If you had a Pinterest account in 2012, you probably saw Seattle designer Tiffany Ju’s ombré tights on your newsfeed. Designed in gradients from fuchsia to baby pink, black to magenta, and lime green to white, Ju’s colorful stockings took the internet by storm with thousands of reposts on Pinterest and Tumblr, and write-ups in Glamour Magazine, Refinery29, BUST Magazine, and even the Martha Stewart Show. Sold on Etsy under her label BZR, Ju hand-dyed more than 15,000 tights before closing her store in 2018.
Now, she’s back with another fashion brand: Chunks, a Memphis design-inspired accessories line, featuring checker-printed hair clips, zigzagged barrettes, and bright cat-eye sunglasses, all proudly manufactured in China. Launched in 2019, Chunks has flooded Instagram with candy-colored hair pieces mixed and matched on all hair types, and clipped on vintage vases and bowls like miniature household accessories. Taking design tips from streetwear and the ‘90s-era TV show Saved By the Bell, Chunks revives throwback styles as vibrant hair candy for the 21st century accessorizer.
In addition to her accessories label, Ju’s fine art practice merges her background in fashion (she has a BFA in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design) with her design expertise in tall woven fiber works, constructed with upcycled materials. GRAY asked Ju about the meaning behind her irreverent brand name, her relationship with the local design community, and why the stigma towards “Made in China” has got to go.
You’ve designed accessories for nearly a decade, from ombre tights to hair clips and sunglasses. Have you always been drawn to accessories and fashion?
I’ve always been drawn to style. Even at Parsons, when it was time to pick majors, I was really torn between Fashion Design and Product Design. It totally makes sense that I found something in between. To be honest, I hated dealing with all the fabric that clothing entailed. It just wasn’t my medium. My senior thesis was a streetwear collection, which at the time had some teachers and advisors appalled, I’m sure. Streetwear has always spoken to me because it’s based in style and culture, doesn’t take itself so seriously and it lets the fashion bleed into accessories and other hard or semi-hard goods.
How did you come up with the brand name “Chunks”?
I liked the shape of the letters! I liked the sound of it. I like what it evoked, there’s tension in it. While I was moodboarding the brand, I kept saving images of these colorful chunks of trash or colorful materials stuck in resin.
Tell me about where you get your design inspiration.
I love the Memphis style. It was definitely on my moodboard. Visually, it also aligns well with being a child of the ‘90s (cue the intro theme to Saved By The Bell). I also love the work of material artists like Chen Chen and Kai Williams and Chiaozza who all make amazing, weird colorful chunks.
You lived in New York, LA, Atlanta, Paris, and Virginia before settling down in Seattle. What do you appreciate about Seattle’s design community?
Seattle’s design community is small but confident. We have some amazing brands in this city and we’re all proud to be forming a design identity that’s unique to us. I moved to Seattle in 2013, so it’s taken me a few years to understand it fully, but now, I rep Seattle hard.
You are transparent about manufacturing Chunks in China, in order to dispel stereotypes and stigmas toward Chinese production. Can you expand on that?
We all have such a knee-jerk reaction to Chinese manufacturing as being synonymous with knocked-off goods, poor quality, or unethical. It also only takes a second to realize that such a generalised belief cannot possibly be true. These three specific words of Made in China carry so much complexity beyond manufacturing and national economies and have always held a lot of interest for me. While I was defining my ethos and messaging, I came up against this discomfort as well and I saw it as an opportunity for investigation. I have an amazing relationship with my vendors and I think they do such great work. I think independent designers and conscious brands have so much potential to implement more responsible practices and to create demand for it.
Can you take me through your design process?
I come up with random ideas all the time so I carry a notebook around so I don’t lose them. Then I’ll dedicate a few days per month to gather those ideas and flesh them out, usually first by sketching and looking at swatches. Then I’ll finalize them in Illustrator with all the detailed specs. My manufacturer will make samples which I then approve and they make! It’s a really fun process. I love the actual size and scale of hair accessories. I love the back and forth with my manufacturers and the speed in which they work. And finally getting the products and wearing them is pure squeal-inducing delight. The hair accessories are made from acetate, which is synthesized from plant material and is biodegradable—unlike other plastics such as acrylic that I’ve learned will last until the end of time.
I saw that you were designing ombré tights under BZR until 2018. (Side note: I’m one hundred percent sure I pinned a pair of your tights on Pinterest in 2012.) What led you to pivot and launch Chunks in 2019?
Those ombré tights were so insane, especially on Pinterest in 2012! It was such a crazy sudden take off with those tights and I was completely unprepared for it. I started them in 2012 and wasn’t caught up on orders until probably 2015. Every aspect of BZR was so hard but the hardest thing by far was making the actual product. The labor always bottlenecked production and I was also stuck in production so I realized that the potential and scalability of the brand would be really limited. I was also just tired. Dyeing ombré tights was incredibly labor intensive and my mind and body definitely felt it. I just strongly felt that BZR was coming to its natural end and I was so proud of what I did with it and what it taught me. I think one of my strengths is predicting trends and a couple years ago, I remember thinking, “Oh, hair accessories are going to be a THING.” Practically and logistically it seemed like a perfect next step and then once I started designing them and getting them produced, I was hooked.
In addition to Chunks, you also have a fine art practice. Do you find similarities between your fine art and design work?
Absolutely! They both come from the same place. As far back as I can remember, I was always drawing colorful shapes and weaving. In the weavings I do now, I make them out of all the unusable tights I’ve collected over the years. The idea of upcycling and our relationship with our trash is definitely at the core of my art. I also think it’s funny that I was drawn to a certain ethos in both Chunks and my art because it wasn’t even fully apparent to me until I started doing both. I always held this tension or shame about creating and wasting so everything I do lies in between.
What’s on the horizon for Chunks?
It’s been a really exciting journey so far! I started exactly a year ago so I’m still figuring this out. The only thing I’m sure of is that I’m playing the long game towards responsible manufacturing. I still have so much to learn about manufacturing and what responsible manufacturing even means to us all. I would also love to go to China and visit my manufacturers once we’re able to travel again.
As a designer, how are you creatively navigating changes due to COVID-19?
I’m still wrapping my head around this and what it means to be creating and selling during this time. In regards to Chunks, I came out of the last couple weeks realizing that finding moments of joy and delight will help us get through this. For me, returning to how I can best serve my customers is the best lens to filter through right now.