“The real reason for my use of etles is related to the Uyghur cause” — Radio Free Asia

Qedriye Ghopur, a young Uyghur fashion designer living in Norway, is trying to spread Uyghur culture through a fashion brand called Føniks (Phoenix) which offers etles-style clothing and jewelry. Etles, a Central Asian fabric and design known in English as ikat, became popular around the world about a decade ago, but not without criticism of cultural appropriation. Traditionally made by Uyghurs, Uzbeks and Tajiks, silk fabric is used in women’s and men’s clothing. More recently, its various patterns have been applied to upholstery and accessories.

RFA previously interviewed Ghopur as an activist sharing the story of her mother, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison after spending nearly two years in an internment camp in the Xinjiang region of northeastern China. western China. This time, she spoke with journalist Gulchehra Hoja from RFA’s Uyghur service in her role as a designer who brings Uyghur motifs into the fashion world. The interview has been edited for length.

RFA: When did you first become interested in fashion design??

Ghopur: I started thinking about going abroad to study fashion design when I was 15 or 16 years old. I was born in Toksu [in Chinese, Xinhe] Aksu county [Akesu] Prefecture. I graduated from high school at the age of 19 and started studying oil painting at the Xinjiang Art Institute. When I was studying at the Institute of Arts, however, I never felt quite complete. Even though oils were part of my life and studies, they weren’t everything to me. But the fabrics gave me a whole different kind of thrill.

RFA: Do you feel that your training gave you a different type of inspiration in your field than other people?

Ghopur: I feel it. For example, Europeans use a lot of pale, muted colors. They don’t really like color, or particularly bright colors. But if you look at the Uyghur islands, for example, there are a minimum of seven or eight colors in the island designs, and the colors match each other very well. I felt that Uyghurs have a relatively high color sensitivity compared to people from other cultural backgrounds.

RFA: How do you feel when you watch etles?

Ghopur: Etles gives me hope. When I look at it, when I wear it or dress it, I remember the homeland [where] I went to fabric markets whenever I was sad. I would have so much fun just holding and touching the fabrics, and looking at the styles, colors and patterns.

Some of Qedriye Ghopur’s designs using etles. Credit: Qedriya Ghopur/Facebook

RFA: Tell us about your fashion brand.

Ghopur: I have already completed all the paperwork to file a patent application in Norway. The label is called Føniks, or Phoenix. In the Uyghur language, it refers to the enqa, the mythical bird. the enqa is a legendary bird. It has a long lifespan. When it’s time to die, the enqa flies close to the sun and ignites, after which it is reborn. The bird represents hope and rising from the ashes, which is the kind of spirit I want to have in my life and work. I went through difficulties, I fell, but I got up and I continue to move forward. This is also my mother’s dream for me. My mother gave her life for me, so I want to make her dreams come true. My dreams are those of my mother.

RFA: Are your designs using etles an expression of nostalgia for the Uyghur homeland?

Ghopur: We can say that, yes. When I started studying in this field, I mainly learned about European and Turkish culture and fashion. I was exposed to many European ideas about color. I started my design studies in a school in Turkey, a fairly well-known school. During my studies, I learned fashion design as well as collection preparation, which is distinct from design. While preparing the collection, I learned things like how to put clothes on models, how to create the environment for an entire collection, etc. Besides that, I also studied color theory and fashion design. In three or four years, I finished school, having obtained a number of certificates, and then came to Norway.

RFA: As a Uyghur artist, did the hardships and suffering you faced inspire your creations?

Ghopur: It’s natural that they influenced me. Initially, I had no intention of working with etles. I had no intention of designing, manufacturing or selling such clothes. I started getting political after I started advocating for my mother’s cause. I participated in various programs and gave interviews to the media. I did everything I could to defend my mother, but it wasn’t enough, so I wondered what else I could do. I had already made a name for myself in fashion design, so I decided that I could do activism through my work in this field. The real reason behind my use of etles has to do with the Uyghur cause. I am currently planning to build a collection with a minimum of 50 models using etles, which I want to show in Norway. In case I’m ultimately unable to do so, maybe I’ll do a photography exhibition instead. I want to use our fabrics and our sense of color to show people that Uyghurs are not just people who escaped from China – on the contrary, we are a people with a developed and beautiful culture. I would love to have even a small impact this way.

RFA: Etles has become more popular in recent years. The Chinese government now uses etles in clothing design, not a representation of Uyghur fashion and culture, but rather a promotion as a component of Chinese culture. Some famous American and European brands have paid the rights to use the designs andthes of some Uzbek brands. Do you feel competition as a result?

Ghopur: Naturally, I feel some competition, as I only recently started this work. Uzbek designers and brands have been working with etles for much longer than me. But when they use etles, they call it “etles Uzbeks”. I call mine “and the Uyghurs”. They use Uzbek etles, but I use real Uyghur etles. Etles was born in our homeland, specifically in Hotan [Hetian], and then spread along the Silk Road. Etles gives me great spiritual nourishment, encouragement and strength.

Few people know about fashion design. We are now in 2022. What will be popular in 2023? What colors should we put on the market? What styles will sell? We have to think about politics, economics, current lifestyles, global development. Fashion design is part art, part economics, part politics and part life. It’s not just about popular brands and styles. I want to make my brand known first in Norway, then in Europe, and finally all over the world. God willing, that’s my plan.

Translated by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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