It's no secret or surprise the country is facing a racial reckoning. With continued police brutality in the Black community, as well as the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, it is evident no matter how much progress we think we have made towards equality, it is not nearly enough.
Inequality is pervasive throughout our systems. The beauty industry, for example, has traditionally been dominated by a very narrow definition of what is considered beautiful—i.e. pale skin and European features—reflected and shaped by both the people running the companies and those represented in ads. When you only see one point of view, this manufactured version of beauty becomes a false representation of the world at large, perpetuating harmful and unobtainable ideals for anyone who doesn't fit these arbitrarily created "standards." On top of that, beauty practices and traditions from non-white countries are appropriated and white-washed to fit these narrow confines, and the cycle continues.
In the spirit of AAPI Heritage Month, we're focusing on the lack of representation of Asian people and voices in the beauty industry. Ahead, you'll find 18 Asian beauty brand founders and glam experts who are doing their part to change the industry from the inside out. We asked them their perspective on Asian representation currently, what changes they think still need to be made, and how they are actively working to increase inclusivity and diversity.
"The Asian culture is most often recognized when it comes to Korean beauty or Japanese beauty, but the reality is that our culture has helped influence and shape the entire beauty industry tremendously. This comes through from the ingredients we use, to how we build the steps, to our daily skincare routines. The industry has some catching up to do in order to truly honor the contribution from the Asian culture. Above all, it is extremely important that we continuously celebrate those who have been underrepresented, such as the AAPI and BIPOC communities, and make our voices heard. The industry has room for all of us who are trying to change the status quo, and we make each other stronger.
"Our goal is to ensure that our brand helps to continually push representation further than it ever has been before. We are committed to making skincare accessible and more inclusive, which means letting go of traditional beauty marketing that promotes exclusivity and elitism. In our view, we do this by not only ensuring imagery, messaging, and access is inclusive, but by also making sure that we are using our platform to share our values and take a stance when it comes to current events. We want to create a channel where people are comfortable voicing and speaking up on important issues."
"In the history of fashion and beauty industries in the West, Asians have always been under-represented by brands that are not created by the East. While today, we know that the likes of Asian supermodels such as Fei Fei, Liu Wen, and Ming Xi are always reliable to grace the billboards for high-end brands as well as the catwalk, and we have begun to see more brands celebrating Asian diversity.
"I feel a few things contributed to this change. One, as we fight for BLM and for social justice for inclusion and diversity, the lack of Asian representation became evident at the same time. Two, through social media, we see the AAPI community rise up and no longer will just accept the stereotype of 'model citizen' and demand our voices to be heard. Three, over the past few months, modeling agencies have all increased diversity on their boards. No longer are we seeing just a few token Asians being represented at a single agency. All these things contribute to the positive movement. It provides awareness and more opportunities for Asians to be represented in the beauty and fashion industry.
"To make a change, it has to start from the top. Inclusion can only happen when diversity is embraced by the decision makers. Publications should be accountable for the lack of diversity within their company. Image makers should demand and celebrate inclusion in the work they are creating. Do not stop fighting and talking about inclusion and diversity when it is no longer a hashtag that is trending.
"As a brand builder and image maker for over 15 years, my personal mission has always been, from the start, to celebrate inclusivity. I fight for curvy models to be represented. I fight for Asians, Blacks, and diverse models of different races to be seen on billboards and covers of magazines. I make sure that my crews are inclusive. I recognize that my camera is my greatest power. I feel that It is truly my first nature to fight for equality in the beauty and fashion space each time I design, direct, and pick up my camera."
"From a visual standpoint, I have seen more representation in the faces, models, and founders coming into the mainstream, which is refreshing. (Before, I felt images of Asians were unnecessarily 'exotified' and added for color or differentiation in media.) From a brand standpoint, I have seen expansion into K-Beauty, and but the reality is, there is still a lot opportunity. We as a human species have been addressing beauty issues for over a millennia and there are many other Asian cultures who have their own approach, but I haven't seen as much traction as I would like yet from other traditions mainstreaming including Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Jamu, and it would be great to see more diversity.
"Our Jamu tradition has been tackling wellness, beauty, and health through our own ways for over 1000 years. Introducing eastern holistic approach to beauty—even if different—doesn't diminish what we are taught in the West, but adds a new perspective. And this expanded understanding of ourselves through incorporating best practices of both worlds may actually improve the way we take care of ourselves—and we all benefit.
"In 2020, we created a webinar and Instagram Live series on self-care where we collaborated with members of the community from diverse backgrounds to share their stories and expertise to add value to our audience and customers. Instead of just focusing on products sales, we focused on what can we do as a company to collectively help each other. We created our series to be a plug-and-play platform for other creators or independent business owners to share their story and expand our collective circles together to meaningfully connect with more people."
Everyone has a voice, we must find the courage to use it to be heard.
"We definitely need more representation in all aspects of this industry. There are some notable artists in makeup, but not enough in hair. In fact, this business is still male-dominated, and that needs to shift as well.
"Our visibility in this particular field relies on the accomplishments and accolades of what we do. Because of it, we must recognize and celebrate those Asian artists and share their journeys. More sharing equals more visibility.
"I’m very fortunate to have a platform on social media to bring awareness to these issues and also be a part of a brand like Tatcha to amplify my messaging as well. We must take it upon ourselves to share our stories and be the change we deserve to see right now. Everyone has a voice, we must find the courage to use it to be heard."
"Asian-Americans have historically been underrepresented in mainstream media, Hollywood, the fashion and the beauty Industry. And if we were [represented], it was a limited view of our diverse and vast culture. As a result, Asian-Americans are also underrepresented in major beauty and fashion campaigns. Thankfully, it’s starting to change, but it’s more of a recent phenomenon that we are hearing about Asian beauty, K-beauty, J-Beauty, and C-Beauty in the United States.
"I believe the change started happening when the rise of Asian-American entrepreneurs started their own beauty and wellness brands, bringing parts of their culture and unique perspectives into the beauty industry. We are more represented now because we started representing ourselves. I’m thrilled to see positive change, but the reality is we still have a long way to go.
"From YENSA’s inception, our mission was and still is to support inclusivity and diversity in all forms. Starting with our team, we range from multiple ethnicities and cultures. And when it comes to our models and content, we have every ethnicity represented because this is what our brand stands for—we embrace diversity in women today."
"When I first started doing hair in the world of celebrities, there were a handful of us Asian hair or makeup artists that were in this particular pocket of the beauty industry. But that has changed a lot, and I can’t tell you how much I love seeing so many Asian artists killing it out there!"
"I think it’s very important to give credit where it’s due. If beauty brands are inspired by Asian rituals or culture, tell and share the story of where and how it came to be a part of your story or brand.
"Speak up and create awareness. I want and hope people feel safe to ask questions without feeling judged. I know how sensitive these conversations can be, but we cannot move forward without knowledge and understanding."
"There is a rise in our collective consciousness of reclaiming and celebrating our unique beauty and celebrating the differences that come with it. So, I’m excited to see the rise in Asian representation in beauty. Seeing playful looks by Rowi Singh and reading thoughtful posts by David Yi makes me feel like we are creating a space for ourselves. Of course, we need a lot more. Gen Z members don’t conform to the outdated ideas of beauty and perfection we grew up with. We are at the cusp of that shift in Asian representation and I’m excited that Kulfi can participate in and empower that change.
"Having limited space for only a number of BIPOC-created brands and products isn’t enough for the industry to be truly representative. From the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve seen for Kulfi’s launch, it's clear to me that the beauty industry needs to celebrate and center BIPOC in their narratives, to see BIPOC-owned brands representing a variety of products, backgrounds, stories, personalities, and focuses. This way, younger generations will grow up viewing beauty in a more holistic perspective: 'There are beauty products made for me, by people who look like me.'
"I started Kulfi to center and celebrate South Asians because I didn’t see that space within beauty, even though there are over a billion of us around the world! That’s both in front of the camera (Who gets space for their stories? Who do we see in campaigns?) And behind the camera (Who gets to be the tastemaker, the founder, and the investor?) Kulfi is shaking the entire ecosystem to create a space that is by us, for us, and doesn’t treat us as an afterthought."
I would love to see beauty brands who leverage Asian beauty rituals, devices, ingredients, and trends talk more about the heritage, cultures, and rituals that they are based on.
“There is more Asian representation in the beauty industry than ever before, but it’s still not inclusive enough. The majority of beauty campaigns I see have Asian people with the same features—fair skin, almond-shaped eyes, high cheekbones—but this isn’t a true reflection of the Asian community. There are so many people in Asia, and they obviously don’t all look the same. There are people from India, Korea, Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and so much more. Let’s include all of them and celebrate their beauty too.
"With Patrick Ta Beauty, I formulate colors that are flattering across the spectrum of skin tones because my goal is to create a brand that helps all people find confidence and feel gorgeous in their own skin. No matter who you are, where you come from, I want you to feel good about yourself, and I hope my brand empowers you.”
"Inclusivity has always been a core value within our personal beauty space that we have proudly cultivated, from creatives we work with down to the ingredients selectively sourced for every skin type. With optimism, we hope that beauty industry leaders will continue to broaden Asian representation and acknowledge diversity as the true foundation of beauty. Beyond makeup and skincare, we proudly cherish our South-Korean heritage, as we continue to represent the Asian community alongside many innovative, passionate Asian-founded brands. From action to acceptance, we encourage and challenge our industry leaders to redefine beauty by developing voice with intention, as evolving 'beauty standards' begin with us."
"I started working in the beauty industry, specifically the eco beauty industry, about a decade ago. More often than not, I was the only Asian person—and woman of color—in a room. The feeling of being 'other' was always rumbling in the back of my mind. While things have certainly improved since then, we still have a long way to go.
"At the moment, the beauty industry seems to be selectively representing certain Asian populations when there are over 40 countries on the continent. I’d like to see more strides made to include the enormous breadth of Asian folks out there; we’re a diverse group of people! I’d also like to see a respectful acknowledgement of the fact that, as Asians, we have a lot to contribute to the beauty industry.
"We desperately need to embrace and represent diversity throughout the industry. That means having BIPOC individuals working in every sector of beauty: formulating products for an array of skin tones (as an Asian American woman, I’m always shocked when the industry pushes the narrative that all Asian folks are pale or yellow in undertone), and pushing to have visual representations that truly reflect the immense amount of diversity that exists in our world. The beauty industry does a lot to shape what the public not only thinks of as beautiful, but as acceptable. When you grow up and only see a singular representation of personhood in the media, it can have a detrimental effect on your self-perception if you don’t fit that mold. Representation matters, we need to keep fighting for it.
"One of Pink Moon’s core values is inclusivity. Our internal team, while small, is incredibly diverse; and as a team we strive to extend that diversity to our curation. When we launched our online wellcare (wellness + self-care) shop, 25% of our brands were actually owned by Asian women—a feat that hasn’t been achieved by any other eco beauty store in the US. Currently, 35% of our total curation is brands owned by women of color. While that’s something we’re proud of, it’s also a percentage we strive to increase as we slowly grow our offerings over time."
"I'm 39 years old, so I come from a time when Asians weren't represented at all in beauty... or if so (in films), completely one dimensional stereotypes: black widow, exotic, or fresh-off-the-boat immigrants. Now, the stereotypes are less overtly racist but not necessarily less offensive. We are still tokenized in beauty ads, and when represented, it's usually the waif-y, translucent skinned girl with jet black hair that doesn't really feel like me either. Also, Asian-American is not a monolith, so you can't really put one Asian person in your ad and call it a day. Experiences, skin types, and definitions of beauty all differ within each of our communities, and they all need to be represented.
"The industry needs to start normalizing seeing different faces, different skin types, and different definitions of what beauty is and do so by creating space through representation and support. Without this normalization, white, pretty models will always represent the masses, while darker skinned women will represent ethnic brands; non-binary faces will represent fringe; and yes, Asian faces will represent an Asian focused brand. This way of bucketing keeps us as 'other' and only whiteness as all-inclusive.
"Since day one of creating Strange Bird, my mission was to make it more representative of the faces I saw in my own life... I vowed to always put an Asian face front and center on my website's home page. I know that seems like a small step, but for me it's a big deal, and I know that it's a big deal for my daughter to be able to see that as well. Believe it or not, I actually got feedback from very close friends concerned that if I do that, people will think it's a brand for Asians only. The irony in that! But my point was made exactly.
"I believe in the power of telling your story. In essence, our reality, the world in which we live. is just a series of stories we are told and tell ourselves. I'm quite an introvert but I'm trying my hardest to put myself out there and speak out about what it's like to be a minority, to be a mom, to be a woman, and to be a founder. I believe that our stories help people see us as whole humans and not just stereotypes who are tokenized or exoticsized. I'm making sure that the stories I share contribute to a more loving and inclusive future for my daughter."
"After the K-beauty boom within the last decade, I feel that East Asian beauty has definitely made a recognized name for itself within the beauty industry. When products or techniques are deemed 'Asian,' people do lean in and listen. I think products like sheet masks, jade as a calming tool, and even Asian brands have brought something new into the industry that people can enjoy. It’s been fun and an amazing journey to witness and be a part of this industry that has broadened its views of what beauty rituals can entail.
"Sadly, I think that K-beauty and J-beauty are the only Asian beauty that the industry is familiar with. Yes, that is Asian beauty, but the Asian representation within the beauty industry is still very narrow. There are so many other Asian representations that need to be amplified. The notion of Asian beauty should have other representations that come to mind as well, like Indian or Southeast Asian. As an ever-growing industry, I feel like we all need to look beyond the easy answers.
"When I first started CLE, I wanted to create a BB and CC Cream that ranged beyond two shades. I found it ridiculous that these creams were only available in two light shades, so I created a BB and CC cream product that catered to a wider range of skin tones. In an effort to better our product and the shade accuracy, I collaborated with a makeup artist to create more CCC Cream shades. Although 10 shades is just the beginning, we plan on expanding our line of CCC Creams this year and collaborating with more BIPOC makeup artists."
Asian-American is not a monolith, so you can't really put one Asian person in your ad and call it a day.
"Asian women from all different backgrounds dominate the beauty industry in America, especially when you look at salons and nail art bars. As a small business owner myself, I have a first-hand look at what talent is out there, and my staff consists mostly of Asian women.
"For real change to happen, the perception of the beauty industry has to shift. We need to elevate the conversation around what it takes to make it as a nail artist, for example."
"In the past, Asian representation in the beauty industry was pretty one-note. You had the fair Asian with porcelain skin, jet black hair, and red lip. Or the pan-Asian with fair skin and Caucasian features. But that doesn’t properly represent the Asian population. We have South East Asians (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand), Central Asians (Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan), East Asians (Japan, Korea, China), South Asians (Nepal, India, Pakistan), Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
"As the world starts to understand this, we’re also seeing more actual representation and the shift away from the notion that Caucasian features and lighter skin tones are more attractive. There’s still a lot that needs to be done to move away from the occidental bias.
"It starts with opportunity. Retailers need to create space for more Asian brands on their shelves instead of stocking Asian tools (like gua sha and jade rollers) from Caucasian-founded brands who cast white models to explain the benefits of these tools.
"Diversity is the cornerstone of our hiring practices at Allies Group. We currently have 23 employees (this number is growing every month) in our Berlin office, and only 3 of them are Germans. The rest of us are immigrants who have all come to Berlin in search of better opportunities. Our team speaks a collective 21 languages; this is something I’m very proud of.
The solution isn’t difficult: If you want more POC people at the workplace, hire them. If you want more POC faces on your campaigns, cast them. If you want to be more inclusive on social media, feature more POC people and ask them how you can better serve them. If you look at the Allies of Skin IG page for example, you will see that we have around five POC for every one white person we feature. POC allies are the majority on our pages and we intend to keep it that way."
"I think the beauty industry runs parallel to mainstream media and popular culture as a whole, and sadly within the last 20-30 years, there has not been a tremendous amount of Asian representation in either. Today, I think many beauty customers perceive K- or J-beauty regimens and products such as gua sha tools as perhaps 'exotic' and representative of Asian beauty culture, and a lot of major Western brands have incorporated these concepts into their offerings within recent years.
"It’s no secret or surprise that from a young age, personal identity can be deeply influenced by the media and advertising. Growing up, I didn’t see people that looked like me in movies or magazines. While progress has been made, continuing to be mindful about visual representation is a place to start while also being conscious of the fact that Asian representation goes beyond the idea of porcelain skin and shiny black hair.
"My Chinese heritage is a huge part of my identity and woven into the fabric of Supernal—from choosing camellia seed oil from China as the foundation and base of Cosmic Glow Oil to launching the brand on an auspicious day on the Chinese calendar. But it was a true passion for products and ingredients that could help people care for their skin that led me to leave a longterm career in design to pursue my dream and start the brand. My hope is that being a Chinese-American within the beauty space and sharing what feels authentic to me contributes to inclusivity and representation within the industry. As a relatively new and self-funded indie beauty brand, I recognize the responsibility and opportunity to contribute to positive change within the industry and my community as Supernal grows."
"Asian representation in beauty has changed a lot since I was younger, but it still has a long way to go. For the most part, it’s the same profile that we see over and over again—she’s slender with porcelain skin, a heart shaped face and sleek black hair—but where are the Southeast Asians, the deeper skin tones, the different hair types? (Yes, we don’t all have stick straight hair.) If you look at the breakdown of Asian ethnicities across the world, we are definitely not proportionally represented in the media. The industry needs to cast a much wider net and look beyond the stereotypes that have been previously accepted as 'beautiful' in Western culture.
"I think step one is really understanding and owning the responsibility and power you have as a brand to accurately represent the world. Growing up, I rarely saw models or celebrities that I could identify with, and it really stuck with me after all these years. We need to do better for ourselves and the younger generations. Make sure Asians from all different backgrounds are represented in your marketing campaigns, influencer outreach programs, and if possible, on your internal teams as well. Representation matters!
"From day one, inclusivity has always been at the core of Tower 28. From the products and price point to the models and marketing materials we put out into the world, our hope is to build a community where everyone feels included—all skin tones, skin types, budgets, and beauty philosophies. The industry tends to have a very narrow standard of beauty, and we want to help break the mold.
"Last year we started a Clean Beauty Summer School mentorship and education program to support Black-owned beauty founders as a reaction to the BLM movement, and this year, we’re excited to be opening it up to BIPOC, including Asians. As a brand, we are constantly finding ways to do better, and we can’t wait to help support other BIPOC-founded brands."
For real change to happen, the perception of the beauty industry has to shift.
"I think Asian culture and the US beauty industry are very linked yet I don't think the beauty industry gives enough credit where credit is due. I would love to see beauty brands who leverage Asian beauty rituals, devices, ingredients, and trends talk more about the heritage, cultures, and rituals that they are based on. I would also love to see more representation at bigger companies at all levels to ensure there are Asian voices who can champion the culture and prevent stereotypes or racism from infiltrating.
"There is a Diversity and Inclusion program at Hero to ensure that we do our part in society for a more just and equitable society. #StopAsianHate falls under our overall D&I programs where we focus on educating the self, ensuring our work and workplace are inclusive, and giving back to the community. We try to respond to immediate needs but also focus on longterm change. We make sure to hire in an inclusive way and ensure there is diversity in who we cast. We test our products on a variety of skin tones so that our products can work for everyone."
"If you look at imagery and formulas, Asian representation has been getting better and better over the years, but I still think we can improve with how we call it out. Many beauty ingredients and tools are inspired by Asian rituals or sourced from Asia. I think of the popular gua sha tools of late as just one example. Yet where have these brands been with the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans? Why are they not speaking out or supporting the community in some way? There seems to be this sense that borrowing from Asian culture is free and easy in that brands and makeup artists don't feel the need to properly credit Asian influence.
"We have always been diverse in our casting at Ellis Brooklyn and that's something that I plan on continuing for our imagery. I'm particularly interested in looks beyond your stereotypical 'diversity' looks. Probably the last thing I'd do is cast an Asian or Asian American model and then make her skin pale and put red lipstick on her. From a fragrance world insider perspective, the industry remains extremely white. There are so few Asians working in fragrance that when I first started Ellis Brooklyn, it was perhaps a shock for some of these perfume houses to work with an Asian American founder. I definitely feel like they underestimated me. It was an uphill battle to even get a perfume house to take me seriously in the beginning. That's one of the reasons why it's so special and personal that for our latest Ellis Brooklyn scent debuting in March, I worked with Loc Dong, perhaps the only or one of the very few master perfumers that is also Asian."