I Was Sick of Patriarchal, White Supremacist, and Eurocentric Fashion — So I Became a Designer

The system is bullshit. Let's point it out.
Publish date:
March 4, 2016
fashion, racism, beauty standards, fashion designers

My name is Jenny and I am the feminist-designer-sweetheart behind She Loves Dresses. A photographer turned blogger turned designer, I began designing dresses in 2015 because I want to change the world... but I'll get to that.

First, some backstory. Growing up Asian American, I felt isolated and marginalized by both the fashion world and by the whole of pop culture. The "cool" girls on TV never looked like me and neither did the heroes, lovers, princesses, or best friends. To be honest, they still don't. Despite that, I've had a love affair with television and movies for as long as I can remember. Much to the dismay of my conservative mother, I would much rather watch the newest episode of One Tree Hill, than read the Bible or go to church. I wanted to ride in cars with boys like Brooke and Peyton. I wanted to wear cute clothes, stay out late, and fall madly in love over and over again. I wanted to belong.

Despairingly, none of the worlds I loved made any effort to include Asian women. They weren't included in the world where Rory was sneaking around kissing Jess Mariano at a fairy tale wedding. They weren't present with Serena Van der Woodsen, running the Upper East Side with her equally beautiful and equally white BFF Blair Waldorf. Asian women, as far as these stories were concerned, were either set-dressing or after thoughts.

Worse, my everyday world was not any better — a world where teenage Jenny attended a private high school made up of 90% white students. When that young Jenny snuck off to the mall to stare at the new window displays, they were full of California beach blondes and light eyed girls with freckles. I couldn't see myself anywhere. Every mirror in the world as far as I could see reflected white. Cool was white, glamorous was white, beautiful, treasured, carefree, loveable were always white; so when I was looking in my own mirrors, I felt like a worthless freak.

Intersectional feminism saved me.

Somewhere between a California high school and a Texas university, I found the powerful words that could name the oppressive systems I lived under: patriarchy and white supremacy. Once I knew the words I also found that I had a voice, and the more I used it the more I wanted to and needed to.

This is why I began designing dresses in addition to my photography. First, I felt it was imperative to push back against the fashion industry's patriarchal beauty standards. Such standards were established by men, and created for male consumption. It's beyond time to move on from them. Second, I needed to resist prevalent, distinctly Eurocentric standards of beauty — standards that not only prioritize, but often solely value the beauty of white people — thus perpetuating a culture of white supremacy. Finally, I wanted to begin work dismantling the oppressive fashion industry norms of excessive thinness and "ideal" body types.

Unfortunately, all women are socially conditioned by patriarchal, white supremacist values to measure themselves against a man-made point system of what it means to be beautiful, sexy, deserving, and worthy. That system is bullshit, and I'm here to point it out.

I am fed up. I am fed up with browsing the new arrivals of my favorite stores, only to be met with a sea of white models. I'm tired of opening my Instagram feed, only to be greeted by white fashion ads. Actually, no, I'm not tired of it. I'm exhausted by it.

Over 75% of the world's population classifies as non-white and over 50% of children born in the U.S. in 2015 were non-white. Despite these numbers, New York Fashion Week's Spring/Summer 2016 runways were dominated by white models. Only 4.2% of the models were Latina, 8.7% were Asian, and 10.7% were black. Of course, (and sadly) this isn't restricted to the fashion industry. The racial statistics for all print models, television and movie actors, famous musicians, and other pop icons, reveal similar disparities.

She Loves Dresses is a resistance cry. It's a demand to the fashion industry and all media industries that they can, should, and must do better. I designed this first line of dresses to show the world that Asian Americans and all women of color deserve to be seen as equals to white women.

As for the dresses themselves, I wanted them to be magical. I feel like that word is thrown around a lot on the internet these days, but I think this is the best descriptor for how I want people to feel when they see and wear the designs. Floral chiffons in delicate pastel, soft collars that look like petals, giant bows that could belong to Sailor Moon, and eyelet trims so cute I could cry.

These are the clothes I dreamed of and wished I could wear when I was in college, pouring over old 1960's fashion magazines. It's magic, because to fight this fight, I think we need a little magic. Magic as strength. Magic as resistance.

Designing gives me a platform to address issues of denied representation by other so-called feminist brands. When a brand claims feminism, but uses an overwhelming majority of white and/or white passing models, they are intentionally denying women of color the right to be seen. There is no excuse for this. I designed my own dresses, I picked my own models, and launched a brand with the hope and goal of real change.

I believe that the world can change, social norms can shift, and justice will happen through the hands of every day people. I hope young women find She Loves Dresses, and be inspired to keep shouting until people listen.

Remember, the system is bullshit. Let's point it out.