Written by Alice Dunlop
On the surface, the recent attacks towards the South-East Asian communities may seem like a new occurrence since the spark of the Covid-19 pandemic. But considering the long-standing exclusion of Asian models and culturally appropriated trends in the fashion industry, the recent hate crimes are an extension of a problem deep-rooted within fashion.
Often referred to as the ‘model minority’, Asian communities have gone from being scapegoated to then admired by different parts of society. The idea of the ‘model minority’ was used to create a comparison between Asian and Black communities in America, in an attempt to make an example out of Black communities. Applying this admirability to Asian society not only stigmatises other BAME groups but leaves the opinion that they need no government help. The idea that Asian communities can earn for themselves, removed from the benefits system, implies a notion in to society that we do not need to worry for them. This could not be more wrong in current times.
Although racism towards Asian communities is not a topic often discussed by the media, since former president Donald Trump termed the Covid-19 virus ‘Chinese virus’ we are now seeing a sharp rise in hate crimes towards Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders – consequentially, the news is starting to spread. With 2,500 reports in America of anti-Asian hate crimes between March and September last year alone, and the Instagram hashtag #stopasianhate gaining over 7000 posts, it’s becoming hard for the issue to not be addressed within many other aspects of society. With Trump now out of office and Joe Biden introducing an order that recognises racism directed at Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, why is this still such a problem? The deep-rooted nature of racism spans across generations and countries meaning it will take more than a few individuals being arrested to solve the problem. With many brands and magazines failing to include a strong representation of Asian models, it’s time to see this so-called inclusion cemented in the industry.
Too many covers and editorial shots have excluded the beauty of Asian models whilst exploiting and profiting off the workers and culture. When 40% of the global garment industry is being exported out of China using and exploiting 10 million garment workers, fashion needs to start recognising the racism that places itself here. Not suggesting taking away these jobs and resources, brands must take responsibility for the pay and working-environment that comes from the production of their clothing. This act of exclusion and second-thought on Asian communities was highlighted in 2017 when US Vogue finally made history with the inclusion of Chinese model, Liu Wen. Being the first Chinese model to grace the cover, aptly to represent diversity of women, Wen was shown in amongst other models of differing ethnicities and sizes. This tokenism-like representation questions the success of the inclusion and details how there is still be a lot more to be done.
In the same year luxury brand, Dolce & Gabbana were accused of adhering to this appropriation we so often see towards Asian traditions. By featuring Chinese model, Zuo Ye struggling to eat Italian foods with chopsticks, the Dolce & Gabbana brand received apt and relevant backlash of the insensitive nature towards Chinese culture. This nonchalance of brands using almost joke-like advertisements at the expense of other cultures is a prime example of how far rooted this racism is.
With many brands and designers still falling silent in the midst of these unprovoked attacks, there are brands such as Nike and Valentino choosing to show up. Alongside news channel, NBC, these top brands must continue to follow this path in order to integrate a positive and inclusive attitude into their following. With such an influence in one of the largest industries globally, it is hopeful that things might start to change. However, it is of vital importance that these messages of support shown via social media channels transcends the meaningful quote posted on Instagram and becomes engrained in their choices and ethics as a brand. Only then we will start to see real change take place in fashion and authentic representation of Asian communities start to emerge.