In the Mix

Friends & Allies

Anna Carnick

American designers join forces to launch #ThisIsAsian, a new campaign dedicated to AAPI solidarity

In response to increased hate crimes against AAPI communities over the past year, members of the American design scene are rallying to launch initiatives that raise awareness and encourage solidarity.

In March, a trio of friends—Jean Lee of Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, Jenny Nguyen of communications agency Hello Human, and Arati Rao of contemporary rug company Tantuvi—organized #DesignforATL, a raffle fundraiser on Instagram to support victims' families following the Atlanta attack. In less than six days, in coordination with the Atlanta arm of nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice, #DesignforATL raised over $40,000, thanks to donated works and services from over 100 design studios and institutions. It also brought the issue of anti-AAPI racism to the forefront of the American design conversation.

Image from the #DesignForATL social media campaign alongside one of the donated works, Bronze Bubbly Lamp by Rosie Li. Photos courtesy #DesignForATL

This week—as AAPI Heritage Month begins in the States—the same team is launching a new initiative in support of global Asian communities: #ThisIsAsian. For the month of May, the organizers are calling upon “friends and allies to help change the narrative around Asian stereotypes by sharing personal stories of Asian people who have impacted us and shaped our perception of our identities. We’re using Instagram as a platform to collectively amplify and share the diverse faces, backgrounds, and stories of how the Asian community contributes to the world at large… We encourage everyone (AAPI and non-AAPI people) to share the Asian people you admire.” 

On the eve of the new campaign launch, we spoke with Arati, Lee, and Nguyen about takeaways from #DesignforATL, their latest initiative, and more plans to support BIPOC communities moving forward.

Jenny Nguyen's #ThisIsAsian Instagram post recounts the incredible refugee story of her own mother (pictured here). "To give you insight into what resilience looks like, in particular Vietnamese-Australian resilience," Nguyen writes.

Tell us a bit about the design community’s response to the #DesignforATL initiative.

Arati Rao: The design community came together so quickly, which was amazing. We also had an outpouring of support from press all over the world, from the UK  to Korea. It was emotional and invigorating to know we can encourage change and awareness as small independent designers without waiting for others to take the lead.

I think we started with 30 designers and within hours it was over 100. It definitely exceeded our expectations, and we are so happy we were able to raise close to $42,000 so quickly and bring so much awareness to the needs of the families affected by the awful attack.

What are the biggest takeaways for you from the #DesignforATL experience?

Jean Lee: The biggest takeaway for us was seeing how fast everyone responded and their willingness to help and donate their work without hesitation. We’re also impressed that there was a good representation, where more than 50% of the participants consisted of AAPI and BIPOC designers and entrepreneurs. It was incredibly affirming to know that people care and are willing to share their support and work together towards a common cause. Overall, the fundraiser inspired each of us to think of new creative ways to continue our efforts to bring more communities together to respond to important issues that matters.

Design items donated to the #DesignforATL fundraiser; from left: Slash Objects' Table Set;  Virginia Sin’s Prong Terracotta Bowl, and Studio Proba's New Zealand Wool Blanket. Photos courtesy of #DesignforATL

Tell us about your new campaign.

Jean Lee: The #ThisIsAsian campaign was prompted by the recent Atlanta killings and the ongoing targeted hate crimes against Asians since COVID. The campaign asks us to share stories of Asian people or entrepreneurs we admire and how they've impacted us personally. By sharing these stories, we aim to change the toxic stereotypes that have cemented in our society and even in our own subconsciousness.

We believe it's time that we stand up for our Asian ancestors and our Asian community who have paved the way for us. Simultaneously, we want to create a new narrative for ourselves that can elevate the AAPI community by coming together to break the toxic Asian stereotypes and break the "model minority" myth that was used to pin us against each other. We won’t wait for Hollywood to represent us truthfully; we will represent ourselves.

This portrait comes from Jean Lee's #ThisIsAsian post. Depicting Lee and her older sister, the post recounts their experience of immigrating to the US as children and the impacts that had on them long-term.

What do you most hope that people will take with them from the #ThisIsAsian campaign?

Jenny Nguyen: For me personally, I’d love to see Asians represented in a truer light. Representation has always been a struggle for Asians in Western culture, and this is our opportunity to represent ourselves as we are. Hollywood and the media have perpetuated toxic Asian stereotypes and the model minority myth, and now with social media we have our own platforms that can be weaved together with the hashtag #ThisIsAsian. We have the power to challenge what it looks like and means to be Asian. And I hope people that participate in and view the campaign from the outside realize how layered Asian-ness is and what cultural contributions Asians have brought into global culture at large.

You mentioned you have plans for additional initiatives moving forward as well; can you tell us a bit more?

Jenny Nguyen: Yes. The three of us are committed to continuing to advocate for the BIPOC creative and design community. Systemic racism and white supremacy is a hugely complex issue, one that feels insurmountable to break down, but we believe if we rally together as a design industry, we can inspire neighboring creative industries to do the same and break the system down, industry-by-industry.

Currently we are in the early stages of planning a program called Design for Connection that invites BIPOC kids into the spaces of BIPOC designers to provide tangible experience into what a creative career really looks like. We believe in the notion that “you can be what you can see,” and we think by providing these kinds of experiences, we can make a real difference by showing these kids alternative career options and perhaps inspiring them to become designers. In addition to this, we believe the design industry has long been incredibly Euro-centric, and by inspiring the next generation of BIPOC designers to enter the industry, it could change design’s overarching POV.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

Jenny Nguyen: The @DesignForATL fundraiser, the #ThisIsAsian campaign, and our plans for the Design for Connection program for kids of color are simply ways for us to test the water and brew new ideas for community organized initiatives that sit within and activate the design community and aim to foster a racial equality in our industry and beyond. So many effective social awareness campaigns gained wider traction from industries taking the lead. Take for example the AIDS awareness campaign and [the impact of initiatives like] Broadway Cares, DIFFA: Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS, and #MusicFightsAIDS, just to name a few.

Thank you, Jenny, Arati, and Jean! ◆


To learn more about the #ThisIsAsian campaign, click here.