Pride festivals being cancelled doesn’t mean the celebration has to stop! Whether it’s an at-home party, a Zoom video call with your friends and family or a virtual dance-off, clothing and beauty products are must-have items. To help you out, “Character Media” has compiled a list of eight Asian-owned brands that are dedicated to representing beauty in all forms, shapes and sizes. Check them out and choose one (or more) for yourself and loved ones this month.
This rookie fashion brand is the brainchild of Japanese American designer Alec Nakashima, following his first trip to Japan in 2018. While in Japan, Nakashima was blown away by the country’s beauty and cultural heritage. Upon his return to the U.S., he decided to start his own clothing line that would capture the in-betweenness of the Japanese aesthetic with an American influence, paralleling his own Japanese American upbringing.
The first collection was inspired by the noragi, a classic Japanese formal garment. Every piece of clothing uses Japanese cotton, is manufactured in Oakland, California and can be worn by any gender, with sizes ranging from XS to L. Get ready to switch up your wardrobe or give your special someone a noragi as a beautiful accessory.
Ethically sourced, sustainably made and worn by “literally anybody” are the qualities that make PAUSE. outstanding. The brand is based in New York and co-founded by partners Hoa Huynh and Sezin Calikoglu, who have spent a decade learning about the environmental impact of the fashion industry. Most notable in PAUSE.’s collection are its genderless shirts, made from wool, cotton and faux leather.
Edwin has a relatively long history compared to its sisters on this list, as it was started in 1961 by Tsunemi Yonehachi. Ever since, the company has proudly been a Japanese heritage denim brand that’s created quality washes for everyone. Edwin’s creative director, Catherine Ryu, says, “We want this collection to be inclusive for all people, regardless of what sex people are.” This fall, be on the lookout for Edwin’s first unisex line, inspired by two jeans that Ryu found while vintage shopping in the late 1980s! You can also shop at Nordstrom or Asos today.
In 2014, Tanaïs, aka Tanwi Nandini Islam, a queer Bangladeshi American woman, created Hi Wildflower—a beauty and botanical fragrance brand—in the middle of a job search struggle. Inspired by the freedom and ubiquity of real-life wildflowers, Tanaïs wanted to create products that empower individuals who embody this free spirit, at the same time using basic ingredients from the natural world.
Hi Wildflower’s perfume contains botanicals from Egyptian neroli, Indian jasmine or Somalian myrrh. The packaging is also meticulously composed of environmentally friendly paper and biodegradable materials. As a writer and novelist herself, Tanaïs wants customers to experience the stories she writes through her products. Are you ready to explore your own tale?
Nikita Nguyen, more commonly known as Nikita Dragun, has already made quite the name for herself on YouTube as an Asian American trans beauty vlogger. But she didn’t stop there. Last year she created Dragun Beauty, her own cosmetics line designed for transgender people as well as beauty lovers of all shapes, skin tones and sexualities. Dragun Beauty offers a face palette, face powder, a Dragunegg Transformation Kit and a Dragunfire skin potion. These products are perfect for a glam-up, or as Dragun puts it, for “unleashing the fantasy within.”
We’ve reached Shimla, India to meet fashion designer Sumiran Kabir Sharma—the father of Anaam. To describe Anaam, “jackets becoming skirts, tops used as bottoms, gender-bending clothing” are only some of what meets the eye. Behind the scenes, Sharma and other Anaam designers channel defiance into fashion, most noticeably in a gender-neutral recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” during the 2018 Lakme Fashion Week’s #GenderBender. Get yourself familiar with Anaam as a label, and stay on for a bigger movement, in which Sharma commits to breaking down definitions and norms.
What happens when two fabulous, gender-queer Asian American men, who cannot live without high heels, meet? They create their own shoe brand.
That’s how Henry Bae and Shaobo Han, two New Yorkers and Syro’s co-founders, started their business in 2016. Syro is dedicated to wearers of men’s sizes 8 to 14, and has gradually become a safe space for all femme folx to celebrate each other, focus on creating joy and reclaim moments of triumph. Syro also wants to encourage individuals to embrace their authentic selves and give them a platform (no pun intended) where they can no longer fear harassment and violence. Head over to their website to marvel at their latest collection and pick up a pair or two!
Sky Cubacub, a nonbinary queer and disabled Filipinx based in Chicago, founded Rebirth Garments with the aim to create gender non-conforming wearables and accessories for people on the full spectrum of gender, size and ability. Seeing a gap in the mainstream fashion industry where queer and disabled folx don’t get the accommodation they deserve, Rebirth Garments are made to fill that void.
Rebirth Garments’ selection is entirely handmade, colorful, varies in styles, can be worn as binders or sports bras and, most importantly, is totally customizable. At the moment, the physical store is closed so that Rebirth can concentrate on making face masks for protesters and safeguard against COVID-19, but make sure to check out the brand’s Instagram for the latest updates on re-opening!