The Business of Fashion

Combatting Anti-Asian Racism in Fashion

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BoF’s Imran Amed talks with Michelle Lee, Susanna Lau and Phillip Lim about the intersectional issues and structural barriers at the core of Anti-Asian hate, and how the fashion professionals can be better allies.

A recent wave of violence directed toward Asian Americans — exacerbated by the hateful dialogue propagated by Donald Trump amid the pandemic — has brought anti-Asian racism to the forefront of global conversation. The issues facing Asian people are unique — for one, the term “Asian” represents a diverse group of people often clumped into a monolith that neglects to recognise nuances in culture and history. And racism against Asians often doesn’t culminate in easily-identifiable signs or symbols, sometimes making it difficult to spot from the outside. But, it’s pervasive, and has real, lived consequences.
On the latest BoF podcast, BoF’s Imran Amed spoke with designer Phillip Lim, Michelle Lee, the editor in chief of Allure and British journalist Susanna Lau about their experiences being Asian in fashion, examining painful stereotypes and learning on how fashion professionals can be better allies.

Anti-Asian racism is not new, but Lau believes it has become an unavoidable topic in 2021 because of the visceral nature of the images and videos coming from social media. “Everyone has these stories pertaining back to their past but they were sporadic… because they were sporadic you would bury them, and then they would come up again, but you would bury them again. And then the cycle repeats itself,” Lau said.

Often, Chinese people are conflated with the growing superpower that is the country of China, ignoring the fact that many Asians live below the poverty line and often face racial bias. “When it comes to public sentiment, I think it boils down to whether or not the mainstream thinks that there is a group that is oppressed,” Lee said. “Ultimately, unfortunately for Asians because of the ‘model minority’ myth, people don’t think that we’re oppressed, and they think that racism against Asians doesn’t exist.”

Lim acknowledged that while brands are no longer silent, they need to be thoughtful in speaking out, looking for talent and trying to foster change. “Lend us your microphone, lend us your platform, but don’t speak for us. Let us speak for ourselves,” Lim said.

External clips courtesy of BBC News, Al Jazeera English and NBC News.

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