Newly Reused: A Chat with Pawnstar’s Upcycled Collection Designer Shen Tian

You've probably heard of Pawnstar.

If you haven't, no, that was not a typo.

The not-so-new-kid on the block is a popular, “consignment store”, they call it, and it sits inside a lane house apartment dubbed The Clement, in a rustic French-style compound off Fuxing Zhong Lu. The retail store is Shanghai-famous for being a second hand heaven, hosting a large collection of “preloved” designer goods from Diane von Furstenberg, Givenchy, and Miu Miu to name a few. 

As opposed to your average thrift shop, quality is what Pawnstar is known for. Each piece that is brought in for sale goes through some serious TLC before being placed on the racks. In addition to off-the-rack items, the store also offers its own line of “upcycled" fashion and accessories — pieces that are brought into the store for sale but do not pass qualification tests and instead are taken into a chop shop to be reinvented into something beautiful that people can actually wear and use.

Pawnstar's exclusive upcycled collection

Pawnstar’s upcycled collection is the brainchild of in-house designer Shen Tian. Shen Tian is an expert on reimagining and reusing the base elements of designer and street-sourced pieces, turning them into cute items that will have any girl going ‘omg, omg, omg, I need that’. (Speaking for myself, anyways.)

CreativeHunt managed to steal a little time with Shen Tian to talk about what upcycling is and what it means to her.

CH: What is the process of turning something that is borderline garbage into a useable, even desirable piece?

Pawnstar provides me with material sourced from either abroad or unqualified items brought into the store for sale. I select pieces that I think will work well for my collection. For example, these were originally unwanted ties and I turned them into hair accessories. They're all handmade by me. I personally prefer rich and passionate colors, so as you can see, the material I have chosen are all very vibrant. 

Men's ties in a previous life

CH: Your style is indeed quite eye-catching. What inspires you to create these designs?

Pretty much anything in life will inspire me in one way or another. There's no restriction in my creation, which is great. I don't always create pieces from scratch. Take these snapbacks for example. I thought they were too normal and normal is boring, so I decided to add some style to spice them up. Adding my own touch to existing accessories is also a big part of what I do. I draw inspiration from everywhere. I visited the mountains a while back and was really inspired by traditional Indigenous clothing, so I created a collection based on that. I often try to mix and match old parts with the new. 

Boring, old snapbacks no more

CH: What makes you interested in upcycling?

I just don't like the idea of wasting. Sometimes I source for material on the streets and get dubbed as a junk collector. But I mean, hey, they are completely usable! I can always turn [trash] into something fun and exciting. Giving them a second chance, so to speak. With fast fashion on the rise, the world is polluted enough. Just the phase of manufacturing causes a ton of toxic waste, followed by heaps of discarded fabric. I love fashion and I love design, but I don't want to support the notion of creating more waste. So that's my drive behind this recyle and reuse collection. 

Shen Tian, upcycling designer at Pawnstar

CH: Is eco-design a trend in China's fashion industry?

We do have a few other partnered designers at Pawnstar and each has their own styles. My style is pretty obvious - its bold, colorful, loud. Other designers may have completely different styles. There's a designer we currently work with that uses only denim. She creates totes and backpacks from thrown away jeans. Another designer from Beijing creates accessories from IKEA's iconic big blue bag. Last year we worked with a designer who collected bottle caps and turned them into swim wear. So yeah, I think it definitely has its own ecosystem.


Address: Room 104, Bldg 1, 1363 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Hengshan Lu

Hours: Call 156-1833-1415 to make sure the store is open before visiting