Peng Xin, who goes by the name of Sans, is lanky and tall, with boyish looks and an irrepressible energy. At just 25, he’s just launched one of China’s newest and most peculiar high-fashion brands, untitlab, along with his friends Justin Zen and Tian Cai. They’ve set themselves an ambitious challenge: to create shoes that bridge formal and sportswear.
Untitlab just debuted its spring/summer 2020 collection in Florence at Pitti Uomo, the semiannual menswear show that introduces new designs to industry buyers. This year’s guest of honor was China, and untitlab was one of just 10 Chinese brands selected to present their collection.
那个瘦瘦高高的、充满活力、脸上略带稚气的男生名叫彭鑫，亦称 Sans，是设计师。Sans 今年只有 25 岁，已经跟他的朋友田才与曾治翔创办了 untitlab，这是中国最清新、最独特的时尚品牌之一。他们给自己设定了一个艰巨的挑战：设计出正装和运动服都合适的鞋履。
最近 untitlab SS 2020 的鞋履系列亮相在佛罗伦萨的 Pitti Uomo 男装展，这场一年两度的盛会给业内买手推介着各大设计品牌的最新款，今年中国是特邀嘉宾国，十个品牌入选代表中国，而 untitlab 是其中之一。
Untitlab’s shoes are nothing if not eye-catching. With glossy black tops, neon highlights, puffy tongues, and oversized military soles, they look like a cross between oxfords, trainers, and combat boots. You may not need to go straight from an urbex outing to a rooftop cocktail party, but in these shoes you certainly could: they split the difference between the active and the elegant. Or rather, they’re the kind of statement piece that belongs to the more eccentric and rarefied realm of high fashion, where categories like “formal” or “athletic” are beside the point. If you’re wearing untitlabs, you don’t want to fit in.
That unclassifiable quality is reflected in the brand’s peculiar name, which itself is a mashup. Combining “untitled,” and “laboratory,” it aims to evoke a spirit of experimentation. “We want to cast off the constraints of function and contour,” says Sans. “We invite the wearer to play an active role, to create personal scenarios for use.”
Untitlab is also committed to making their company eco-friendly. Their shoes are 100% vegan, and what looks like patent leather is actually synthetic. Sans spends a lot of time on the road, meeting with factory managers and learning about different materials. In both design and production, he’s obsessed with making everything perfect.
untitlab 的产品非常显眼，黑色的漆面、鲜艳的提亮、蓬松的鞋舌、加大码的军事鞋底，有点像牛津鞋、运动鞋与战斗靴的组合体。穿着这款鞋子，就算要从城市探险直接跳脱到豪华的露台鸡尾酒会这种状况也完全不是问题：鞋子介于优雅和粗犷之间，或者更准确地说，这种个性标志属于更高的时尚领域，而“正装”、“运动”等类别完全不适用。可以想见，穿 untitlab 鞋子的一定不是随波逐流的那种人。
品牌的名字是混合词，反映了产品这种难以归类的本质。由 “untitled”（未命名）和 “laboratory”（实验室）这两个英文单词组成的品牌名，旨在勾起人们的试验精神。“我们希望打破功能与造型的束缚。”Sans 说，“是一个主动参与和自发建立个人使用场景的邀请。”
untitlab 还致力于环保，鞋子不含动物制品，那个像漆皮的面料实际上是人造皮。Sans 经常出差跟工厂老板会面，以加深对布料的了解。不管是设计还是制造，他都要达到完美的标准。
Sans studied product design and art, first at Jiangnan University—where he met co-founders Zen and Tian—and later at Birmingham City University in the UK. After graduating, he moved to Paris to spend ten months interning at Rombaut, a small shoe designer whose sensibility he shared. “I did two seasons of design for Rombaut, and also worked with brands like Sandro Paris and Hugo Boss,” he says. “There’s one style of Hugo Boss shoes where I saw through the whole process, from concept to product release.” Yet the individual designs were only part of the experience. “The city and the work were culturally enriching and broadened my horizons. That’s what really what mattered.”
In 2018, Sans moved back to China to work with fashion label Angel Chen, one of China’s leading young designers, known for her idiosyncratic style. But after two seaons he and his friends decided to strike out on their own and found a brand. “We realized that in China niche shoes were basically a wide-open sea—no brand had yet appeared that could command consumers’ attention,” says Zen. “So we thought, what if we could create that brand and meet that demand? When the time was right, we all left our jobs to found untitlab.”
Sans 的专业是艺术和产品设计，在江南大学的时候结识了曾治翔和田才，后来转学到英国伯明翰城市大学（Birmingham City University）读完本科。毕业后搬到了巴黎，在 Rombaut 这家审美观点跟他一致的鞋履品牌实习了十个月。他说，“我负责了两季 Rombaut 的设计之外，也参与了 Sandro Paris、Hugo Boss 这些品牌的服务，有一款 Hugo Boss 的鞋我完成了概念到成品发布的整个过程。”尽管如此，对他来说这些作品只是那年感受的一小部分。“城市和工作本身带给我的文化渲染、眼界的开拓才是最重要的。”
2018 年，Sans 回到中国跟已崭露头角的设计师 Angel Chen 合作，她的独特风格很吸引他。两季后，他和朋友决定自己闯一闯，创办自己的品牌。“我们发现在国内小众男鞋品牌几乎是一片自由的蓝海，在这个领域还没有一个能够占领消费者心智的品牌出现。”曾治翔说，“那么我们就考虑，是不是可以成立一个这样的品牌去连接这个供需两端。于是时机成熟后，我们就都从各自公司独立出来创办了 untitlab。”
Not even a “wide-open sea” guarantees clear sailing, but so far Sans, Zen, and Tian have had the wind at their backs. Less than a year after starting out, they’re already doing a brisk business online and in select stores around China. “We’re in the initial stages of setting up collaborative relationships with a few buyers, and soon you’ll be able to buy our shoes in Hong Kong, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. We’re also optimizing our online shop experience,” says Zen. They’re quickly carving a place for themselves in the Chinese fashion world, as their invitation to Pitti Uomo attests.
Still, for now they’re staying small: the entire company consists of the three founders and three interns. More would be hard to manage, they say, because when the inevitable disagreements arise, it’s important to be able to resolve them quickly and on friendly terms. Besides, for the moment, they’re serving a niche market. “Currently 80% of those wearing our shoes are men,” says Sans. “They’re very independent-minded about style in fashion and accessories.”
虽然“自由蓝海”不算无往不利，但目前为止一切都还顺风顺水。Sans、曾治翔与田才是 2019 1月1日才正式创立的公司，现在线上零售店与线下实体店的生意却很是兴隆。曾治翔说，“我们有与几家买手店已经初步建立合作关系，接下来在香港、北京、广州、上海都能够买到我们的鞋子，同时我们也在优化线上小程序商店的体验。”
尽管如此，公司暂时还是很小，包括三位创始人和三名实习生。但他们表示，人太多的话管理就变复杂了，人少比较容易找到和气的方法来解决不可避免的分歧，这很重要。并且，现在的受众群还不算大。Sans 说，“目前穿我们的鞋子的消费者 80% 是男士，他们对穿衣及搭配的风格很有自己的想法。”
Small doesn’t mean unambitious, and untitlab has big plans for the future. First they want to build a community of devoted customers and expand their operations. Eventually they hope to do research and develop their own sustainable materials. “We plan to set up our own materials production facility, maybe by starting out with a small-scale workshop,” explains Zen. “We want to use materials made in China that are artisanal, innovative, and sustainable.”
Asked about the company’s long-term aspirations, Sans isn’t shy. Their goals are: “within five years, to be the footwear brand with the most creative allure in China,” he says. “Within 10 years, to be a nationally influential brand, driving the development of the sustainable fashion industry. Within 20 years, to be a cultural brand with social influence internationally, driving innovation and progress in the global sustainable fashion supply chain.”
That’s a tall order for a brand whose shoes are, for the moment, far from mainstream tastes. But the three founders have talent to match their ambition, and after coming so far in such a short time, who knows how far they’ll go? Untitlab is one to watch.
小公司也有大抱负，untitlab 对未来有着宏大的理想。首先他们想建立 untitlab 的客户群并扩展生意，过了几年还希望能够研发可持续性的布料。“我们也有计划打造自己的面料工厂，可能先从小规模的作坊开始。” 曾治翔说，“希望我们的面料都能使用中国原创的、具有工匠精神的、创新且可持续性的面料。”
Contributor: Allen Young
Photographer: David Yen
Additional Images Courtesy of untitlab