You are a sister founder duo - introduce yourselves!
A&L: Hello! We are the sister team behind SHUMINGYU. Alvina is the older sister and the designer. Laura is the younger sister and is in charge of marketing. We handle everything else in between for the brand together. As first generation Chinese Americans, we were born and raised in the U.S. and spent over a decade studying and working in China. We see SHUMINGYU as the culmination of our lived experiences and our way of sharing our understanding of the beauty and nuances of Chinese aesthetics.
What’s it like working with your sister?
A: Laura and I have shared a lot of similar experiences ever since we were young. We used to dance and ice skate together as kids growing up in Atlanta, and we both spent a lot of time in China as young adults and became third culture kids. We share a lot of common references and that makes working together on this brand much easier. I handle most of the creative direction and Laura takes care of marketing. We both share a common mission and that allows us to work through whatever challenge is before us.
L: I feel very lucky because it just so happens that we have so many shared life experiences, but are also so different in terms of skill sets and personality. The similarities provide the foundation on which we easily build mutual understandings of where we want to take the brand, and the differences allow us to complement but also challenge each other when we approach problems. That added layer of trust that inherently comes from being siblings is also important. Of course it’s difficult sometimes because that line between your personal and business lives gets so blurred. But the process has really forced us to reexamine how we communicate and approach problems, and our relationship has gotten so much stronger because of it. In the end, it’s still a dream team! Everything you see, from the designs, to every text description, to every picture has been a result of countless discussions between the two of us. It’s such a personal project and it wouldn’t exist without the relationship that we have built.
What is your favorite piece from the collection and why?
A: The Inscription top. I like this piece mainly because of the print. I’m always fascinated by the evolution of art genres and this print was inspired by the pigments used in Dunhuang frescoes, which featured blue green landscapes before it became an independent genre.
L: If I had to pick, I’d pick the Velvet Poem look. I really like the color combination of dark green and gold, how the pants are flowy, and how the little bit of velvet used at the collar of the top and the waistband of the pants elevates the look even further. I also like how landscape poems are used as part of the print - it really highlights how intertwined poetry and art have traditionally been in China, and the poetic essence that underlies our brand.
What are your favorite memories of living in China?
A: Traveling around! One of my most memorable trips was to a place called Jingdezhen. This is where a lot of Chinese ceramics were made during the imperial period. It was an amazing experience to learn about the steps and processes that go into producing ceramics, and to stand inside the kilns that produced era-defining works of art. I also really loved Shangrila in Yunnan. I actually went to both of these places with Laura so I may have taken her answers.
An artisan making ceramics in Jingdezhen
Studying porcelain artifacts in Jingdezhen
Adjusting to Shangri-la’s 3000+ meter altitude with
the help of some oxygen cans
L: Those two definitely make the list, but it’s okay I have more! I’ll go with Wuyishan (Mount Wuyi) and Huangshan (Yellow Mountains) then. They are both mountains but the experiences were vastly different! Wuyishan is in Fujian province and is famous for its oolong teas. I went during tea season so there were a lot of locals bustling about making teas and it was obvious how passionate they were about their craft.
The Wuyi Mountains during tea season
Huangshan is in Anhui province and has such a different feeling from Wuyishan. Wuyishan is known for its broad, lush mountains that are not hard to climb, and make you feel warm and at peace. Huangshan is known for its oddly shaped pines, spectacular granite peaks, and mystical seas of clouds - the only way I can describe the scenery is sharp and other-worldly, and it frankly just takes your breath away. The climb is steep but so worth it when you make it to the very top. All in all, I can’t recommend both of these places enough! They are both UNESCO World Heritage sites too.
The peaks and pines of Yellow Mountain
What are some of your hobbies? How do you destress outside work?
A & L: We drink tea together and like to taste and discover different varieties, as well as understand the history behind the tea leaves. Alvina hits the gym when she’s stressed and Laura goes to dance classes to decompress. We both discovered hiking as a new hobby recently after making a trip to the Grand Tetons and floating down Snake River!
What are you most excited for the brand moving forward?
A: There are many exciting collection themes that I have already brainstormed. These come from inspiration sources that have personally captivated me over the past decades - whether that’s travel or things that I have read about. I’m already in the process of designing our second and third collections. I also want to integrate more types of crafts, fabrics, and silhouettes into the designs for our future collections. I’m excited to translate them into fashion products that I can share with you all.
L: To add onto that, we also have a lot of plans for different product lines. It’s still in the works, but we’ve been brainstorming and workshopping ideas for a while and it will be great, trust us. I’m also excited to see one of our pieces on someone we randomly encounter on the streets for the first time! One of the best parts of doing this is the fact that we can share this concept of beauty with so many people, and I really look forward to expanding that further as we build up our brand.