Garment Talks

Do you think we can see fashion as a language?

‘You could also see it as this. Our brain has a system one and system two, everyday both systems are alive and working. One system will spend a lot of time processing and the other one is making quick snap interpretations. I wonder how fashion works within this frame of reference. The part of the brain that needs to make quick decisions, perhaps could make superficial observations like; male or female etcetera. But the part of the brain that gives you time to analyze that could say something totally different. If you bring all of that into everyday life, how often should you engage in the long system because we mostly do it in the quick system. If fashion is such an easy language, then it’s very powerful. When I was doing my specialization before fashion, I was working in mental health services with people that had intellectual disabilities. Many of them hated what they wore, because they felt the clothes weren't representative of who they were. They said that they looked like someone in need of help. That’s a clear snap decision of communication their clothes were offering to outsiders. That shows me that clothes play a huge part in people’s lives. I want them to feel empowered and not hold back. But for outsiders they evaluate us probably in one or two seconds. But when we have the time to process it’s not as clear cut.’ 

 

Do you think the definition of feminine and masculine can change in fashion garments or language?

‘From a young age, the language of being a boy or girl is very defined. I was born in Hong Kong, but went to the UK when I was nine. I remember that for boys in the UK we could wear trainers but the girls had to wear Mary Jane school shoes. You’re shaping your perception but already girls are being held back by not being given shoes to run in. I’m not saying everybody wants to run but at least give them options. It really forms the way we want to present ourselves and what we want to communicate about ourselves. I think it goes down to styling as well, we tell who we are. I think the way we dress affects how people would write a story about us. That’s already a language. Maybe it’s not universal, something like a brand could stand for something else in different countries.’ 

 

Where did the idea of creating your magazine, Hajinsky, come from? How did the concept of your magazine, Hajinsky, come to life? 

‘I remember I was just about to move to Amsterdam. My work partner Judith and I met on the course. We wanted to do this on the basis of introducing the topic of fashion psychology. We’ve been fine tuning this area in school but how do other people do it? For me this idea was really fresh, because I never thought I was a writer. I never was the happiest with my English writing. For me the magazine offered a community, somewhere where people can air their frustration, but also dream of the possibility of thinking about fashion in a completely different way outside of brands and trends. We want creatives to take the lead of fashion psychology knowledge. We want to create a new language together.’ 

 

What did you learn from making the magazine?

‘When running the digital magazine, together with my work partner, we learned that there is a market and a need for what we carry out. We really put these human and societal values back into the centre of fashion discussion, the way we design, the way we communicate et cetera. There seems to be an air of frustration about what’s going on. For example, many people working in the industry want to work sustainably but the company or brand they work for doesn’t offer that. This inspires me to keep motivated, that we actually might be able to create environments in which human values can be the foremost of what we do. An example of this is that fashion can be quite harmful. It has been made so accessible, but it’s not very sustainable. Can we change our design processes? We could, in fact, if we don’t forget about the human and environmental part. But how do we implement that in a workplace? I don’t think we have the absolute answer, but working with creatives in-between will produce something that will be more beneficial in the end.’

 

Do you have any future goals in terms of work?

‘During the last six months, it was a really good time of reflection. What do we care about in the magazine? My work partner, Judith took psychology to the world of interior design, what is the psychology of a home and how do we design the space around us? For me, I’ve been teaching more and seeing how future creatives are re-defining fashion. We don’t know yet what the next step is for the magazine. But we could touch on fashion in combination with other things in life. Perhaps experimenting? In the meantime, I would like to continue to have all these interactions and work for brands as well.

Since you give lectures, is there a specific message that you want to convey to your audience?

‘I guess working with school just came by chance more or less. But actually, I really enjoy working with students. They get fashion psychology more it seems. There’s much more passion around it. Students have a different eye perhaps to fashion professionals. They are also willing to question. My mission is to help deconstruct the fashion stereotype. Sometimes working in fashion, we have enough stereotypes that give you pressure as a student while they may not even be true. Everyone can be successful in their own way in fashion. I think working together in these different fields can give us a better understanding to decolonize the system.’

 

What are you currently busy with?

‘At the moment I have been doing a lot of work around mixing with the local design community in Amsterdam and learning from them. Also bringing a better understanding of where design practice is at, in Amsterdam. At the moment I’m doing a lot more self-learning, aside from teaching and research work. It’s a balance at the moment. I can hopefully provide a positive value to others.’

 

This is a publication from Garment Magazine, made by students from the Amsterdam Fashion Institute. You can find The Party Dress issue in stores on the 25th of June!

Pak Chiu is a fashion psychologist and co-founder of the online fashion magazine ‘HAJINSKY’. Fashion psychology is such a new idea, but what really is fashion psychology, and how can it contribute to the fashion industry? 

June 23, 2021

Text: Sanne Alofs and Vera van de Biezen

Photographer: Joana Kazmaier

Shortly explained, fashion psychology is a way for us to understand fashion, but from the inside out. That means that a lot of times when we think of fashion, we focus on what we see, what we interact with and essentially what we buy. It’s very physical and everything is very much about the outside world. Pak believes that fashion psychology is really thinking about what fashion looks like from inside, in our human psyche. How does fashion play out? Ultimately, having this understanding, we can design better. Pak’s mission is to help deconstruct the fashion stereotype. He believes many people who work in fashion have started to question the value that they want to bring to their work. Since the work they have been doing might not seem to fit their values any more.

 

How did you get involved within this field of expertise?

‘We are always told to create a stable career. But I couldn’t let go of something that is really passionate inside of me. It all started when I was eighteen, I had to decide what I wanted to do for university and I always wanted to study fashion. I’m interested in how fashion creates community. On the other hand, I also come from an Asian family with very stereotypical Asian values, you either be a doctor or a lawyer, or you’re the black sheep of the family. Fashion seems so far from that, that psychology was what fitted more with what everyone wanted me to do. I started to work in mental health services but in the end, I couldn’t let go of my passion for fashion, arts and design. I was looking to see if I could combine both. London College of Fashion just started this course on fashion psychology, which I was kind of a guinea pig for when I started my masters. There was no blueprint or format for it. That all formed into this sort of belief that fashion is important and especially how it interacts with people. There’s still only a handful of us doing it and it’s very new to the industry, but I’m not giving up yet.’ 

 

How do you practice it, if it’s such a new profession?

‘It’s a new topic and the plus side is that we can define what we want to do with this knowledge. For me, it’s really about understanding the human relationship and the human behaviours with clothes and using this knowledge to help creatives design better. It’s the fizz, the magic that we have with clothes, fashion and jewellery. Fashion psychologists are here to investigate what that is. Hopefully, we can help shift the fashion industry to be a force for good. That’s also why I study this topic altogether. 

But it’s hard, I’m not going to lie. It’s hard to sell a new idea. I guess the strong powerful side of fashion is that it’s very successful in economic terms and because of that the industry doesn’t feel the need to change. When we started about three years ago it was hitting more brick walls then actually finding opportunities. The most feedback we get is this is interesting but how do you add a value to our company, which means how do we get returns in money for this knowledge. Doing something niche coming from the outside of what traditional fashion is, it’s very difficult. I keep going back to thinking why I’m doing it. I hope I can be part of this positive change.’

Pak Chiu

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