates China’s unique past and exciting, if at times down-right contradictory, present. The brand’s concept incorporates images ubiquitous to BJ but incorporates novel twists. Plastered hopes to highlight “…the absurd, the beautiful and the glorious of everyday life in China – beds of roses juxtaposed against construction cranes; Chairman Mao’s face stenciled on a t-shirt with a cell phone number spray-painted below with the message: ‘To Serve the People.’”
Johnson-Hill’s novel ideas have shaken China’s fashion industry. When Plastered 8 opened its doors on Nanluoguxiang in 2006, it hosted China’s first ever hutong fashion show. Models walked the length of the cobblestone alleyway with the backdrop of traditional Chinese courtyard homes. Lanterns, intermixed with disco balls, were used to light Plastered’s first t-shirt range. The show was a massive success and propelled the brand into the spotlight of international media such as Vogue, Elle, City Pictorial, and numerous TV features. Subsequent hutong catwalks have been curated but have increased in scale and attention drawn due to the fact that Plastered was doing something new and ground breaking for China’s creative scene. To this day Plastered stays true to its hutong roots. Although it now boasts additional stores, it’s flagship store is on the ever popular design alley Nanluoguxiang and employs local hutong ‘aiyis’ (cleaners) for the store who double as models. It is this sense of heart which Johnson-Hill believes appeals to Plastered fans.
Taking so much from what surrounds it, Plastered also makes it a main business priority to give back to the community by supporting a number of charities but primarily Magic Hospital. On this subject, Johnson-Hill explains “We believe in their mission to defend and celebrate what it is to be a child. We wholeheartedly support the magic the organization brings into children’s lives, and the foundations of hope that it delivers through all of the activities and projects. Children are an inspiration to all and I love their uncensored and enthusiastic approach to life. I try to emulate this childish attitude in many aspects of my work and day-to-day activities.”
From the initial t-shirt, a whole apparel range has blossomed. So too have diverse artistic collaborations. For the last number of years Plastered has released short videos online featuring everyone from Johnson-Hill himself, to local bus drivers and MC Shi Tou who was flown in from Sichuan especially for filming. The films went viral. In November 2008, Johnson-Hill won British Entrepreneur of the Year in China award, awarded by HRH Prince Andrew. This summer, Johnson-Hill united with Nick Bonner of Koryo Studio to host an art exhibition as part of Beijing Design Week. They selected North Korean artists to develop Johnston-Hill and Bonner’s sketches “…to portray a place lost in time, an imagined future, where all is bright and beautiful, rituals of life in today’s China set on a stage of socialism, of an age lost. As outsiders looking we have created a city that retains its socialist traditions, juxtaposed with present pleasures, and modern city idols.”
For all the excitement Plastered has created, not all of Johnson-Hill’s projects have been well received. The 798 store was forced to take down a specially commissioned stained glass window of Mao. Local officials said it was insulting which “pissed off” Johnson-Hill but he acquiesced, saying “I have to respect this as I’m a guest in this country [China].”
Plastered is a great example of how fashion can be fun but also a means of social interaction. Fashion should take inspiration from its surroundings but should also be a process of giving back and respect.