4 AAPI Designers on the ‘Model Minority’ Myth


Cuyana’s elevated essentials. 3.1 Philip Lim’s sculptural tailoring. SVNR’s pastiche jewelry. Dauphinette’s floral chainmaille tops. Designers from the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community bring a rich, visual tapestry of cultures, values, and traditions to the fashion landscape. And yet the industry, which plays host to designers and models from all over the world, has long boxed their creativity into a single narrative. Of course, this isn’t unique to the fashion industry—Hollywood is notorious for furthering a singular Asian experience.

But the AAPI community is not a monolith, and the limiting connotations that put all Asian Americans in the same group have fueled the tokenism that brands rely on to appeal to a wider audience. “The term ‘AAPI’ represents a large number of different ethnicities, languages, and socio-economic positioning,” Philip Lim tells Glamour, explaining the need for people to recognize that Asian Americans and Asians living in Asia have different experiences. 

Despite the systemic racism that Asian American designers have endured in the U.S., the fashion industry can still play an important role in elevating diversity and dispelling harmful generalizations about the community—and creatives from the AAPI community are now speaking out about the stereotypes, the microaggressions, and the racisms they’ve experienced.

The 150% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes has brought about a lot of grief for the community, especially surrounding the “model minority” myth, which wrongfully assumes all Asian Americans are successful, respectful, and quiet. This is not the case, and reductive thinking keeps those most vulnerable from feeling seen or heard. Consider the fact that across the U.S, 1.7 million Asian Americans are undocumented, with one in four living below the poverty line in New York City. It should come as no surprise, then, that hate crimes tend to go underreported. A statement from the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council shared that Stop AAPI Hate, a coalition created to prevent discrimination and violence against AAPI peoples during COVID-19, received nearly 1,500 reports of racism, hate speech, discrimination, and physical attacks against Asians and Asian Americans by spring of 2020 alone.

So much more needs to be done to course-correct the broad-sweeping ideologies about the Asian American experience, but designers like Philip Lim, Christina Tung, Shilpa Shah, and Olivia Cheng are pushing back in their own way—via fundraising initiatives, talks, mentorships—to make sure the community and the trauma it’s lived doesn’t remain invisible. 

As we close out AAPI History Month, we caught up with these four creatives to learn more about how their heritage has shaped their current design ethos—and what the rise in hate crimes has meant for them on a personal, creative, or business level. Read their stories below. 

Philip Lim, founder of 3.1 Philip Lim 

“Whenever people ask how my Asian heritage or culture has influenced my work, I always say it’s the traits that are not seen immediately, but rather the traits that are experienced and felt within the design itself,” Philip Lim, whose Chinese parents immigrated to Southern California during the Cambodian genocide, tells Glamour. “In all Asian homes, we are taught early on the importance of upholding respect and value because it is an essential part of our culture. While we are taught to respect elders, family, and people, we are also taught to respect possessions and materials.”


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