Opinion

In the U.S., streetwear fashion has become integral to the Asian male identity

By Camay Abraham

Sep 26, 2019

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Visual Cultures

Sep 26, 2019

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“If Asian American men are more image-conscious due to insecurity, is that why they’re so into fashion?” muses Mic Nguyen on his podcast Asian Not Asian. The New York-based podcast, hosted by comedians Nguyen and Fumi Abe, explores topics involving life as an Asian American and discusses what Asian masculinity truly is. While laughing and joking, the two men chat with guests who are notable writers, actors, and comedians, such as Kimmy Yam from HuffPost Asian Voices, Alexander Hodge aka ‘hot Asian bae’ from HBO’s Insecure, and Crazy Rich Asian’s Ronny Chieng.

To learn more about this fairly quiet phenomenon, I slid into Nguyen’s DMs to chat about the impact of fashion on Asian American male identity and the future of Asian men in America through clothes and clout.

Like the podcast’s slogan states, these are “American issues no American cares about”—and it’s spot on. Although there is a whole other subset of this conversation involving LGBTQ Asian American men, it’s the cisgender straight men and their new way of approaching masculinity that stood out the most. If you search online ‘Asian, masculinity, and fashion’ you won’t find much, except on Reddit, which will bombard you with threads titled “How to be confident”, “How to be masculine”, and even a thread asking how East Asians can dress like fuckboys to display alpha-ness.

These are some of the most searched topics, especially in the Reddit community, aptly named ‘Asian Masculinity’. According to Neilsen’s 2019 report, the Asian American population has grown to 7 million in the past decade, which is more than any other ethnic group in America and it’s predicted to be the largest immigrant group in the nation by 2055. As they are major influencers of consumption in America, brands and marketers should start looking into the psychological drive behind Asian American men’s attraction to streetwear, which is one of the highest-grossing markets in the fashion industry.

So why are Asian American men drawn to street fashion? Fashion has a way of changing people’s perceptions of you, and streetwear, more specifically, has been an ideal solution to combat stereotypes of emasculation. According to C. H. Chen, scholar and author of the Feminization of Asian (American) Men in the U.S Mass Media, Asian men have been historically emasculated in America through occupational pigeon-holing and unsavoury media representation. In the 19th-century, Asian men who immigrated to the U.S. to work on the railroads were eventually pushed towards cooking and cleaning jobs, or ‘women’s work’.

This associated them with being feminine and ‘weak’, which still affects how Asian American men are treated in the U.S. today. According to the co-founder of the brand The Hundreds, Bobby Kim, when he spoke to Hypebeast, “Streetwear has always been this weird, strangely male thing.” It’s always been associated with masculinity and been a pillar of Americana—two things that Asian American men aspire to be accepted into. “Asian Americans are always trying to communicate to White society that we belong here,” explains Nguyen.

The pursuit of a romantic partnership could be another reason why Asian American men are into street fashion. Historically, Asian American men have been seen as undesirable due to the same stereotype of being effeminate. Wearing the latest Hype hoodie or sneakers is a way to fight these stereotypes. “We know we’re being looked at. We’re being judged based off of certain things,” says Nguyen. “Asian American guys think about it, maybe at a subconscious level, to communicate that they’re desirable.” Nguyen also adds that, at first, he used fashion like a peacock strategy to get noticed: “You dress as loud as possible so people can’t peg you as a nerd and to combat media stereotypes.”

According to Jian Deleon in a panel discussion with Banana Magazine, the editorial director and trend forecaster for Highsnobiety and Complex conveyed that Asian American men are able to switch between being American and being Asian or some hybrid form of the two. Fashion is what enables that cultural interchange. Nguyen adds to that idea, saying that Asian American men may not necessarily be into fashion but are very aware of how fitting in certain groups navigates a power dynamic. “It’s a crazy mind fuck for an Asian American person,” says Nguyen.

People fight between dressing ‘beyond their race’, but at the same time, they go through the guilt that comes with it, because they feel like they’re hiding their race behind fashion. And still, sometimes it doesn’t even help, explains Nguyen, “I would wear capes or purple jeans, but people would still confuse me for another Asian guy at work. I was acutely aware of how limited the power of fashion could be when it came to trying to carve a certain identity.”

As Asian representation is slowly changing in the U.S., a cultural shift is emerging. Instead of men being Asian in America, they feel more like Asian American men. Yet, according to Nguyen, no one really knows how to be Asian American or what that even means. “I was trying to make an identity with my clothes. It wasn’t an Asian American identity because there isn’t really an Asian American identity, to begin with.” In America, Asians are either put in the ‘White’ or ‘Black’ box in regard to navigating what culture to follow in the American mindset.

But they weren’t welcome in either of those boxes. Safe spaces are slowly being built for Asian men to become more confident and validated in their existence. As Asian American men have just recently stepped into the mainstream spotlight with Asian Hollywood, this conversation on how to be a man and how to be an Asian American man is still a grey area. There are many resources discussing men, masculinity, and fashion, but adding a cultural layer brings new facets to the topic. As Nguyen wisely said, “the change has to come from within.” Clothes are a great conduit for change but they’re not the actual cure.

In the U.S., streetwear fashion has become integral to the Asian male identity


By Camay Abraham

Sep 26, 2019

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Opinion

Digitalisation is the future of fashion and it is fast

By Maddy White

Sep 5, 2018

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The Future

Sep 5, 2018

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Social media is an extremely influential part of our everyday lives. From Instagram to Snapchat and more, today’s fashion retailers are using these online spheres to encourage ‘fast fashion’: the quickest possible turnaround from design to manufacturer to consumer. And that’s really detrimental to our waste issue, isn’t it? Actually, not necessarily. Digitalising fashion is probably a crucial step to the survival of the sector, particularly in Britain.

The British high street is in peril; more shops are closing and many brands have gone into liquidation. This is due to several reasons, one being consumer spending has decreased and another is the rise of digital giants—like Amazon—who have entirely dominated the market. This trend aligns with the fashion industry too. Founded in 2006, online fashion retailer Boohoo claimed in their 2018 financial report to have 6.4 million users, up 22 percent from the previous year. The entire company had a pre-tax profit of £43.3 million for the year leading to February, which represented a 40 percent increase on 2017 figures, with revenue hitting £580 million, almost double last year’s £295 million.

The British high street is in peril; more shops are closing and many brands have gone into liquidation. This is due to several reasons, one being consumer spending has decreased and another is the rise of digital giants—like Amazon—who have entirely dominated the market. This trend aligns with the fashion industry too. Founded in 2006, online fashion retailer Boohoo claimed in their 2018 financial report to have 6.4 million users, up 22 percent from the previous year. The entire company had a pre-tax profit of £43.3 million for the year leading to February, which represented a 40 percent increase on 2017 figures, with revenue hitting £580 million, almost double last year’s £295 million.

The increased speed of fashion because of a digitalised process has enabled companies like Boohoo to reap massive benefits as proven in their financial report. Hundreds of styles are uploaded every day to the website, with likely just as many discontinued and sent to the sales page. The company reportedly sources 50 percent of its production from U.K. factories—a very high proportion, as for example ASOS produce around 3 percent of products in the U.K.—and distribute these garments from a central warehouse in Burnley. This is impressive as less than half a century ago, the clothing manufacturing industry in the U.K. employed 900,000 people, by 1999 this was down to 130,000 and now it is less than half. Companies like Boohoo are bringing textile manufacture back to the U.K. in a more innovative way.

Fast fashion also doesn’t have to mean cheap, however with examples like ASOS and Boohoo, the two seem to work in tandem. Fast fashion needs to be locally produced in order to make the production ethical, reduce air miles and at face value, be the fastest method. The process cannot be completed so quickly halfway across the globe; it is just not viable.

Despite the rise of fast fashion, this is an industry that produces waste, a lot of it, and consumers are more aware of this than ever. According to EDGE, a company that connects and supports emerging designers, about 15 percent of fabric intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor and it takes more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just one t-shirt and a pair of jeans. Surely though, creating products via fast fashion would only act as an antidote to the above? Retailers do not have to order products in large amounts, they can instead order smaller numbers, see how they are received and then purchase more. This is a more ethical approach to a potential overproduction problem. Yet, this doesn’t counter the idea that consumers could be ordering more clothing, therefore likely throwing them away more regularly.

Fast fashion that it ethically sourced and produced could be the U.K.’s chance to revive the textiles sector, which has been in decline for decades. There are many constraints however on implementing an ethical version of fast fashion and it is not what consumers might initially think. Fast fashion is reacting to trends, increasing production line speed, and not overproducing. ‘Fast’ could certainly be the future of fashion, as it offers huge opportunities like garments to be locally produced rather than being created and shipped from offshore sites. Utilising the internet, social media and collecting data enables a digitalisation of the fashion industry, which will only continue to grow as the high street fades and online giants soar.

Digitalisation is the future of fashion and it is fast


By Maddy White

Sep 5, 2018

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