17 Emerging AAPI-Owned Fashion Brands to Support Always
Including a Michelle Obama-approved label.
We’re all due for some sort of refresh, especially now that post-vaccination restrictions are easing. If you’re looking for a wardrobe update, there’s no time like the present to start curating a summer rotation. We’ve been shopping more consciously this past year, keeping our eye on independent, BIPOC-owned businesses to support, so here we’re highlighting some Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) fashion talents to support now and always.
It’s been an especially tough year for the AAPI community and there are ways to help. Please keep reading about the vast AAPI experiences, standing in solidarity with our communities in demanding representation, and intervening as bystanders when you see anything racist and unjust taking place—especially toward our elders.
One easy (and fun) way to support the community is by shopping at smaller AAPI-owned businesses. Many of the brands even draw from the owners’ heritages, which makes each piece and purchase extra special. If you’re looking to support Asian-owned brands and purchase items that come with meaningful stories and traditions, here are 17 of our favorite AAPI-owned fashion brands that are making waves—or are about to. Follow, browse, add to cart. Conscious consumerism never looked so stylish.
1. Nicole Saldaña
With both FIDM and Parsons training, Nicole Saldaña is an industry vet, with tenures at Opening Ceremony, Repetto, and Kenzo, among others. In 2017, the Filipino-American designer launched her eponymous label of cool girl footwear inspired by her girlfriends and the New York scene. Manufactured in Portugal, expect slinky sandals with structural heel details and effortlessly chic pieces like green croc leather Mary Janes and clogs with leather floral embellishments perfect for promenades along New York City streets. Even Rihanna, Sophie Turner, and Bella Hadid are fans.
Shop it! nicolesaldana.com
Hanako Maeda spent her time between Tokyo and New York growing up, so it’s only sensible that her brand, ADEAM (her last name spelled backward), fuses the aesthetics of both cities. Her feminine designs are injected with subtle touches of grown-up kawaii (Japan’s cute culture) seen in delicate ruchings, pleats, and ruffled lace. Since the label’s launch in 2012, ADEAM has already been worn by icons like Michelle Obama, Gemma Chan, and Oprah, and, last year, she collaborated with renowned tennis star Naomi Osaka.
Shop it! adeam.com
Abacaxi, which means “pineapple” in Portuguese, is Sheena Sood‘s sustainable label that mixes tropical sensibilities with the bustling New York lifestyle. The Indian-American designer draws from nature and her heritage, making innovative plays on traditional silhouettes (like the sari reimagined). The brand is known for its bold textiles and intricate dyeing techniques. Think kaleidoscopic gingham and minimal Shibori-style tie-dyes. Produced in small batches, Abacaxi also uses upcycled saris and fabrics. Most recently, Teen Vogue handpicked Sood as part of its Generation Next Class of 2020, so expect great things from her.
Shop it! abacaxi-nyc.com
4. JW Pei
Handbag label JW Pei, whose fans include Emily Ratajkowski and Irina Shayk, is all about sustainability. The founders, husband and wife duo Yang Pei and Stephanie Li, create vegan handbags using canvas, polyurethane, and fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles. Whether you want a baguette, hobo, or a belt bag, the brand offers purses in trendy, minimalist silhouettes with affordable (i.e. less than $100) price tags. The brand also offers interchangeable straps for your customizing needs.
Shop it! jwpei.com
Patty Ang is a Manila-based Filipino-Chinese luxury designer whose fun use of feathers caught the eye of Chrissy Tiegen. While under one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, Ang launched Patton, a sexy-meets-comfy loungewear brand for Manila’s long quarantine. The clothes are anything but frumpy. The asymmetrical bodysuits, short unitards, and cropped sweaters in cool tones are extremely flattering.
Shop it! pattonstudio.com
When Ashley Mariko Johnson discovered that most eyewear options are designed for Caucasian features, she created Mohala, a Hawaii-based brand of inclusive UV400 eyewear. To solve the problem of glasses sliding down noses, shoppers can customize each pair’s nose bridge placements—extra low, low, medium, and tall. Mohala also partnered with Room to Read so every purchase sends a girl to school, probably one of the reasons why the brand became 2020’s Hawaii Venture Capital Association People’s Choice Startup of the Year.
Shop it! mohalaeyewear.com
For whimsical knitwear, look no further than New York-based label PH5. Founded in 2014 by Wei Lin and designed by Parsons-trained Zoe Champion, PH5 utilizes cutting edge technology to create architectural knitwear, with bold hues and wavy details punctuating the styles. Plus, the brand partnered with tech firms to create lightweight, breathable knits for your year-round knitwear needs.
Shop it! ph5.com
8. Social Work
Androgyny meets 60s mod in New York-based label Social Work. In 2018, Parsons-trained Chengui Zhang launched the label with pieces like a striped knit vest with matching flared pants. The Shanghai-raised designer, with Helmut Lang, Phillip Lim, and Ralph Lauren credentials, is committed to production transparency. The label’s website features photos of the sewers with information on who made what and for how long. Also, the brand’s S/S 19 collection show was partially modeled by New York Garment District’s sewers to highlight the same people who made the season’s pieces.
Shop it! socialworkny.com
If you’ve seen whimsical, Y2K-inspired baubles online—or on Ariana Grande—chances are they’re from BonBonWhims. Born out of a desire to help BIPOC communities in quarantine, Clare Ngai made accessories to raise funds for groups like GirlTrek, Send Chinatown Love, and Stop AAPI Hate. Ngai, who moved to New York from China, creates chunky, heart-shaped resin rings, smiley face charms, and fuzzy bags. Browse for a dose of early aughts nostalgia.
Shop it! bonbonwhims.com
Wearing masks is forcing us to get strategic with our accessorizing. Mismatched earrings or a long, lone dangler easily make a bold statement. Enter jewelry brand SVNR. Using upcycled materials, Chinese American designer Christina Tung launched the brand in 2018, with pieces inspired by her travels and her family’s history in China. The brand sells mostly single earrings so get creative and mix and match colors, lengths, and materials. Tip: pearls, porcelains, and gemstones are standouts. (Hayley Bieber just wore a SVNR necklace in Vogue!) The brand also has a capsule of silk pieces including a tie-dye slip dress collaboration with Abacaxi.
Shop it! svnrshop.com
Empowering South Asians was the goal of Pakistani cousins Zain, Adnan, and Ismail Ahmad when they launched Rastah in 2018. The streetwear label, which means “journey” in Urdu, fuses local artisanship and South Asian heritage with a modern, genderless take on clothes. The owners work with local artisans and block printers (typically used for blankets) to create contemporary, heritage-infused pieces. The result looks something like Mughal prints on hoodies and eastern-motif button-downs. So unique!
Shop it! rastah.co
12. Carl Jan Cruz
Carl Jan Cruz, the FKA Twigs-approved label, is the eponymous brand of the Manila-based designer. Having interned at Phoebe Philo-era Céline, Cruz developed an affinity for impeccable craftsmanship. Just look at his denim: jean jackets feature patchwork paneling and exaggerated zigzag stitching while straight pants have upturned hems. The pandemic forced Cruz to shift gears, so he made a Pambahay collection, or, “house clothes” in Filipino. It features reversible lounge-worthy pieces like oversized tunics and drawstring pants with his signature exposed seams. Comfortable enough to wear indoors and stylish enough to wear out.
Shop it! carljancrewz.com
Hong Kong-based fashion label YanYan offers delectable, patterned knits. Founded by former rag & bone Knitwear Director Phyllis Chan and graphic designer Suzzie Chung, the brand explores the designers’ Chinese heritage and reimagines it with a modern take. Inspired by their grandmothers’ eclectic approach to fashion, the premium knitwear label features traditional mandarin collars or pineapple knot buttons in contemporary silhouettes befitting any street style star. Tweed cheongsam, anyone?
Shop it! yanyanknits.com
Xiang Yun Sha silk is the star material of sustainable fashion label Ziran. Kelly Wang Shanahan discovered the material while in university and, through Ziran’s launch in 2016, she highlights the material spun in a small Chinese town. Shanahan combines these traditional Chinese materials and philosophies (Ziran means “self so, natural, free” in Daoism) with modern sensibilities. Imagine: rompers, wrap skirts, and seersucker tube tops, all in the luxe spun fabric.
Shop it! theziran.com
15. Sunnies Studios
Sunnies Studios is a Manila-based eyewear company that gained a cult following in the Philippines initially because of its Filipina celebrity owners Bea Soriano-Dee, Martine Ho, and former Asia’s Next Top Model host, Georgina Wilson. However, the label built its loyal, repeat-customer base thanks to its trendy frames for both sunglasses and prescription eyewear. Plus, the pieces are super affordable—prescription lenses go for $50 and sunglasses for $20. It also has an offshoot beauty brand, Sunnies Face, that’s just as popular in the country.
Shop it! sunniesstudios.com
I’MMANY stands for “I am many,” an ode to and celebration of the many facets we all have. London-based Tina Xu, a former tech veteran, pivoted to playful jewelry in 2019, inspired by nature’s fleeting beauty. In an attempt to capture nature’s essence, the label uses dehydrated flowers, glass, freshwater pearls, and gemstones for dainty handmade accouterments with a touch of whimsy. The latest collection made from real flowers includes hydrangea-lined headbands, rosebud danglers, and daisy barrettes.
Shop it! immany.co.uk
Crafted by mainly female artisans in different regions of Indonesia, Brunna is an all around fashion label using traditional Indonesian weaving techniques passed through generations. Designed by California-based Balinese Ida Ayu Helga, the brand offers a curated selection of items perfect for the tropical lifestyle: oversized jute straw hobo bags, woven rattan clutches, resort-worthy straw hats, and crochet bucket hats.
Shop it! brunnaco.com