EXTRA VIRGIN Is the Contemporary Silk Road

EXTRA VIRGIN Is the Contemporary Silk Road

New York Fashion Week's true magic has always lied beneath the big-name designers and viral runway moments, and the city is teeming with young minds looking to connect through a shared love of fashion. Enter EXTRA VIRGIN, the pop-up that brings some of China's most forward-thinking designers to one of fashion's biggest stages.

Founders Joi and Susie met on Chinese fashion-focused social media site Red. In bringing their unique and futuristic fashion to international eyes via social media sites such as Instagram, which is blocked in China, the two have used their platforms as a resource for the talented designer pool of their home to connect with a wider audience.

Featuring up-and-coming designers such as Keimfleck, Mss Studio, Jaw Jaw, Open Aesthetic, illimite, Flower Birds Market, DOLOMEDES, HuDieGongZhu蝴蝶公主, Seaweed Shop海苔商店 and more, EXTRA VIRGIN serves as a platform for cultural exchange through fashion. Joi and Susie worked with the designers to bring their creations stateside, sparking conversations about culture, access and the power of social media.

Below, read on for an interview with EXTRA VIRGIN founders Joi and Susie about the curation and purpose of one of the most exciting features of New York Fashion Week.

What does the concept (and reclamation) of virginity mean within the context of the platform?

When it comes to olive oil, "Extra Virgin" means undefined; it's top tier. "Virgin" from its Latin root means: strength, force and skill. In the past, it never meant sexually chaste, but rather sexually independent. It was used to describe women who were free, and not owned or tamed by anyone. Thus, WE ARE ALL VIRGINS. We wear whatever we want, and we do whatever we want.

You pick from a wide range of aesthetics for the pop-up. What went into the selection of each piece?

When we first started to prepare for Extra Virgin, we confirmed the brands and asked the designers for their entire lookbook. We just picked what we adored! We didn't really think about what the market needs, more of what we need and what people around us would like. A lot of the designers we are working with are already our friends, and they sent us their pieces before. We genuinely love the designs and would wear them daily.

Extra Virgin has been described as the contemporary Silk Road, moving discussions of cultural exchange to the real world. What does that IRL Exchange look like for you and how is fashion the vehicle for that?

Before we established Extra Virgin, we discovered that there are accounts on Depop and Instagram who resell the pieces without the designer's consent (some are from the brands we are collaborating with). The worst part is that these sellers don't even credit the brands and sell them as their own design. That's when we started to consider building Extra Virgin, a platform to let people here easily access the brands from China. There is definitely a gap between China and the States due to the political conflicts. China has its own social media and online shopping apps. The "silk road" we are constructing is aimed to go beyond the fire wall, on a broader scale we want to engage in the cultural differences for a more hopeful and inclusive world. But for now we simply just want to share the pretty stuff. Outfits are the most obvious way for people to identify each other and express their own personalities. It is like music which is a universal language.

Based on your presences online and the visuals, you're very online (as an adjective). How do you combine our modern day internet culture with what you're trying to achieve on a real world scale?

Honestly, we believe that the original "real world" no longer exists without the internet, at least for our generation. Like everyone in NYC needs an online presence, whether it's Instagram, LinkedIn or Tinder. A brand also needs it. So when we first had the idea of Extra Virgin, we immediately started to brainstorm about our logo and visuals to advertise online. Social media helps us to claim our existence to the world.

China has faced a lot of negativity in the west due to xenophobia. How has that impacted your approach in bringing this to the states for the first time?

These recent years, with the rising popularity of Asian clothing brands, especially J-fashion and Archive Clothing, people are not against Asian clothing brands. We haven't been impacted by the xenophobia aspect so far.

What has it been like to be the middle person between these designers who don’t know how to navigate the societal and digital hurdles in both China and the west to bring their work to a larger audience?

Several designers have studied abroad or lived in western countries so they are very familiar with the culture, and other designers are very interested in global fashion. We can't say any of the designers "don't know how to navigate" so it's not hard for us to be the middle person. However, it's true that we have more resources because we are currently in the US and we are the bridge to connect the designers to the global market. We bear this kind of responsibility, and we are very thankful for the designers who trust us to do this job.

What do you hope the future for Extra Virgin and Chinese fashion as a whole looks like for you?

Well, we both grew up in China and we love China as our homeland, but things were a bit fucked up in the last few years. Here we go:

  • Zero covid policies→unemployment→people hide money under their bed→consumerism is dead→Chinese fashion’s future doesn't look so bright.
  • One child policy→population decline→China wants control of women to give more birth→ Feminism is dead→Freedom of dressing is dead→Chinese fashion’s future doesn't look so bright.

Luckily, we still have Extra Virgin! We hope Extra Virgin can introduce more and more Chinese independent designer brands to the international market. By then, Chinese fashion will become a big force in the world and we hope Extra Virgin can witness this journey along with all the designers!

Extra Virgin will take place from February 10-12 at 432 E. 9th St, New York, NY.

Photos courtesy of Extra Virgin