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YCE: Chictopia

There's a whole community of style obsessives giving props to each other's outfits on a daily basis and Helen Zhu is responsible for that.

“Everybody is Ugly” is the title of the blog that forms a core part of San Francisco-based Chictopia’s online personal style sharing community. That’s clearly not the case when Chictopians upload their outfits on a daily basis, eliciting rapturous praise from other members, and then go on to become internet style icons contracting modelling campaigns for the likes of American Apparel. Co-founder Helen Zhu recognised that “style is another kind of literacy” and so Chictopia was born to help “people figure out how to read and produce in that language”. In the words of key Chictopians like Connie Wang, “It’s time to start celebrating clothing that looks good on people, not hangers.”

Helen Zhu
Name a person or organisation that shares your DIY ethos, and explain why.
My grandma. She never received an education but taught herself how to read. She had bound feet but sewed ergonomic yet fashionable shoes for herself to walk long distances. She took scraps of cloth she gathered from other people and made the most beautiful quilts for herself as bed covers. She turned many ordinary things into something functional and polished. I share her DIY ethos because she was a woman who always accepted what she had and made the best out of it.

Send us a picture/video that summarises your view of modern life, and explain why.
In life, anything is possible. Some people have to see to believe. Some people do to make others believe.


Do you think the recession has helped or hindered your creativity? Why?
I think that the recession has challenged me to become more creative with the way I run my business. We have to learn to be creative on the cheap, which isn't easy, but it's doable.  On a bigger level, a business built on efficient operations and DIY creative projects will scale better in the long run.

Music for a revolution - what song sums up your attitude?
One - U2. I am very passionate about being Zen.

What other period inspires you the most, and why?
China in the 80s inspires me the most. I lived through it as a kid, but never reflected on the full social impact of it until recently. The country had just awakened from political closeness under Mao's rule. Citizens were severely scared from over 10 years of Cultural Revolution; schools stopped teaching, top intellectuals were sent to jail, and people were poor. However, with the Open Door policy Deng implemented in the early 90s, everyone felt energized with the change that was about to take place and started working on projects that rose out of interest and the drive to move forward.

Connie Wang
Name a person or organisation that shares your DIY ethos, and explain why.
I was weaned off of teen magazines of the ‘90s, so voices like Jane Pratt, Christina Kelly, and Atoosa Rubenstein are the end-all to be-all CYE’s for me. They had such faith in our youth and treated us like we were interesting people with worthwhile things to say—which was so empowering because kids are so used to people assuming that they’re lazy, solipsistic hedonists. Youth are kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy, aren’t they? Treat them like they’re horny slobs, and there’s not much a reason for them to behave otherwise. Treat them with the respect they deserve, and they’ll blow your mind.

Send us a picture/video that summarises your view of modern life, and explain why.
I wanted to say something about how modern life is all about being able to share your passions with the world and how in contributing what you can, we can make beautiful music together—but then I saw Helen’s rat on a cat on a dog video and felt a little inadequate. She wins.


Do you think the recession has helped or hindered your creativity? Why?
Helped—for sure. I think that for a lot of young people like me, we’re realizing that what’s worked for our parents or our older siblings won’t work for us. It’s scary realizing that The Recession has cut off a lot of the traditional avenues that one takes to “make it” in the world—but it’s forced a lot of us to cut our own paths. Being innovative isn’t as much a quirk nowadays as much as a necessity.

Music for a revolution - what song sums up your attitude?
I’ve inherited my father’s questionable taste in music (smack us with a song involving sweeping melodies, pumping synthesizers in a major key, and we’re basically content). That said, I’ve listened to the new Metric album so many times I’ve had dreams of hanging out with Emily Haines. Consistency, then? Being down to chill with rad people? I guess that’s a good attitude to have.

What other period inspires you the most, and why?
The Renaissance. Of course I’m romanticizing the period, but I like to think that it was a time where giving your all and doing your best was the norm. I also am really into the idea of men in velvet trousers.

Read more of the YCE feature here.