How the Beauty Industry Can Support the AAPI Community

According to Alicia Yoon, the founder of Peach & Lily.

Alicia Yoon

Alicia Yoon

The rise in hate crimes against the AAPI community over the last year has sparked a much larger movement to fight racism and violence against the Asian community. To put it into perspective, these crimes were barely covered for almost a year before mainstream media began to take notice. That problematic pattern is exactly why the AAPI community is calling for change—to protect those who need it most. From marches to fundraisers, AAPI activists, community organizers, and business owners are working to make lasting change across industries. Wondering how to help? Read on.

The Stand With Asian Americans coalition, organized by Dave Lu, Justin Zhu, and Wendy Nguyen, is a group of business leaders across industries—from beauty to fashion to tech—who pledge to fight violence against the Asian community. Each entrepreneur has signed on to donate over ten million dollars to the Asian Pacific Fund. Along with funding community-based organizations, they’re also pledging to support Asian employees, especially women, and ensure adequate and accurate representation of the diversity of the AAPI community. 

Alicia Yoon, the founder of Peach & Lily and long-time Byrdie favorite, is part of the Stand With Asian Americans coalition and sat down with us to discuss how we can all be better allies to the AAPI community.

Tell us about why the Stand With Asian Americans coalition is so crucial in this moment.

"If you see the Asian American business leaders who have signed this initiative, it’s across so many industries. That's a really big statement. For Asian American employees to know there's an Asian American business leader within their organization who hears what's happening, sees what's happening, and takes a stance, there's a feeling of hope that's a little bit restored as well. You finally feel seen and heard.

"Ultimately, the commitment is to raise $10 million to donate to grassroots nonprofit organizations doing the important work in helping to address this crisis. It’s a really thoughtful group of organizations that are selected. With Stand with Asian Americans, there are four organizations so far that are a part of the Asian Pacific Fund. It's an organization that does the hard work of actually reporting and documenting these incidences, which is massively under-reported at the moment. That's been important because of the historical context of the community not really speaking up.

"The AAPI Women Lead and NAPAWF are organizations about stopping Asian hate, but also recognizing there is an interplay between how Asian American women are perceived, as we've seen in the Atlanta shooting. Hyper-sexualization or fetishization leads to violence. These organizations really help support Asian American women.

When you speak to other people who are actually doing things about it, and you see that there's a collective push around it you stop feeling like, 'Oh my god this is such a mountain I'm facing alone.'

"A third group that they're allocating funds to is Asian Americans Advancing Justice, which I think is super important. It's all about having proper legal representation when things do happen and empowering Asian Americans to understand that the system is there for you too.

"Finally, the Association for Asian American Studies is all about researching and educating on why these things happen. It's been really amazing to see these organizations spread like wildfire. It's also been a really incredible opportunity to connect with other Asian-American business leaders because it can feel isolating. There's the pandemic—which is already isolating—but on top of that, when you experience some of this hate, it can feel like, 'Am I the only one?' or 'Is this ever going to change?' When you speak to other people who are actually doing things about it, and you see that there's a collective push around it, you stop feeling like, 'Oh my god, this is such a mountain I'm facing alone.'"

What are some ways the industry beauty industry can improve when it comes to AAPI representation, inclusion, and equity?

"I was listening to the actor Daniel Dae Kim present to the U.S. government recently on this topic, where a pollster actually said, 'Asian Americans are statistically insignificant.' When it comes to elections, there are not enough Asian Americans to sway the numbers. Although it is changing, as Daniel Dae Kim reminded the sub-House committee. He said, 'We are also the largest, the fastest-growing demographic at the moment, by the way, so maybe you should start caring.' That really struck me.

"I've seen in beauty campaigns that Asian representation is there when the product is specifically being marketed to the Asian market... if it's literally a product that they're gonna market in China. It’s gotten better these days, but historically it's so hard to find an Asian model in a campaign. There is also diversity among the Asian community. There are different skin tones and different looks and so forth. You can have one person who is Asian, but they're not really thinking about it in [a] real representation type of way.

"Let's also start focusing internally. If you're working at a beauty brand, and there are Asian teammates, it's so important to just check in on them. I think people are not really connecting the dots. Across the U.S. right now, people are not doing well. I've had so many conversations with people where they're [saying], 'I'm literally having panic attacks, I can't go to sleep, I feel like taking time off from work, I have to compartmentalize big time and try to focus, but then I just randomly start crying, or I just can't like focus, and I feel so terrified.'

"Also, there's bigger work of really thinking about our Asian teammates—what does our hiring and promotion process look like? Then I think also providing support. I’ve talked to some amazing brands that have done bystander training for the whole company.

"Now externally, it'll be great to see more Asian representation with campaigns hiring more artists and models and having more representation. The third part is where companies are able to—it's hard because it's also the pandemic right now—but if they have the capacity, donations matter a lot. Taking that kind of action, if possible, is something that also helps the Asian community feel more supported. You know, there are different ways to donate as well. I've seen some brands who like pretty creative things. So it's not just money; it's thinking of ways to really make an impact. 

"Finally, the fourth element is, words matter a lot. Thinking about what you're seeing and what you're not seeing. I've seen a lot of brands take Korean beauty innovations or Asian, traditional ingredients and really market it, but not really give credit where it's due. It's a win-win to do that [give credit]. I think it's the right thing to do, but also, consumers appreciate that authenticity. They appreciate that context and backstory.

I've seen a lot of brands take Korean beauty innovations or Asian, traditional ingredients, and really market it, but not really give credit where it's due.

"I’ve seen some folks call out traditional Asian beauty practices like Gua Sha [and say], 'it's garbage science; it's not real science.' There's a real cultural bias to say that only Western double-blinded clinical studies—which I'm all for that too—is the only way to prove that something is truly scientifically supported. We all know, next year, another clinical study can come out refuting that prior one. There are pros and cons to everything, versus something like Gua Sha, which has been studied through different methods for centuries and passed down. People will go to medical school in Asia to become traditional Chinese medicine experts, and it's a medicinal practice. To take almost a thousand years of data that different Asian practices have collected over the years... to just without knowing those details [say], 'this is just a trend' or 'it's garbage science.' That's damaging.

"What I'm hearing across the board is brands just don't seem to be speaking up enough, and I've gotten a lot of DMs from Asian followers [saying] 'yeah, I just kind of feel like I've been shopping this brand for a long time, and I feel like they don't even know what I'm going through. I just feel like their social media is just business as usual, super happy, when I'm here terrified to go outside.' I think speaking up more and telling their Asian consumers, 'We see you right now. We hear you, and we stand by you. And we don't tolerate this, and we're here to help and take a stand.'"

How can we be better allies?

"One theme that has come up is people get nervous. They say, 'I feel like I don't know what to say,' or 'I feel like I'm going to say it all wrong,' or 'I just have so much to say, and I can't find the perfect words to talk about how horrifying everything is.'

"That was something interesting I was hearing across the board, and I just kept encouraging people: there is no right or wrong way to reach out if your heart's in the right place. Compassion is a universal language. Compassion and empathy—people appreciate that, so don't even worry about that. 

Compassion is a universal language.

"Secondly, I think bystander training is a great thing. There's a company called IHollaBack. They have different sessions you can sign up for. It's fast; it's free. There's a lot that you can do to de-escalate and get help and care right away. I think that bystander training is supercritical right now because one of the most devastating things about a lot of these attacks is the fact that they're happening in broad daylight.

"The other aspect of it is, words are so powerful. We're seeing that the racist rhetoric of leaders baselessly blaming the pandemic on Asians categorically is completely what led to this crisis—this huge spike in violence and hate crimes against the Asian community. When you look at all the reports (and, of course, so many are unreported), it's almost always accompanied by verbal words like 'you are the Coronavirus, this is your fault, look what's happening to me now or look what's happening to our country.' And so it's completely tied to the scapegoating that happened, verbally.

"I've experienced this too. I rarely go outside because I'm really scared right now, but when I go on Instagram Live, I now get trolls. I'm talking skincare, and I have to stop the Live, and I have to say, 'this is a community where we don't tolerate hate, you're not welcome, you're being blocked.' It's really enraging, but it's also so indicative of how prevalent this is right now. I've noticed that it is very much linked to the Coronavirus. 

"I think whenever and wherever people hear comments that it's so important to correct them. I'll take the time to do this. I'll get DMs from people who are not trolls, they are just misguided, and maybe they're just not aware. They'll respond to an Instagram story, [saying] 'Alicia seriously no disrespect, but I'm just so confused. Why is calling Coronavirus the China virus or Kung Flu racist? Didn't it come from China?'

In the same way that those words can take root and spread this hate and violence, every moment you take to help people understand can also help stop it. 

"I'll take the time to DM them back to [say] 'here's why it's racist and here's why it's so damaging, you can see it's led to all of this.' Taking the time to really help people understand why that language is so dangerous and so racist and really needs to be corrected is important. Since March of 2020, I can't believe how much time I've spent trying to explain this on Instagram over DMs. I do it because this is important. In the same way that those words can take root and spread this hate and violence, every moment you take to help people understand can also help stop it. 

"The pandemic has really impacted the Asian community a lot: huge loss of jobs, businesses shuttering, and of course in Chinatown, Korea town Japantown, etc., those businesses have been affected a lot. It’s compounded issues. It was all shut down for a while, but even as things are opening back up, people don't want to go into Chinatown.

"A lot of these businesses are not digitally native, so they're not the ones that are going to be signing up to Seamless and Uber Eats; they really rely on foot traffic. If you're in the area and you need to do grocery shopping, some of these grocery stores in Chinatown are amazing. You can find every fruit under the sun—it's so value-oriented too. The more people that there are in those areas, it's a little bit safer too.

"Any one of those things: speaking up about it, checking in with a friend, those things go a long way because I think the attacks are bad, but so is the psychological and emotional impact there is on that community. When you have caring words and support and know that people care, and you know that there's more good than bad out there, you start to be lifted out of your sense of despair. We can get through this."

How can we support "Stand with Asian Americans"?

"You can read the letter, you can look through the news, you can sign the petition, and then you can donate. The call to action in how to support Stand With Asian Americans is super clear on the website. That's designed to make it streamlined and very easy for people to get involved."

You can learn more and donate at StandWithAsianAmericans.com.

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