The beauty and fashion industry has taken the next step in its trajectory, with emerging lines and brands catering to women of color and consumers of every ethnicity. Finally, our feeds are no longer stacked with white models alone. Today we get a diverse selection, representative of the multicultural market we live in.
Like every shopper, I know the threads we wear are a vital expression of our identity. Thankfully, there are badass ladies popping up who should be on everyone’s radar. Here are three Asian-owned brands made by, and designed for, women of color: TEEN IDLE, YAKANG YAKA, and BRWNGRLZ, with whom we also had an exclusive conversation with.
Founded in 2013, TEEN IDLE remains true to its brand as your feminist gang. Items ranges from tee-shirts, tote bags, to underwear, and even rape-pellants (an anti-rape whistle). Aye Valdez, a Manila-based artist, started her business while she was in college. It was the pinnacle of call-out culture, and she focused her support and activism through her work.
Her designs are simple, ironic but powerful. You can throw them on and your message will be loud and clear. It’s femme yet gender neutral, chic, and designed especially for all us colorful sisters. Teen Idle is inclusive and on a mission to create a space in the fashion world where all are welcome without judgment. And if that wasn’t enough, Aye’s brand regularly joins progressive, female-friendly campaigns.
Kelly Mortensen, the Philippine founder of YAKANG YAKA, promotes the indigenous crafts of her homeland. She creates sustainable and ethical fashion, while featuring handmade designs by local weaving communities. The brand began with conversations about identity, born of stories preserving and highlighting traditional designs for posterity.
Established in Asia by doing the rounds of bazaars and trade fairs, Yakang Yaka is about celebrating our ethnic backgrounds, which strengthen us. The work they create is designed to make room for minority groups and our multi-faceted identities as women of color. Products include knitted scarves, bags, shoes, and various accessories. This brand creates space to express ourselves and opportunities to connect with each other.
BRWNGRLZ was made for those with too much melanin for mainstream magazines, too much sass to be square, and too many tongues to be understood. Through its super out-there designs it gives women the agency and confidence to reclaim nonconformity and use that as a point of fellowship and belonging, instead of isolation. The joyously inclusive BRWNGRLZ were made for brown girls and any person of color who is womyn/femme identified.
We chatted with Gretchen Carvajal, multi-disciplinary artist and founder of BRWNGRLZ to learn more about her brand.
Marj: Any story behind the name?
Gretchen: I was always conscious of what my name was to be after interning with streetwear brands. I was debating how transparent I wanted to be with the representation of women of color. So that’s where BRWNGRLZ comes from, this is the community I serve and belong to, it’s not exclusively for women of color, BUT it’s made for them.
M: What would you like to achieve for BRWNGRLZ?
Gretchen: My purpose is to create. I want to make jewelry for women like me. I want to create a community and sustain a brand where we can feel unapologetic in our black and brown-ness, because doing that in this time is honestly a form of radical self-love.
M: I love the diverse female squad that wears your line. Do you think fashion has the ability to empower people?
Gretchen: Absolutely, I think fashion has a huge power dynamic in the world. The problem that I see myself remedying is that brown women are being robbed of their aesthetics and are being appropriated by white women. That’s where I think representation and brands like BRWNGRLZ are important.
M: How would you describe your brand’s aesthetic? And where do you take inspirations from?
Gretchen: I’d describe my aesthetic as extra. I love the concentration of colors. I make and source everything myself. I was taught that a really good rule of thumb as an artist is to absorb three times more art than you create. Lastly, just the women in my circle inspire me.
M: Thoughts on the growth of brands for women of color, while Asian-owned brands still lack recognition?
Gretchen: I think inclusivity is such a buzzword right now, but nobody’s really doing that work. The inclusivity is a brand builder as opposed to what the brand should be built on. I think the lack comes from capitalism and prioritizing profit and comfort as opposed to purpose.
M: What would you consider the challenges you face as a crafter & businesswoman?
Gretchen: Honestly, a big challenge is to sell out. Again, my brand is still inclusive of all women regardless of their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic backgrounds, however, it is created for women of color. I think the concept of making something to honor a specific marginalized community makes some people uncomfortable, but that’s the point.
M: Tell us some achievements with BRWNGRLZ by far.
Gretchen: I gave some earrings to Bree Newsome, who’s a really dope activist. She tore down the Confederate flag on National TV and it was a super huge moment for me. Most of the events in which several women are wearing my earrings are always events of coalition building and fellowship. So, women are literally changing the world as they’re wearing my stuff.
Speaking With Our Wallets
The new collection for BRWNGLRZ is out now – click here to shop. To check out all of TEEN IDLE’s items, visit their Instagram & Facebook pages. And, while you’re at it, go follow YAKANG YAKA to stay up to date on where their next pop-up is happening. These three brands are out there, changing the dynamics, and we can help support them so they continue to thrive. The more representation we have in the world, and the more women are succeeding—the better. Happy shopping ladies!