By Roisin Breen

In the dynamic world of fashion, where creativity knows no bounds, there emerges a brand that challenges conventional design paradigms and pushes the boundaries of artistic expression. Empty Behavior, an avant-garde footwear brand founded in 2022 by the visionary duo of Chen Yichang and Qian Zhou in China, represents a bold departure from the ordinary. Inspired by the ancient philosophy that « all things are empty and permitted, » the brand is a testament to the belief that every creative path is valid.

Empty Behavior’s DNA is deeply imbued with experimental audacity and timeless humanism. With a fusion of industrial and architectural design, the founders approach footwear as a form of architectural expression, akin to building miniatures. Their innovative approach transcends the conventional boundaries of footwear, opening up a world of unexplored possibilities where art meets fashion.

In this exclusive interview, we delve into the minds of Chen and Qian, the creative geniuses behind Empty Behavior. They share their journey from inception to global expansion, their commitment to sustainability, and their unique design philosophy. Join us as we explore the intersection of art, fashion, and architecture with the creators of one of the most exciting and groundbreaking brands in contemporary fashion.

RB You only started the brand in 2022, you’re still so young! Can you tell us about how Empty Behavior came to be? What made you want to start your own brand?

Qian At first, Nino and I wanted to design artistic furniture together, then Nino suggested that we could create something more. So, we chose to express our ideas and concepts through footwear, using shoes as small-scale architecture and interpreting them through industrial and architectural language, all while staying true to the initial concept we both had.

RB Can you talk to us a bit about your backgrounds? Were you both formally educated in design? How did you meet? Are you both just as heavily involved in the design process or does one of you focus more on business etc?

Qian We both graduated from art and design schools, but I didn’t pursue a career in design after my graduation. Instead, I worked as a fashion magazine editor for ten years. My experience as a fashion editor helped me understand what a fashion brand needs and its mission, which gave us a different way from other designer brands to start. Chen and I met during fashion week in Milan through mutual friends and we totally hit it off. Now we have our respective roles: Chen primarily handles design work, while I am mainly in charge of brand operations. However, we have close discussions with each other. I would give my suggestions on design to Chen, and Chen would give his suggestions on decisions regarding operations to me. We complement each other while maintaining our independence.

RB The brand is based in China… and you have just launched in Europe. Where will you be available and what can fans expect from this move?

We will start with Boon showroom in the European market. It’s an exciting beginning for us, and entering the European market offers us opportunities for new exploration, which includes future collaborations with more artists and brands. We believe our fans will see greater possibilities for Empty Behavior and continue to support us.

RB How does the brand prioritize sustainability and eco-friendliness in its shoe production process?

Sustainability and eco-friendliness in the fashion industry are structural issues. While most brands can meet the basic environmental requirements in terms of craftsmanship, materials, and other green practices, the fashion industry still falls short in terms of being truly eco-friendly. A significant reason for this is the industry’s operational cycles and transaction patterns, which inevitably lead to issues like overproduction, excessive packaging, and excessive stockpiling in today’s fully industrialized context. These problems cause even greater harm to our Earth’s resources.Our approach is to prioritize the use of biodegradable materials in industrial production as much as possible. Additionally, we reduce the scale of product designs and focus on refining each product to its optimal state, ensuring that consumers enjoy a longer-lasting wearing experience. Furthermore, we have been using AI to assist visuals and creating virtual products to expand the boundaries of our brand. We aim to replace traditional, resource-intensive brand-building methods with this nearly « zero-emission » approach.

RB Can you talk to us about your aesthetic? Where do you get your design ideas from?

Chen Inspiration, for me, is something subconscious like breathing. It could come from literature, philosophy, art, music, or a snail on the grass after the rain, an interesting roadside sign. My primary job is to compile these scattered fragments of inspiration into complete design concepts. One aesthetic style I particularly like is « retro-future. » It appears as a simple juxtaposition of opposites. In fact, it is the past generation’s imagination of the future. People cannot imagine something entirely unfamiliar, so in those imaginative designs, I see a reflection of the era’s environment and the expectations people had for the future. Therefore, our starting point in design revolves around people, the environment, and the possibilities of future humanity. I believe an excellent designer engages with the times, records it, and makes changes, rather than isolating oneself as independent. I hope that many years later, people can look back at my work and see the environment of this era and the imaginations people have for the future. If Empty Behavior will still be worn by people in the future, then it won’t be just imaginations, it will mean that we’ve participated in shaping the future.

RB Tell us about your design space? Do you need quiet/ music? Shared space or solitary? Do you design strictly in work hours or do you pass all-nighters in the studio?

Chen Our creative team works in a large open space. We are flexible to staffs’ time management, attaching great importance to content production and work efficiency. Sometimes staying overnight at the company is inevitable during critical project phases. Additionally, we require using headphones when listening to music. Personally, I need a quiet environment for work.

RB Can you tell us about your production process? Where are the shoes made? In what kind of quantities? How do you source the materials?

Currently, our production volume is relatively small, and we focus on creating high-quality products. This gives us the freedom to choose materials that we like without considering too much about the cost, and also allows us great control of the source of supply chain. Most production takes place in our own studio rather than large factories, which makes the whole production under our control.

RB Tell us more about this collaboration with Asics! How did it come about? Did they approach you?

Our collaboration with Asics was really creative. Initially, friends from Asics approached us and suggested working together to create something fun. We began by creating external components for the ASICS GT-2160, drawing inspiration from surrealistic and futuristic aesthetics. Later, we focused on the theme of redefining customization for the Asics Gel-Kayano Legacy. We try to bring a cross-disciplinary fusion of sports and fashion to this event by integrating the design languages of both Empty Behavior and Asics to reshape the Gel-Kayano Legacy footwear.

RB You collaborated with Chen Peng at Paris Fashion week. What was that like?

Our collaboration with Chen Peng was really impressive. It was a delightful collaboration. And our ideas for the entire show matched perfectly which made our shoes perfectly integrated with the clothing designed by Chen Peng during the show.

RB What / who excites you the most right now?

What excites us the most right now is our entry into Europe and the exploration of future possibilities. We look forward to collaborating with more brands, artists, creative individuals, also celebrities and KOLs. EB is a brand that embraces numerous possibilities, just as our initial concept when we founded. We want to do more and more exploration and experiments with others. Let’s do something fun!

RB All fashion seems so nostalgic right now, and it’s funny that we are looking back on a time (particularly the turn of the millennium) when all fashion was about looking forward and trying to be futuristic. What do you think about that as designers? Are you looking forward or backwards? Chen, you touched on this exact topic earlier, we’re on the same thought path!

Qian I believe that whether it’s futuristic aesthetics or nostalgic aesthetics, they are both based on the logic of « visual symbols. » So, I have always been averse to « absolutism. » Just like our design, it has both futuristic sense and nostalgic elements; it is inclusive. I cannot choose between looking forward or backward; it may remain eternally in between!

Chen Yes, I mentioned my perspective on the past and the future earlier. Here is a quote I like: « A true modern person stands on the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow. They neither reject the past nor cling to it. They know they are the result of the past but are also disloyal and disobedient to tradition. They understand the shortcomings of the past and strive to mend them with continuous creativity. However, they also know that what they create today will quickly be surpassed, so they often find themselves in a lonely fear for the future. »

RB That’s super poignant, especially on this tip between the old world and the digital era that we have been in. So, for the future, any other exciting upcoming projects you can share with us?

We have the upcoming Interstellar Sports series. EB continues to use footwear as a conveyance to shatter conventional understandings of space and time, expressing the concept of « Interstellar Enclave, Placed on Earth’s Grassland, » and giving rise to the notion of an « Enclave Paradise. » It transcends the cyber galaxy, breaking down biological barriers and ideologies. By unleashing nature and playing freely, it creates an harmonious and equal interstellar playground where the universe’s diverse entities can enjoy equal communication, coexist, and enjoy sports. To some people, it is just an ordinary grassland, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t also an interstellar enclave!

 Discover Empty Behavior now at www.emptybehavior.shop


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