YanYan Makes Knitwear For Everyone
The sustainable knitwear brand celebrates its fifth anniversary with a new collection.
Knitwear has taken the cake in the past few seasons of fashion, with many designers and major ateliers leaning into the whimsical, wearable, and cozy trend. Knitting as a medium has existed for centuries, acting as a ritual bringing passionate artisans together, or a therapeutic relief from the bustle of the everyday.
For Suzzie Chung and Phyllis Chan of YanYan, embarking on the journey of starting their own knitwear brand was about so much more than the garments themselves. In traditional Chinese clothing, knitwear is not a commonly employed textile — but Chan and Chung weren’t afraid of a challenge.
Expressive, animated knitwear is all about being bold enough to wear your personality on your sleeve, and these days, the world could use a little more lightheartedness. Bringing these sentiments far and wide, Chung and Chan create vibrant knit designs that can’t help but bring a smile to your face — from technicolor lambswool pullovers to intricate oversized cardigans inspired by their shared heritage.
YanYan (人人) means “everyone” in Cantonese because the fun-loving brand truly does want to create pieces for everyone — from your grandmother to Gen Z fashion lovers, YanYan shares smiles, a sense of individuality, and a refreshing outlook on knitwear production with all of its wearers. Ahead of the brand’s fifth anniversary and the Lunar New Year, a holiday just as vibrant and lively as YanYan’s ethos, Hypebae spoke to the founders about shaking up the knitwear game.
You both worked in fashion before going on to start YanYan Knits. What parts of the industry did you want to reinvent or reinterpret through your brand?
Chan: When we started our own company, we wanted to figure out how to simplify our process so we could spend more time on design and development, and utilize a lot of the leftover material that was available at our factory. This was tricky because at the beginning, it was not as popular to use leftover materials and we were worried that our customers would think less of the quality. So to change the perception of leftover or upcycled materials, we purposely highlight and celebrate how we use these components.
Tell me about how heritage plays a role in the brand, as I know many of your collections and pieces are informed by Chinese culture.
Chung: Heritage is an important point of reference and inspiration for us because it is a big part of who we are. Chinese culture is really vast and diverse, so we can only speak to our own experiences of our childhood growing up in Hong Kong. Our references are usually stories we’ve heard from our mothers and grandmothers, looking at old photographs, or looking to Hong Kong pop culture. Sometimes we pick a topic that we’re curious to learn more about; it’s a fun personal journey for us to learn more about our own culture as well through the brand.
“YanYan” translates to “everyone.” How do you create pieces that are accessible and palatable to diverse audiences and aesthetics?
Chung: When we first came up with the name YanYan, we were referencing the “people” aspect of garment design and production and wanting to humanize how clothing is made — celebrating how much time, effort, and hand work is required to make each piece. In our design journey, we’ve found that our aesthetic resonates with a lot of different people, and they inspire us to create even more special pieces for them.
Why did you decide that knitwear was the ideal medium to share your creative vision?
Chan: Before starting our own company, I specialized in knitwear. I can honestly say I am a pretty big knit nerd. I love the engineering aspect of knitwear, as well as the textile design of stitches and yarn. I was really excited to partner with Suzzie, who has such a strong background in surface and graphic design, because, together, I knew we could combine our skills to create something really special.
Tell me about how balance plays a role in your design process. How do you honor your Chinese roots while also catering to New York City’s, on-the-go style sensibilities?
Chan: I’ve moved back to Hong Kong full-time since launching our company, so our day-to-day in Hong Kong is a big influence for us. When we were conceiving our company, we started to split our time between both, and a part of our aesthetic is influenced by how we dress in New York — a mix of vintage and new, or personal treasures that we’ve worn for years and can’t give up — the attitude of dressing for yourself and not anyone else. One of our favorite pastimes is to go sourcing in Sham Shui Po, an old neighborhood in Hong Kong. The community there is really diverse, and it’s great for people-watching. The older ladies there remind us of our own grandmothers who approach dressing in this kind of carefree, ‘just for yourself’ way.
Can you share more about how you are diverging from the norm by employing leftover yarn in your collections? Currently, 50% of the yarns YanYan uses are pulled from leftover inventory — what are your future plans to continue these resourceful efforts?
Chan: The thing about using leftover materials is that as demand for the product increases, the leftover materials will run out, and you will get to a place where you have to buy new. We worked very closely with our factory to change our own development and manufacturing processes to reduce textile waste. But also to organize and manage the leftovers so they can be easily utilized in future seasons. Since a large part of our embroidery designs incorporate leftover yarn, and the eclectic use of mixed materials is a big part of our aesthetic, we can revisit certain yarns over and over again until the material runs out. When sourcing virgin, we do our research and make sure to ask where the materials come from, and also consider what could happen to the material at the end of its life. Most importantly, we try to create really special and unique pieces, that are worth treasuring so the customer can revisit them over the years.
In honor of five years of YanYan, you just launched your holiday collection, which plays off the idea of ‘logomania.’ What else is to come for YanYan?
Chung: We have some fun exciting collabs on the horizon that we’re working hard on — stay tuned!