Feb 21, 2019
Hu Yufang 胡毓芳, born and bred by Lake Taihu, an area known for its sericulture, has a special emotional bond with silk. This passion propelled her to create a business chain, starting with the growing of mulberry trees and extending to pure silk products and her now famous silk brand “Taihu Snow.” But this love for silk is by no means confined to her own business: It generated a bigger aspiration—the revitalization of the silk industry in
A Delayed Coming-together
Born in Shengze, widely known as a
After Hu graduated from a teacher training college, she was assigned to teach in
Independent by nature, Hu quietly quit her respectable and steady job without a word to her parents, and went into the overseas silk trade business. Even when facing an uncertain future, she never rowed back on her decision. As she sees it, if you fear “wolves ahead of you and tigers behind,” you can never achieve anything big. About Her choice of this path she describes as “predestined.”
Unlike many silk makers and traders, she likes to dig to the bottom of things. While others are content just to have customers, Hu’s concerns never stopped there. “Floss silk quilts are traditional products of Zhenze. But why should quilts made of natural silk sell well only around
"I Am a New Silk Maker”
Hu set up her company some 10 years later than other new entrepreneurs. Yet what others saw as a tough road deterred her not one bit. “The route my business had to take was one of innovation. I am a new silk maker; I am different from the forefathers.” While veteran silk makers were cherishing their past glories, Hu embarked on a different silk road—a road of innovations in technology and management.
Floss silk quits made with traditional technology had a number of drawbacks—clumping up, to launder. These problems held back trade development and dampened consumer demand. Hu, a former teacher herself, was well aware of how important teachers can be. She often sought advice from veteran silk makers and experts to find the root causes of the problems and also collaborated with the Sericulture Research Institute of Soochow (
Since she saw innovative management as having equal importance to technological breakthroughs, Hu chose not to take the well-trodden, production-focused path of many veteran silk makers. From the very first day of her Taihu Snow business, she was clear that she was a brand creator, right then and even more so in the future. This did not mean, however, that her company would not accept orders other than for Taihu Snow brand products. On the contrary, she would accept limited-quantity orders that other producers were reluctant to take on, but on condition that the orders were upscale and involved high-end technology. She considered this a good opportunity to learn. In her view, adherence to high quality is the only way to show real respect for silk. “Pure silk should be a symbol of quality life. Why? Because it is green, environment-friendly, involves refined technique and has high artistic value.”
Since Day One of her company’s life, Hu has always been a go-getter, never relaxing her efforts. In her view, in establishing a new brand everything depends on one’s own efforts. On the matter of the 50 mil-lion yuan special fund set up by the Suzhou government in 2013 to sup-port development of the silk industry, she smiles and praises it as a good thing but stresses that the crucial factor is the enterprises themselves, and that “waiting, wanting, and depending” are the wrong attitudes for silk makers. “The share of the government fund that an average silk-making enterprise can get is just one or two million yuan. It’s just a drop in the bucket.” Her self-belief shines through.
Her confidence comes from her inborn acumen for the silk trade. The discovery that a female colleague from Suzhou had never used a floss silk quilt made her very upbeat and increased her confidence: “There’s such a large market for silk quilts in Suzhou even, not to mention all China!”
A decade or so back,
Such things made her despondent. How to inherit and develop
Knowing something is one thing; doing it is another. This Jiangnan woman faced heavy pres-sure to really get to grips with this tricky responsibility. After repeated pondering, Hu became convinced that “currently the key task for the silk industry is to present and re-position itself in the global market. Upgrading the quality of individual silk products is important all right, but revitalizing the silk industry as a whole is even more important.”
Hu believes that culture is the breakthrough point for revitalization of the silk industry. It is far from enough to simply transplant Chinese cultural elements onto silk products and to rely on graphic solutions alone. To represent profound cultural significance entails a seamless fusion of design, technique, style and quality in a natural way and presupposes a thorough understanding of traditional Chinese culture. Chinese culture stresses harmony, with yin and yang in balance, so its silk culture should be “engraved by Nature, like an unadorned hibiscus rising out of clear water.” Furthermore, silk itself embodies the basic features of Chinese culture, with its subtle softness and smooth character, inclusivity, beauty and flexibility. So a creative Chinese silk brand, one in which form and substance are perfectly combined, could indeed move the world again.
Hu’s ambitions meant travelling way beyond the boundaries of
In fact Taihu Snow has been in the Russian market since 2010. Ac-cording to Hu, the popular silk products there are those that combine opulence with a typical Chinese look. A Russian company found Taihu Snow online and the two enterprises chimed in easily to establish a Taihu Snow franchised store in
Had it not been for the pursuit of her dream, Hu Yufang would never have swapped the stability of her teaching job for the hardships of building a business. Love is the best teacher, and inspiration comes from having a dream.
About the Column
Suzhou-Silk City is a book compiled by the Information Office of Suzhou Municipal People's Government and published by Foreign Languages Press Co. Ltd. Suzhou, though associated with classical gardens, is even more the city of silk. The peaks and troughs experienced in Suzhou’s silk making and embroidery worlds are an important aspect of the enduring brilliance of China’s silk art.