Xinjiang Story: Uygur designer weaves dreams into traditional clothing

(Xinhua) 13:29, June 16, 2023

URUMQI, June 16 (Xinhua) -- Mewlan Turaq spends his days perusing the traditional ethnic clothing and accessories that he designed, selecting pieces for his customers, most of whom are tourists eager to bring their travel memories home.

The 29-year-old Uygur designer is a native of Kashgar, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. He calls himself a "dream maker" as his designs are based primarily on ideas he takes from books and other sources before turning them into reality with the help of experienced tailors and craftspeople.

His customers dress in the traditional ethnic outfits in his cultural and creative store in Kashgar's old town, and then they follow a guide on a photoshoot tour of the labyrinthine alleys that feature reddish-yellow houses with weathered wooden doors.

"Fashion changes over time," Mewlan Turaq said. "The old-style ethnic clothes I make are no longer worn in everyday life. But that doesn't mean they will disappear -- they will continue to display their charms on new stages."

Mewlan Turaq was born and raised in Kashgar, a city along the ancient Silk Road with a history of more than 2,000 years. He became interested in the cultural elements of the old town's architecture, clothing, songs and dances when he was a child.

Influenced by his mother, Aygul Kasim, a seamstress specializing in both ethnic clothing and modern fashion, his interest in local clothing continued to grow.

He started chasing his dream in 2017, when he worked with his mother on two videos to present the changes in Uygur clothing during different time periods. At the time, Mewlan Turaq was studying medicine at a college in east China's Jiangxi Province.

To preserve the charm of traditional Uygur clothing, he pored over books and materials, consulted his mother and experienced jewelry makers, and visited local bazaars in search of old clothes and fabrics.

In just five months, Mewlan Turaq and his mother had designed and made many items of traditional clothing.

In October 2018, he opened his cultural and creative store in the old town, where he rents the traditional clothes and accessories he designs to tourists.

He said the idea came when Kashgar's newly renovated old town experienced an influx of tourists.

The old town area, formerly unpleasant to both residents and tourists, used to have limited access to water, electricity and other infrastructure. However, a renovation project with an investment of over 7 billion yuan (about 982 million U.S. dollars) gave it a new shine.

Earlier this year, Mewlan Turaq opened his second business in the old town, a cafe he designed himself. It has a 4-square-meter sandy area built to resemble the Taklimakan Desert, the largest desert in China. It is decorated with an antique wooden cradle, traditional musical instruments and copper kettles that locals often use.

"The old objects represent traditions and the cafe is relatively modern. Together, they present the current look of Kashgar," he said.

Xinjiang saw a tourism rebound during this year's May Day holiday, which lasted from April 29 to May 3. The autonomous region received more than 8 million tourist trips over the five days, up 140.81 percent year on year. Its total tourism revenue topped 6 billion yuan, up 192.18 percent year on year, official data shows.

The booming tourism industry has created more business opportunities in the old town. Travel photography services are now offered at nearly 200 stores, many of which started businesses this year. But Mewlan Turaq is not worried about the growing competition.

"More different shops offer diverse choices and will subsequently draw more tourists," he said. "That will benefit Kashgar residents as well as those working in the tourism industry."

Last year, he was named an "inheritor" of the traditional Uygur tailoring craft by the city government of Kashgar, a title that aims to protect the traditional cultures of different ethnic minority groups and grants funding, equipment and other supports.

Mewlan Turaq now plans to learn more about design and hopes to develop more unique products so that more people can "experience the cultural charm of Xinjiang and Kashgar," he said. 

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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