“What do you think captures the essence of Chinese culture?”
Vanessa asked this question to dozens of her peers from different backgrounds: international students, second generation Asian immigrants, and non-Chinese-affiliated peers in order to distill the essence of Chinese culture into her fashion line, Liu. As an international student, Vanessa grew tired of the dragons, pandas, and random Chinese characters decorating most “Asia-inspired” clothing found in Western retailers. She longed for a way to represent her pride of her Chinese heritage without being a caricature or too blunt. As a result of this she launched Wear No Hate.
She researched Chinese history, poetry, architecture, art forms, and modern encapsulations of Chinese culture. She then created couture designs based on these inspirations to subtly capture her unique aesthetic and perspective on Chinese culture. Her hope was to create a fashion line for Asian-American and Asian international students to wear their cultural pride on their sleeves. Imagine qi-pao inspired prom dresses, Moon Festival inspired jewelry, and Mukden Palace inspired hoodie prints.
Then, just as she was heading into user feedback for her couture designs, COVID-19 hit. Vanessa’s interest in capturing Chinese culture through fashion quickly took a more serious turn as hate crimes against Asians rose throughout the US. Adding to her distress, Vanessa’s hometown of Wuhan was portrayed negatively in Western press as she worried for her family members back home. Vanessa redoubled her commitment to helping the West see the richness of Chinese and, more broadly, Asian culture beyond its Western caricatures and pivoted her efforts towards a near term project: a fashion fundraiser inspired by Asian culture.
She went back to the drawing board to explore subtle ways to capture Asian American culture in the US through clothing, and was also inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to promote cross cultural solidarity against hate. Launched recently, Vanessa’s Wear No Hate fundraiser will donate all proceeds to charities serving Asian communities impacted by COVID and Black Table Arts, a non profit improving African American student outcomes through art. Her hope with this spike pivot is to rebel against the current climate of racism through her culturally inspired designs. In Vanessa’s words:
“I want to live in a world where everyone can feel safe to wear our cultures proudly and know we will be celebrated – instead of harmed – for our pride. That’s when we can all really be true to who we are, instead of shedding pieces of ourselves to fit a poorly defined hyphenated American identity like ‘Asian-American’ – I still don’t know what that really means.”