Image source: Getty / Mike Coppola
Asian-American fashion designer and activist Prabal Gurung was born in Singapore, grew up in Nepal and lived in India before starting his New York-based namesake brand 12 years ago “to show marginalized people that they are seen and that they are are important”. He is one of the influencers, editors and designers who use his platform to crack down on anti-Asian hate crimes in America, including Phillip Lim, Dao-Yi Chow from Public School and Curls Editor in Chief Michelle Lee.
“I was advised to limit the variety of my runways because customers are not as receptive to non-white models.”
While he’s now speaking and most recently penned a commentary for CNN about the discrimination he faces in the fashion industry and calling on the rest of his peers to stand up for change and inclusivity for all minorities, it’s not the first time Gurung has done so emphasizes the importance of equality. He asked a powerful question on his runway in September 2019: “Who can be American?”
You see, systemic racism has been ingrained in business for years. “Early in my own career, I was advised to limit the variety of runways on my runways because customers are not as receptive to non-white models: ‘two black women, two Asian women – OK that’s enough,'” wrote Prabal goes on to recount another time when an investor in his brand said, “Well, you don’t look American, how can you define American style?” during a planning meeting. “I knew what he meant by his statement: I wasn’t white, so I had no authority to shape the American ideal. Even though I’m an American citizen who owns a business in this country – one that Employed Americans and immigrants, advocating a “Made in America” manufacturing ethic and paying taxes, “he wrote.
Image source: Getty / Dia Dipasupil
Above: Prabal Gurung attends the rally to end violence against Asians in Washington Square Park on February 20, 2021, New York City.
Addressing the unrealistic standards of beauty that perpetuate proximity to white in fashion, Prabal also acknowledges that Asian culture, when viewed historically, relies largely on the financial strength of countries like China, India, and South Korea. He mentions these statistics: More than 60 percent of the world’s population live in Asia and Asians are the world’s largest consumers and manufacturers of clothing – yet the inherently racist industry is still underrepresented. “Our voices do not matter, we mostly played supporting roles, quietly and submissively responding to the needs of companies,” wrote Prabal.
Click through to read in full Prabal’s important and personal essay and learn more about the organizations you can support to work with the AAPI community now and always.