Sweet flower accents, contrast stitching and intricate embroidery set apart the Hong Kong-based fashion brand YanYan Knits from your average knitwear. Featuring loud and cheery designs, YanYan elevates comfort and combines it with contemporary affinities. 

Spotted on celebrities like Dilraba, Lee Sangheon (XO, Kitty) and Jenny Yang of The Brother’s Sun, YanYan is infiltrating pop culture to push the boundaries of knit fashion through the incorporation of Chinese culture and mindful reuse of fabric. Each YanYan piece bursts with color and life, and reveals not only fashion experimentation but commitment to longevity.

EnVi dives into the brand’s mission with the help of founders Phyllis Chan and Suzzie Chung, and sales manager Yukari Levine.

Waste not, want not

Phyllis Chan and Suzzie Chung launched YanYan in 2019, but the idea to create a brand was a long time coming for the friends, who first met in high school.

“It might sound like a cliché, but we met in high school when we were 16, and became friends immediately. We shared the same love for movies, art, fashion, going to the mall and wandering around the city. We had a dream as teenagers that we would have our own brand someday,” Chung tells EnVi via email. 

Their careers aligned with this dream as they grew up. Chan previously worked as the director of knitwear at the American apparel brand rag & bone, while Chung was a graphic designer for clothing companies across Hong Kong. They came together because they wanted to create unique pieces of clothing that highlighted their Chinese identity and would be used for a long time. And maybe — as Chan explains — because YanYan was the answer to their quarter-life crisis. 

YanYan press preview. Photography by Mendy

“We’re actually pretty passive, unambitious people, but in our thirties, we became very jaded, and burnt out. We decided to quit our jobs around the same time and see if we could try working for ourselves, try to create something that was for us, something that would make us happy. Honestly, making clothing that makes us and the wearer happy is really important to us. That’s probably what motivates us,” Chan says.

At a press preview at the TANGERINE boutique in Brooklyn, Levine also gushes about Chan’s background in knitwear and how she immediately trusted her when Chan established YanYan. YanYan is one of Levine’s clients, but Chan is also Levine’s best friend. “We were at rag & Bone together. She was head of knit[wear], so she knows the comfort, the fit. Basically [YanYan’s] fit is the best, but she wanted to make something really unique. Everything is one of a kind, [created] with the best yarn,” she explains.

Yukari Levine. Photography by Mendy

Making what’s old, new

YanYan champions environmentally responsible production to extend the life cycle of their clothes. As their own bosses, they prioritize using textile remains from their manufacturer — which would otherwise be discarded. 

As Chan tells EnVi, when YanYan was first launched, they focused on using leftover materials to maximize their time on creation and problem-solving. However, as YanYan continued to grow, they realized the deadstock yarns they used to make their collections was difficult to reproduce over and over for interested shoppers. 

Although the brand has now changed the way of sourcing materials, Chan and Chung continue to make sure that leftovers from past collections are used in their next launches. Chan believes that this resourcefulness, in part due to buyers’ demands for sustainability, can shape the future of knitwear. 

YanYan press preview. Photography by Mendy

“All this probably sounds like minutiae but I genuinely believe that consumers’ voices have been heard and bigger companies have realized that their deadstock is a great resource for them. Upcycled products are marketed and popular now, so I think the industry is changing,” Chan says.

Levine shares that Chung and Chan also love to hunt for vintage pieces and envision the same long lifespan for the garments they create. 

“They really want people to wear [the clothes] for a long time. I have so many knits that she made and she wants me to give everything to my daughter who’s four,” Levine says.

Finding that perfect, un-scratchy sweater

YanYan’s latest spring collection was inspired by summers growing up in Hong Kong, summer school, beach visits, and hot days in the city. However, each year, they aim to connect their spring and fall collections through a singular theme so that the items can transition seamlessly. Thus, their upcoming fall collection has scholarly motifs to evoke the “back to school” season that usually follows fleeting summer vacations. 

YanYan press preview. Photography by Mendy

“For fall, we continued some of the details from spring, [including] our plaited check sets with ribbon flowers and stones, the twin sets that remind us of librarians or teachers, and maxi dresses inspired by traditional men’s cheongsams that can be styled with pants,” Chan shares.

Chan’s favorite is a brown Lambswool plaited set — a fall interpretation of an idea they had for spring. “The pleated skirt has a lot of volume and movement, which can be difficult to do in knit, and the details we used, like the ribbon flowers with our little buttons and stones, give the pieces a sparkle,” Chan explains. 

She also enjoyed working on the “charms” print, inspired by the “poisons” that were traditionally embroidered onto children’s clothing to protect them from danger. This cultural aspect is the “little Hong Kong moment” that they make sure to incorporate in their collections and demonstrates how YanYan combines traditions with contemporary tastes.

“The print has lizards, scorpions, centipedes, toads and snakes — all great ingredients to make a weird emo print that the teenage us would have loved, but it also pays homage to our own culture and expresses the good wishes we want for our wearers,” Chan says. “Although the motifs are traditionally used during the summer, we thought it was a great print idea to use all year round.”

For their upcoming collection, they’ve also debuted charm-studded knit chokers and traditional Chinese string art necklaces. Chan reveals that YanYan will continue expanding on the print in its holiday collections too. 

YanYan press preview. Photography by Mendy

As for Levine, she can’t decide on a favorite item from the new collection. The quality is partially why. Unlike many knits that might be scratchy, YanYan’s clothes are made with sensitive skin in mind, using organic cotton, yarn, and dye.

That’s a hard question because I think everything is so good [even though] the two designers who are in this [store] have skin issues. Our skin is so sensitive and we get hives easily. It’s really hard to find that kind of yarn and this price point is actually very reasonable for what it is,” she explains. 

The knits speak for themselves. The fabric is buttery soft, but somehow flowy and light. Although knit is often cast aside for the fall and winter seasons, the unique airiness and upbeat colors make the clothes versatile for all seasons. Meticulous and creative, YanYan delivers on both style and substance.

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