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How BAME designers can combat racism and xenophobia.


#blacklivesmatter protest

In recent weeks, we have seen increasing awareness raised for Black and BAME fashion designers in the news and media. It follows the two pandemics, the #blacklivesmatter and anti-Asian COVID-19 racism that has heightened our focus on the systemic racism and racial inequalities around the world. As a British born Chinese designer, I've been angered by these unprovoked attacks. Rather than feeling hopeless that racism is still ever-present, I feel compelled to speak out from my journey. It is our role as global citizens to combat racism and xenophobia and ensure businesses are equitable, inclusive and diverse as they can be, here are four steps that designers and I could take:

1. Call out bigotry and hate speech

It has been alarming to learn about the rising numbers of hate crimes against Asian people becoming a target of discrimination and many Chinese businesses boycotted since the COVID-19 pandemic. These attacks are uncalled for with many oriental people now fearing for their lives and loved ones.

As a child, I lived in a white county in SE, England. My two siblings and I, plus one other boy, were the only four Chinese kids at school. I recall doing my best to fit in. I kept my head down and ignored the name-calling and sly racist remarks at me. I didn't call them out, I just shrugged it off and let it go. I didn't recognise these quiet things that eat away at you were encouraging racist behaviour.  

We need to teach children from a young age and adults too how to talk about differences, we are all human, and we all have a right to feel safe and valued. We need to call out bigotry and intolerance remarks, so we don't encourage the behaviour and give away our power. I want to encourage anyone who witnesses bigotry and hate speech to speak out.

2. Recognise unconscious bias

When I launched my brand earlier this year, a marketing expert had warned me that as a Chinese designer I would need to work hard to build trust in my brand. People's unconscious biases are that Chinese brands are fake or fraudulent. In truth, this didn't cross my mind. Recognising this unconscious bias is a reality, and that it exists in everyone is a wake-up call to help us communicate in business and with each other. We need to be aware of unconscious bias and ask ourselves these questions:

  •  How do you perceive other races or cultures, and how do they see you?
  •  What assumptions might you be making about other people subconsciously?
  •  How might your beliefs affect the decisions you make or not make?

3. Stand up for culture diversity

In the past few weeks, many media and influencers have been posting articles and feeds for Black designers to know and support. A movement prompted by Sophie of the @officialmillennialblack who put it simply, 'If the people on your feed all look the same, have had similar experiences, and have the same views as each other (and you) you're missing out on the diversity of thought that comes from different lived experiences. Get uncomfortable. Keep on Learning.' Not only do we need to stand up for cultural diversity in the media we consume, we need to challenge any discrimination, speak up if you feel it doesn't represent race equality, and ask the question as CNN has pointed out, are people buying it, what are people's hypocrisy charges for making long-lasting sustainable change. 

4. Support organisations who promote equality and diversity. 

I was brought up by a single mother who worked as a seamstress and from a family heritage of silk farmers in China. I have seen how socioeconomic and racial inequalities through time have mostly been unaddressed. My label Ethical Kind makes socially conscious luxury sleepwear that's comfortable to sleep in and beautiful for everywhere else. Made in London, our collection is crafted from 100% Organic Peace Silk, also known as non-violent, cruelty-free or ahimsa silk in India. While the label is recognised for its ethical and sustainable credentials, we are a social business that directs our response to social inequality. From fair-trade to providing employment, solar energy, education materials and training in relevant skills, Ethical Kind's supplier partnership provides marginalised communities with a platform to meet the villager's needs, promote women empowerment, support equality and ensure self-sufficiency. We are also part of The maiyet collective, a collective of sustainable luxury brands who share a similar philosophy and mission. We aim to educate, inspire and create a community of individuals who are committed to changing the way we think, create and consume fashion.

In writing this, I am stepping out of my comfort zone as I am fearful of what people may think, to speak about racism is uncomfortable, culturally we are told to stay out of trouble and not openly discuss sensitive issues. Thus, not saying anything is wrong. Fundamentally, underpinning Ethical Kind is a platform for me to do everything in my power to ensure that all people are treated equally.  

Please feel free to contact us if you would like comment and contribute your ideas on how we can further promote equality and diversity in the fashion Industry.

*Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash