The 80’s birthed the debut and rise of Asian American designers, with particular attention to those of East and South-East Asian descent (ESEA). The sheer mention of household names then and now, from the likes of Anna Sui to Prabal Gurung resonate and conjure images in one’s mind. A testament to their influence and cemented position as stakeholders in the fashion and retail industry, for not only America but the world.
The designers changed the creative landscape by being their truest self consequently rejecting the untrue stereotypes that plagued and prevailed prior, most notably ‘a one size fits all Asian identity’. In regards to fashion, going beyond dragons and red was necessary. The collections exampled a plethora of designs, silhouettes, concepts and more, all of which celebrated Asian American genius. This change stretched outside the realms of fashion and into the American culture, ultimately challenging and redefining the American identity, which had been reserved solely for the white majority. Asian American’s commitment to their craft drove this new narrative for all who were ‘American citizens of Asian descent and Asians who worked in America’. (Cox, 2020)
A change had come.
Fast forward to COVID-19 and a pandemic world. The old attitudes of the past reared their heads, only this time with a horrifying modern twist. A recent post-Trump era fostered these reimagined harmful attitudes to Asian Americans with real-life consequences. Racist rhetoric, notably the ‘Chinese virus’, famed by the 45th President, falsely justified the misrepresentation of Asian American identity. Using the origin of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China as a factual reason to blame Asian Americans for its American reach and ESEA for its worldwide spread. Bolstered, this attitude has resulted in physical attacks of elderly Asian Americans, most of which have been life-altering or fatal. President Biden is quoted in Kimberly Truong’s article on Asian hate crimes, as saying; “an increase of “bullying, harassment and hate crimes”.
The trending #STOPASIANHATE was spearheaded by Susie Lau and Asian American fashion figureheads. It was further driven to the forefront of mainstream media by Asian American designers and the mass widespread of ESEA communities. Subsequently, social media support has grown. Fashion magazines, Vogue (US & UK) & Grazia (UK), were one of the first to address the current issue with articles from ESEA fashion representatives. However, the slow uptake of non-Asian American, American and non-American brands speaking out against the recent attacks is more than telling of the present uncomfortable truths. Valentino notably being ‘the first major luxury brand to do so’. (Diet Prada, 2020)
Tracked monitoring of said attacks, and personal recollections of the designer’s and influencer’s experiences growing up or living in the Global South, have amplified the need for urgent attention. It not only exposed the lived realities of ESEA but more importantly the ‘underlying, subconscious bias and racism that is deeply ingrained in the Western society fed to us on a silver platter of white supremacy’. (Li, 2021)
A time for change has come.