Dongguan From the Underground: Fashion Forward

UNDERGUAN

UNDERGUAN (暗地莞)

For a city that once boasted production of something close to 90% of the world’s textiles, the dress of local population isn’t all that impressive. Copies of copies, misspelled brands and uninspired designs have all become the norm. Now, four companies spread across Dongguan are aiming to shake-up the status quo by creating their own products from the ground up—finally, giving locals a handful of brands they can truly call their own.

TOFU (豆腐)

TOFU (豆腐)

“As a teenager, I wanted my own t-shirts, so I drew cartoons on clothing and sold them online. At the beginning, there were traces of big brands in my style, but I slowly created my own vintage-inspired, leisure look. By the time I was in university, I wanted it to be my career,” said TOFU (豆腐) of SUPERTOFU.

TOFU’s company makes up one-third of the UNDERGUAN (A combined word with underground & Dongguan) collective, which also includes DAKYAM and Vermicelli (VMCL). All three companies still design and promote their own merchandise, but also work together to pool their strengths and generate more progressive stylistic efforts.

“‘UNDERGUAN’ has two meanings. First, we don’t want to be mainstream.Instead we keep things unique. Second, it means we grow from seeds. We hope this movement can start because of us, extending to influence more and more people,” said Xie Tu (谢凸) of VMCL.

Xie Tu (谢凸)

Xie Tu (谢凸)

Others from the group echoed similar sentiments.

“If more new blood comes into this market, this culture will expand. We really don’t consider ourselves as an economic company. The reason we made [UNDERGUAN] was to better record the moments that we spend together,” said Zenmy (赞铭) of DAKYAM.

Other community members naturally drifted from similar forms of art and eventually found themselves designing clothing that more specifically fit their ideals and highlighted the ideas that influenced them.

“I’m not sure whether I was the first person, but I started dancing really early on in 1999. I was DJ-ing in 2008. Now, with 17 years in this culture, I wanted to create a brand and share it with more people,” said Mr. Tommy (汤米), creator of DG City (DGC).

Frankie (屎涛) & Zenmy (赞铭)

Frankie (屎涛) & Zenmy (赞铭)

For those of us coming from societies that already exhibit mature urban culture, it’s easy to forget the challenges coming with opening up new concepts. Just because the idea was seen somewhere else doesn’t mean it’d be so simple to implement it in a new environment.

“Previously in Shilong, people wore counterfeit brands. We all just looked the same. I started to wonder how I could make clothes for myself and quickly found out that many people in China were already doing it. I simply tried to follow them to create my own thing,” said Frankie (屎涛) of DAKYAM.

Part of what holds back the advancement of this fringe culture perhaps lies in its rugged appearance. As a result, parents may reject it for their children based on simple, superficial concerns. As a primarily youth-led initiative, this harms development.

Tommy explained, “Some people might misunderstand what we’re doing, wondering about our tattoos. We are not only teaching them about underground culture, but also are showing them how to be good people by sharing positive values with them. The future of our thing must be good.”

Mr.Tommy (汤米) & DG CITY (DGC)

Mr.Tommy (汤米) & DG CITY (DGC)

Category Cover Stories