The local art, music and fashion scenes owe much to the dramatic surge in Internet access in China over the past decade. Fewer than 1.2 million users were online in 1998, according to the government’s China Internet Network Information Center. By June 2009, that number had surpassed 330 million. Despite the government’s extensive efforts to censor potentially subversive online content, a lot of cultural information has filtered through, and the impact has been tremendous.
“Ten years ago everyone looked the same here,” says Alexis Yang, 26, Eno’s events organizer, who sports an oversize woolen hat in Rastafarian colors. “There was no punk or hip-hop in China except for really underground stuff, and no way to express your personality.”
Nowadays, new streetwear fashions pour into China from South Korea, Japan, Europe and the U.S. But Hartmann and Petersen have learned that Chinese fashion trends tend not to follow the global model.
“Everywhere else, fashion starts from the runway, and you pretty much know what the trend’s going to be a year or two later,” says Hartmann. “Here it’s not really clear what’s going to end up working at what time. That’s why we tried to open up the design process as much as possible.”