When I was traveling in the south of China, I saw this hat on a street-side shop, and it immediately caught my attention. I have never seen any hat like this before. The hat looks like a baseball cap, but it is decorated with colorful embroideries of iconic Chinese patterns. Despite its unique design, it was not a rare find – almost every other shop was selling this type of hat in the area where I was sight-seeing.

How come that the western fashion accessory of the baseball cap, met the traditional art of Chinese embroidery? And why were they sold in bulk in those street-side shops?

To begin with, Chinese embroidery is a historical folk art that has been used for fabric decoration, and they have evolved throughout the thousands of years to become an integral part of the Chinese aesthetics. Different areas of China has developed their unique style and techniques for embroidery, while distinct patterns and designs took on various cultural and religious purposes.

So it is not unusual that modern fashion is taking on traditional embroidery. These days it’s common to see vintage embroidery on jeans and jackets in an American store like Forever 21. Similarly in China, more and more brands are embracing traditional embroidery to appeal to a young generation of customers that seek to express their cultural taste against the tide of globalization.

As for this hat, its popularity among the street-side shops tells the bigger story between cultural identity and the modern economy. For areas of China that populated with ethnic minorities, and geographically isolated, such as Yunnan province, the embroidery industry functions as  a pillar of income for uneducated locals, mostly women. This is why many embroidery products on the market are made without a brand, and are priced rather low.