ZHU is a simple and classy style curation. It’s a haute-couture house whose elegant traditions married millennial attitude. They fit bespoke designs 100% handmade and hand-stitched in France.
We talked to Zhuorui Fu, founder of ZHU to learn more about her entrepreneurial journey, her continuously growing collection based on sustainability and her short and long term plans!
Take a look below:
Tell us a bit about you, where you’re from, your back ground, what you worked with? How you ended up in NYC?
My name is Zhu. I am a Chinese girl born and raised in Shenzhen, a young mega metropole of my age and the technological hub of the East, until I was 17. Before that, I exchanged to California, New York, and Finland.
From 17 onwards, I went to school at St. Andrews, which is the alma mater of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Because my Bachelor’s Degree was a joint-degree, I went to William & Mary in Virginia for two years. I got two diplomas from two schools within four years.
After that, I also went to UPenn for a Master’s Program. In between, I studied in France and went travelling, volunteering, studying in many countries for quite a bit.
I technically came to NYC before I went to University. Not the typical obedient student and born an urbanite, I was never into coursework and was always in the mega cities, London, New York, and Paris, when I was in school in Scotland, Virginia, and Philadelphia.
Being an ‘outsider’ entrepreneur, how has your journey in NYC been and what are the biggest challenges you find?
Since I came to NYC a while ago, NYC scenes were not unfamiliar to me. The entirety of my life is spent in the mega cities, so I am used to the fast-pace, sharpness, internationality, pollution, rudeness, in New York. It helped refine my edges and that coolness as a millennial working in a creative environment. Nevertheless, since I studied in Europe and was soaked in an intelligentsia environment, my taste tends to be more diverse.
NYC has been a blessing. In NY, I was always connecting with people I met from my schools, projects, people in the cafés, etc. Not all of my projects work out and many of them died, but whenever I want to work on something, NYC gives me hopes and resources.
The biggest challenge is surely the price. When I was in school, I had family’s supports. That was one of the major reasons I could afford a good education. After school, I had to rely on myself. NYC price is abnormal for a graduate unless he or she is working on a corporate job. For penniless entrepreneur, it is very difficult to afford anything in NY.
What’s ZHU about? How do you apply sustainability to your brand and your mission?
ZHU is a simple and classy style curation. It’s a haute-couture house whose elegant traditions married millennial attitude. We fit bespoke designs, 100% handmade and hand-stitched in France. It’s haute-couture, with products created by customization and small batches each cycle and never again, using vachette, the calfskin, from Italy.
ZFC is an ethical slow fashion brand. I do not feel comfortable using alligator skin or something. It champions a good style and taste, not necessarily fashion, by doing and having good investment pieces, to create that millennial timeless being.
I am a vegetarian and practice yoga since I was 14. Mother Nature, fair treating to people, are all very important to me and the brand.
Specifically, how ZFC carries out the mission, it came from below pillars.
First, ZFC only uses recyclable and perishable materials, with exceptions of collaborations with Zero Waste Daniel, who has already recycled parts of the synthetic wastes. I am not a big fan of plastics despite transparent plastics have been quite fashionable lately. We use leathers called vachette, which is the calfskin of cattle that is slaughtered as meat. Leather, paper boxes, cottons are the majority of the materials we. They are long-lasting, but they are naturally perishable if buried in soils.
Second, I knew my maker partner Roberto when I was studying French, in Nice. In fact, I lived right above his atelier. He dyed everything with homemade natural coloring. There are no chemical dyes that go into water and contaminate water, like many suppliers do when they make mass-produced garments.
Third, Roberto makes everything and he is well paid.
Lastly, fashion fades, style does not, as Yves Saint Laurent said: “Having a distinctive and cultivated style is already remarkably sustainable”.
How do you see ZFC fit into NYC’s fashion scene?
It fills in the haute-couture for young people, and does not chase the ever-changing trend.
NY’s fashion is very diverse. You can find all range of fashion because this is the ultimate fashion heaven. Nevertheless, NY’s fashion scene came to prominence only after war, when the American apparels gradually took European style to the mass, with the help of big department stores’ orders. In another word, NYC’s fashion can be very modern and street-culture inspired. NYC is a young city with almost 70% of the population under 45.
My line is a classic haute-couture line that calls for multidimensional awareness of style, through reading, traveling, and loving. It is not necessarily luxurious, but it is heavier in value. It fits with NY’s history of high fashion and dense art scene. They are also sustainable pieces that New Yorkers like. It does not fit into the wasteful part, superficial aspect, and the pursuit of forever new, of NYC culture and NYC fashion.
For me, cherishing what we carefully purchased, created, and loved is important. If this goes in another route from the NY mainstream, I am fine to not follow the crowd.
Nevertheless, the line combines my taste, the one of a globally educated millennial, and the Franco-Italian traditions of Roberto. My take on the styling and details of ZFC comes from our current epoch. They are classy and traditional by looks, but inherently cool.
What are your top 3 styling tips for New Yorkers?
Colourful and simple accessories to suit the permanent black garments.
Wear the worldly cultures proudly on ourselves. New Yorkers tend to have history and roots besides NY. Those pieces from elsewhere are great additions to the big NY style and they are what make us different!
Work less, chase less, enjoy life, read a book, listen to music, appreciate arts, cherish the finiteness of life in the material cornucopia. Manners and passions are the ultimate fashion.
Which is your bestseller item?
Val. This is a small cross-body coming in a very irreplaceable cute shape. Female customers like this bag a lot. It can host a book or a water bottle.
Vincent the wallet, Arcobaleno bracelets, and L’Animal, the endangered animals-inspired keychains are also popular for the lower price points, easy look, and cute stories.
Where can people find ZFC, besides online? You mentioned about a few pop-up stores in NY – which/where are they?
We do more among acquaintance circle, for many customers want certain parts to be customized. In addition, we also do online, but definitely trying to do more. We put on events that are, for now, seasonal. For example, we had partnership with Camaraderie in NYC and Persian Women in Tech.
We do high-profile events, which are in talks and will be updated momentarily. We look to do more collaborations and be taken into concept stores, businesses, or even retailers at small batches.
What are your upcoming plans for the brand? Collaborations?
First, I want more people to know about the brand and our sales need to come up. We look to more collaborations with local businesses that have physical stores and great concepts.
Second, I do look to do more lines for the brand. Now we focus on accessories, but ZHU is a millennial curation about elegance and style, not a bag brand. I want to introduce maybe ready-to-wear, maybe contemporary lines, that fit into the pronounced aesthetics and ethical believes. Or books, or classes, or yoga, or something that compliment customers’ taste and make them happy. I may also want to explore more topics that have always perplexed me, life, death, balance, etc.
Third, I would love to have pieces that challenge the status quo. For example, the Made in China image. I have seen great designer and makers in China. Made in China has a bad connotation because many products are massively produced at a high environment cost. However, it does not mean for all the products. I know amazing haute-couture designs that have supplied the emperors or have been handmade the same way for hundreds of years with passions and a supreme quality. I would want to do that.
Lastly, I want to contribute to gender parity. Most of the fashion lines, whether womenswear or menswear, are led and owned by men, while most of the entry jobs in fashion are filled by women. I will be very happy to do menswear and figure out ways to bring sustainability into this.
Can you tell about the collaboration with Zero Waste Daniel? We are huge fans and did a great interview with him a while back.
Yes, Daniel is great. There was a point I lived in Williamsburg right next to Daniel’s store. I walked pass his store multiple times and had always been inspired by the mysteriously awesome designs from the outside. One day I decided to walk in and was immediately greeted by warm reception of the staff beside the sewing machine. Fewer things at a sustainable way have always been a belief of mine. He makes clothes from scraps, which is just a good innovation itself. The pieces look very Brooklyn chic.
I approached him and asked him if he would want to collaborate. We sat down and he told me his story, of how he started at fairs selling a few pieces. He said it was “very hard” at the beginning. After years, he now made it into a beautiful store.
In New York, you can always find overnight success stories of some hotshot designers, but most of the people don’t have their businesses like this. In fact, doing business from scratch when you have limited resources is very difficult. People just don’t really care about you or your products. I was just beginning my business and my business looked very dodgy when I met him. He was very happy to help and designed our brand three exclusively fitted pieces in red, blue, and grey, for the passions, sorrows, and neutrality of a typical start-up story, I guess.
No need to say, Daniel is a super sweetheart and has great smile.
Zhu is the founder of ZHU a simple and classy style curation based in New York, London, and Paris. ZFC makes bespoke, sustainable, and chic haute-couture pieces 100% handmade in France and USA.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of ZHU