Shumeng Ye and the Book of Warriors

Shumeng Ye’s Book of Warriors, in which a pair of Chinese trainers is packaged with a book of photographs, has become a cult hit in Europe. She tells CR how she did it

Shumeng Ye’s Book of Warriors, in which a pair of Chinese trainers is packaged with a book of photographs, has become a cult hit in Europe. She tells CR how she did it

In one of my recent posts about Shanghai I mentioned the Hui Li Warrior brand trainers that had become something of a hip item in Europe. I attributed their revival to a French fashion designer but I was wrong – the Book of Warriors, in which a pair of the trainers is packaged with a book of photographs featuring Chinese people wearing them, is actually the work of Finnish-Chinese graphic design student Shumeng Ye.

Shumeng Ye in her Warriors

Shumeng says she got the initial idea for the Warrior book in 2006 having spied a cleaning lady wearing a pair at Shanghai airport. “I’m happy that the book came out at all but it’s even more rewarding that it got such a good feedback. Some of the finest sneaker stores in Europe (Helsinki, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Zurich) picked it up which in turn generated a lot of interest for Warrior shoes among youngsters in China. The 420 books and shoes pretty much sold out but I still have a few spare copies left.”

It’s a pretty remarkable project, made all the more so by the fact that Shumeng is still at college where, besides going to design school, she is also doing a MA in computer science. Here’s a little more about how, and why, she put the book together along with some of the photographs that feature in the book:

What made you interested in Warriors in the first place?
I was really fascinated when I heard about their story: these shoes were the ‘it’ item in the 70s and my parents and their generation would daydream about a pair of Warriors back then. People would spend their weekend washing their Warriors and apply paint to keep them white! This reminds me even of my early childhood in the 80s in China when a fridge or a color TV were the most coveted things.

Through my book, I hope to tell the story behind the shoes and I would like show a different side of China. Not the industrial and economical power, but the daily life of a country with its own distinctive sneaker culture.

Is it a small act of resistance against the all-powerful Nike etc?
Actually, I really like Nike. It’s not their fault that Chinese products are so unappealing. I would rather see my project as a small act of resistance against the state of Chinese products. From my experience, there are roughly two kinds of Chinese brands: those that are very very traditional without any innovation and those that try to appear modern and “Western” by copying their foreign counterparts.

How did you track down the manufacturer?
Just googling 😉 The factory has a website.

Did you have to get a model of the shoe specially made for the project or could you just buy some of their existing stock?
No, the original model with the red stripe is still widely on sale in China. I bought from their existing stock.

Where did you take the photographs?
I took them in the area around Kunming and Chengdu, my hometowns. One picture is from Beijing where the shoes are popular with a lot of indie musicians.

Are you going to revive any more Chinese brands?
It’s great that these old brands like Shanghai Watch and Warrior shoes are getting more appreciation, but right now I want to create something new and I’m working on a jewelry line. The style is rather hard to define. The jewelry draws inspiration from Chinese folk art but at the same time I try to infuse a fresh and slightly goofy aesthetic. Anyway, I’m very excited about the whole thing and the first samples should be ready early next year.

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