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Cultural Influences: Spotlighting AAPI Voices in Fashion, Entertainment & Music during AAPI Month

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is celebrated annually in the United States during the month of May. It is a time to recognise and honour the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.

The term AAPI refers to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, encompassing over 50 ethnic groups with roots across the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. This richly diverse diaspora makes up about 7% of the U.S. population. From runways and red carpets to theatres and recording studios, we explore generations of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and creatives who inspire.

AAPI Fashion Brands to Watch, and What They Are Known for

Fashion is a powerful medium of expression, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) fashion designers are making a notable impact. From traditional textile patterns to innovative sustainable materials, AAPI fashion brands are advancing the industry. This chapter highlights some of the most exciting and influential AAPI fashion brands to watch, exploring the unique elements of their work and the cultural heritage that shapes their creative vision.

Cultural Influences & Techniques

YanYan Knits

– YanYan Knits (pictured) – Knitwear fusing Chinese grandmothers’ wisdom with modern style. YanYan Knits combines traditional knitting techniques with contemporary silhouettes, creating pieces that honour heritage while appealing to modern sensibilities.

– Imli Dana – Hand-knit designs celebrating generational Indian craftsmanship. Imli Dana’s collections are a tribute to India’s rich textile heritage, using sustainable materials and traditional methods to craft unique, timeless garments.

– Dauphinette – Dreamy narrative designs from botanicals & vintage materials. Dauphinette’s creations often feature hand-pressed flowers and repurposed vintage fabrics, turning each piece into a wearable work of art with a whimsical touch.

Ethical & Small-Batch Production

– Allina Liu (Chinese American) – Elegant yet sensual pieces making everyday life poetic (pictured). Allina Liu’s designs are known for their delicate balance of elegance and sensuality, using luxurious fabrics and precise tailoring to create garments that elevate everyday wear.

– Leeann Huang (Woman-owned) – Colourful surrealist clothing blending tradition & innovation. Leeann Huang’s collections are vibrant and imaginative, drawing inspiration from both cultural heritage and futuristic concepts, resulting in pieces that are both avant-garde and deeply rooted in tradition.

Upcycled & Made-to-Order

– Clouwdez (Filipino-owned) – Cyber-punk meets Y2K, Vintage & Repurposed Textiles. Clouwdez’s fashion merges the edgy aesthetics of cyber-punk with the nostalgic vibes of Y2K, using upcycled materials to create unique, eco-friendly garments that stand out.

AAPI, Culture & Music

Despite facing significant barriers such as a lack of representation and being pigeonholed into specific genres, Asian American and Pacific Islander musicians have made substantial contributions to the music industry across genres. Their artistry has helped bring attention to major social and political issues while breaking down boundaries and prejudices within the industry.

Traktivist

TRAKTIVIST, a music platform for Asian North American artists to express themselves through art. Visitors can search by Ethnicity, Genre, Role, and Instrument. After years in the music industry, Filipino American DJ Richie TRAKTIVIST noticed that Asian American artists were often overlooked. So he set out on a mission to change it.

“Asians have been, and continue to create amazing music, which is essentially the sharing of our stories through art.”

– DJ Richie TRAKTIVIST

AAPI musicians are making waves across genres, using their platforms to highlight social and political issues while enriching the music landscape with their distinct sounds. For instance, K-pop has become a global phenomenon, with groups like BTS leading the charge, breaking records on charts like the Billboard Hot 100. In 2020, BTS’s single “Dynamite” topped the Billboard Hot 100, making them the first all-South Korean group to achieve this feat. Here are some more examples:

– Korean American singer Michelle Zauner’s heritage plays a significant role, as her lyrics explore themes of identity, family, and cultural heritage.

– Indian American Raveena (pictured) is vocal about incorporating her South Asian identity into her R&B/pop music, using her platform to raise awareness on issues like colourism affecting the community.

– Indonesian singer-songwriter NIKI blends R&B, pop, and electronic music, exploring self-discovery, love, and growth. Songs like “Every Summertime” and “High School in Jakarta” have become popular hits.

– Joji is a Japanese artist whose R&B/lo-fi pop music touches on themes of heartbreak and loneliness. Songs like “Ew” address stereotypes and experiences as an Asian person. His track “Glimpse of Us” was the first song by an Asian artist to top Spotify’s global chart.

Entertainment and the AAPI Lens on Story-telling

This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, watch some films showcasing the rich diversity of AAPI stories and voices across genres and decades. Films like Crazy Rich Asians, which grossed over $238 million worldwide, and Korean American Minari, which received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, highlight the growing impact of AAPI narratives in Hollywood. Sci-fi adventure Everything Everywhere All At Once, which explores Chinese American identity, made waves, becoming a critical and commercial success and further showcasing the depth and diversity of AAPI stories.

Drive My Car

Bollywood classics like the record-breaking romantic musical Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge have stood the test of time; dramas like The Namesake on immigrant family dynamics, and Drive My Car, the first Japanese film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars (pictured), displays an eloquent exploration of grief.

From Justin Chon’s harrowing immigration drama Blue Bayou, to Taika Waititi’s heartwarming coming-of-age comedy Boy about a Māori kid in 1980s New Zealand, here are some recommendations…

Recommended Watch List:

– The Farewell navigating family ties

– The romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians set in Singapore

– The coming-of-age Saving Face tackling sexuality

– Animated films Raya and the Last Dragon inspired by Southeast Asian culture, Moana centering Polynesian wayfinding traditions, Turning Red exploring the Chinese Canadian teen experience, and Finding ‘Ohana celebrating Native Hawaiian heritage

Other critically acclaimed AAPI films like Kung Fu Hustle, Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision, Nobody Knows, Once Were Warriors, Princess Mononoke and more have spotlighted diverse stories around identity, social issues, cultural heritage, and the human experience through unique artistic lenses.

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Francis Mendy

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Chizoba

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