What 21 AAPI Founders Want the Beauty Community to Know Right Now

Stephanie Saltzman
·22 min read

"I wish the beauty industry would stop colonizing and instead, use its power and influence to support Asian people and businesses."

Last week, a series of mass shootings occurred at three spas in Atlanta, killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women. This tragic hate crime came at a time when anti-Asian racism had already been spiking in the U.S., with those from the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities being targeted with microaggressions, overt racism and outright violence at alarming rates. While perhaps more visible than in recent decades, this is nothing new in the U.S., which has a long history of silencing, othering, stereotyping, profiting off of and discriminating against those in these communities. So, too, does the beauty industry.

Last week's attacks hit close to home for beauty professionals in America, both because they occurred at spas that offered beauty and wellness services and, more significantly, because AAPI culture, people, history, traditions, practices, ingredients, technologies, consumers, manufacturers and founders have played — and continue to play — such a foundational role in building the beauty industry as we know it today.

With that in mind, we turned to 21 AAPI beauty founders who generously shared their thoughts, experiences, hopes and reflections at this crucial moment. Ahead, the unfiltered, deeply personal messages they have for the greater beauty community right now and as we all look toward the future.

Alice Lin Glover, Co-Founder, Eadem

"Where do I begin? There are so many things that I want to bring up, within the beauty industry and beyond: the 'fox eye' trend, monolid/double lids, colorism, fetishization-sexualization-exoticism-orientalism, cultural appropriation, reducing all Asian people to a single (East Asian, usually) image/stereotype. Anti-Asian sentiment is nothing new in this country, but because so much history, especially as it pertains to BIPOC, is left out of school curriculums, the mass awareness and education we're seeing right now makes this issue seem new.

"Mostly, I want the beauty community to reflect and educate themselves and their audiences. If you buy into K-beauty, J-beauty, TCM (i.e. gua sha, acupuncture) and so on, you cannot remove yourself from speaking out and spreading awareness in support of the Asian community.

"I was born and raised in America. I'm from here. Asian communities belong here. Growing up, my idea of AAPI representation was the yellow (eye roll) Power Ranger and idolizing Michelle Kwan. We've made some progress in the beauty industry in terms of representation, especially in marketing photography. And while it's been a huge step forward showing that inclusion is important, it still feels tokenistic — a surface level attempt to include someone of every race simply for the optics.

"It's not lost on me that things I was once made fun of for growing up — eating seaweed, drinking matcha, wearing jade — have now become major sources of revenue to non-Asian businesses and sold as novel and 'exotic' to a mostly white, wealthy audience. Instead of appropriating cultures for profit, I want to see more companies build and design products for an audience that reflects the diversity of America. Not only that, I want them to be built by the communities they're for (not white executives), too.

"I grew up calling myself a minority, but soon America will be a majority minority country. Beauty brands need diverse teams and perspectives to build products for a diverse audience from the start. This is an imperative, and should honestly be table stakes at this point. This is the primary reason why my co-founder and I started Eadem: We were tired of seeing brands treating diversity as a marketing play while ignoring the real needs and unique perspectives of women of color. After the shootings, the industry must see and treat women of color not as monoliths or stereotypes or beauty trends, but as people with specific needs, stories and cultures that deserve to be honored in their specificity."

Lauren Hae in Jin, Founder, Clé Cosmetics

"It's important to understand that the accumulation of stereotypes, microaggressions and marginalization of the AAPI community has escalated into the violent hate crimes we witnessed last week. I feel and hope for a future where the first steps to demolishing them is solidarity. The beauty industry, more than ever, needs to highlight the importance the AAPI community has in it... from the people working in the industry to the skin-care techniques, product innovations and trends all originating from Asian culture.

"I have seen support from beauty brands throughout the week, but equally a handful that have chosen to remain silent."

Jin Soon Choi, Founder of Jin Soon and Jin Soon Hand & Foot Spas

"As an Asian American, I'm deeply saddened and heartbroken over the heinous hate crime that took the lives of innocent Asian Americans last week. What hurts the most is that we still have to speak up and fight against these horrible acts. It's time for the beauty and fashion industry to stand up and use our voices and platforms to make real change in the world. This is a long overdue conversation that needs to be heard."

David Yi, Co-Founder, Good Light

"For so long, Asian Americans have been made invisible. But if you're made to be invisible, are you even alive? I want my peers in this space to acknowledge our collective pain and experiences in this country, from the beginning of our histories here. We've been othered, perceived as foreigners, and told that we don't belong. Amidst it all, we've held our breaths and asked for the bare minimum — to be seen, to be heard. Beauty colleagues: Do not let this moment pass us by. There is a true opportunity to uplift and to come together.

"That starts by hearing our cries, by doing the work, providing agency to Asian American brands, allowing space for us at your companies, giving back to our communities and giving us a sense of belonging.

"We are all American — and this painful time isn't just about the Asian American community. This is American history, and it's being made. While we reconcile or past and present, how we move forward is really up to all of us."

Sandra Lanshin Chiu, L.Ac., Founder of Lanshin

"I'm sad and disappointed that it took a mass murder for the beauty industry to take notice of AAPI hate. For years, the industry has profited off of ingredients, concepts and practices from Asian culture, so to hear nothing when anti-Asian violence and rhetoric have been at an all time high brings tears to my eyes. The ongoing silence and empty, performative posts by many retailers, brands, media and influencers is hard to digest.

"Every day, the industry whitewashes beauty and healing practices from our cultures, distorting them into a 'trend.' When we try to protect our practices from appropriation or erasure, we're accused of 'gatekeeping,' and told we're ridiculous. Personally, I also have to reconcile that while the shape of my eyes puts me at risk, it’s celebrated on white women as 'exotic fox eyes.'

"I wish the beauty industry would stop colonizing and instead, use its power and influence to support Asian people and businesses, connect with us to share our beauty and wellness stories. Celebrate brands for being 'sustainable' and 'ethical' only if they also care about cultural appropriation and ending violence toward BIPOC. When selling products from Asian culture, prioritize AAPI-founded brands on your shelves. There's a lot that the beauty industry could do to help create a safer, more inclusive space. The question is, will it?"

Charlotte Cho, Co-Founder, Soko Glam & Then I Met You

"Throughout my life, I've turned away from speaking out against the racism I encountered. As a child of Korean American immigrants, I learned to swallow the hurt that the racially-motivated taunts thrown at me caused. These microaggressions and outwardly racist remarks snuck their way into my being, unknowingly racking up blows to myself worth.

"Then my husband and co-founder, Dave, and I brought K-beauty to America. A shift began to take place: The beauty space began to outpour with comments from non-Asian women remarking on how much they wanted glowy skin — the same skin and features that my mother, myself and many other Korean women perhaps were taunted about. Today, acceptance of our skin care is just not enough, and K-beauty should be credited for much more in the Western market than it currently is. Accreditation brings representation and creates further space for the AAPI community in the beauty world.

"I'm a part of a new AAPI generation — one that won't internalize these microaggressions and will not downplay the traumatic hate crimes committed against our community. Now is the time to be angry, to speak out and reach out to our allies for help, and do what my parents didn't have the foundation to do.

"My husband and co-founder and I continue to be strong advocates and leaders in the fight against AAPI hate. We're elevating our stance that all should have access to good days, those not affected by racism. The beauty industry can directly further this mission through education, accreditation, amplification, and most importantly: open lines of communication."

Amy Lin, Founder, Sundays

"I felt overwhelmed and sad when I saw the news about the mass shootings at three massage spas in Atlanta, where six out of eight victims were Asian women. My heart is broken for those innocent women who worked hard for their hopes and dreams of a better life. As an Asian nail salon owner, I see myself in them. I can see my Sundays ladies among them. I can imagine the fear and hopelessness they felt.

"It's a very big part of Asian culture to avoid conflict. Growing up, I was told to stay quiet. Now, I feel obligated to speak up for my community. To protect my parents and my Asian employees.

"When I moved to this country, someone told me, 'We all come from different countries, so take ownership in this country.' I took the words to heart. We all deserve to be heard, respected and loved. When all of us work together, we can make a big difference. It is empowering to feel like I can do something, even my effort can make a tiny little difference. Change starts with you and me. Let's Stop Asian Hate."

Bee Shapiro, Founder, Ellis Brooklyn

"I want the community to know that it hurts right now, but we also need to mobilize, motivate and act. The Atlanta shooting was especially shocking because you had political leaders making excuses for the shooters. That was a true wake-up call for me. If we can come together and make a visible, cohesive stand, things can change and will change."

Jennifer Lee, Vice President and Co-Founder, Lapcos

"Korean heritage is deeply intertwined with Lapcos' DNA, as we are not only an AAPI-founded company, we are also a family-run brand, headquartered out of Los Angeles and Seoul. Behind Lapcos USA is a journey that starts with my parents immigrating from South Korea and working for 20-plus years to ultimately achieve the American dream.

"I come from a family of serial entrepreneurs and grew up surrounded by incredibly hard work ethics. I am in awe of my parents, who taught us the value of a dollar and the importance of purpose and dedication. And, I have the opportunity as Co-Founder of Lapcos to help represent not just Korean Americans, but many cultures and creeds. One of my greatest passions is to help evolve the industry when it comes to how we define beauty as a society. I make it a point to collaborate with models and influencers of all skin types and ethnicities to help showcase the endless definitions of what it means to be beautiful. For this reason, we are drawn mostly to partners who radiate good health, mentally and physically, from within. I also make it a point to work with people of varying gender identities, because beauty is also not just a category for women — for many, it is a form of self-expression and an essential part of daily wellness. Every day, our team wakes up motivated to bring these incredible Korean innovations to the U.S. at an accessible price for all Americans, and truly create beauty for humankind."

Sarah Lee, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Glow Recipe

"It's an incredibly difficult time for the AAPI community. Now more than ever is the time to acknowledge that racism is a problem in America and speak out. We all have roles and there are different ways to take action, to raise awareness and to support the AAPI community. You can donate to Act to Change, GoFundMe's Support the AAPI Community Fund or the multitude of other organizations that fight for AAPI rights or against hate crimes. Other ways include leveraging your platforms to speak up, being deliberate about inclusivity — specifically around different skin tones and types in your marketing and communication — and most importantly increasing representation of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds within your own businesses."

Vanessa Lee, Founder, The Things We Do

"Since I have started my career in medical aesthetics, I have been very outspoken as a proponent of change and a stop to my field pushing for a one-face-fits-all (usually based on Euro-centric features) approach to treating patients. I am now using my platform to expose providers of color to the opportunities that may not be as readily available to them because they themselves have felt that they don't quite fit the mold.

"Before I opened The Things We Do (composed of 90% POC), I worked in plastic surgery, medical aesthetics and dermatology offices. The last business I worked for was a derm office where both of the female owners were incredibly offensive and guilty of racist and inappropriate remarks towards staff of color, and I wasn't even shocked because it wasn't far from my previous experiences, from other offices I had worked at. I was, however, fed up and decided to open up a clinic that was welcoming to providers and patients of all backgrounds and walks of life. We're now one of the most successful and fastest growing aesthetic clinics in Los Angeles.

"It pays to speak up, to do the right thing, to call out what doesn't serve the community. Now is the time, more than ever, that the aesthetic field needs to step it up and stand with their Asian, brown and Black colleagues against racism and microaggressions and make some lasting change."

Stephanie Lee, Founder and CEO, Selfmade

"Growing up, I spent a hell of a lot of time listening to the world tell me what was beautiful, and then desperately changing myself into the 'right' shape to fit whatever box was trending at the moment. This doesn't work so well when you're a first-generation Chinese and Vietnamese tomboy striving to fit a mold that was never made for people like me. It definitely doesn't work well when the actual reason you don't feel worthy has nothing to do with the way that you look on the outside.

"I'm working every single day to flip the script on white-male centered beauty industry standards that prioritize outward appearance over inner well-being. But this isn't something the AAPI community can do on our own. It's time for the beauty industry to start putting emotional wellness front and center to create an inclusive space where all women and non-binary people, especially those of color and multiple ethnicities, can embark on a new journey that makes us feel whole. Where worthiness is determined by each of us not by the industry bottom line.

"The industry can no longer BS their way through these scary and real moments that leave too many people who look like me in pain, struggling with the silence. We need more than superficial acknowledgements of the violence, or reflexive recognition of the cultural appropriation rampant in the industry. We need real change, in board rooms, in our conversations and especially in your power over our self worth."

Alicia Yoon, CEO and Founder, Peach & Lily

"Over the past year, there has been a dramatic rise in hate crimes and racist attacks against the AAPI community. Racism against our community is not new: There's a long and ugly history of exploitation and violence directed against Asians in the U.S. Most Asian Americans can also share numerous stories of the racist aggressions and micro-aggressions they face on a regular basis. Today, racist violence has escalated to the point of crisis. Members of the AAPI community are being attacked and killed in alarming numbers, and these attacks show no sign of slowing down.

"Many beauty brands have a large base of AAPI consumers in the U.S. and significant sales in Asian countries. Many beauty brands also benefit from Asian beauty trends, innovations, ingredients and manufacturing. The silence of many beauty brands — who benefit from Asian consumers, technology, and beauty culture — is deafening to many distressed AAPI community members during this crisis.

"Check in on your AAPI employees, consumers and friends. We're not okay right now. Consider how you profit from Asian consumers and the Asian beauty industry, and find ways to make a difference for the AAPI community. Use your platforms to speak up against anti-Asian racism. Insist on more AAPI representation in your marketing campaigns and in your company. Give credit where it's due when you leverage ingredients, tools, technologies and techniques from Asian beauty cultures. Donate to the Stop Asian Hate fund.

"The AAPI community is the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. and already constitutes a meaningful portion of business for most brands. If you're a beauty brand, you have a chance to make a positive impact for the AAPI community in crisis. We will remember brands that stand up, and those that choose to sit and watch."

Amy Liu, Founder, Tower 28

"People are sometimes surprised that the founder of Tower 28, a beach-y L.A. brand, is me, an Asian-American, and not a white blonde girl. I've often felt self-conscious about being face-forward as a founder for that reason. When I started raising money for Tower 28, I had a few investors assume it would be related to TCM or K-Beauty. First of all, I'm not even Korean! And second, it's really unfair to think the only product philosophy I could represent is one related to my ethnicity. This is the experience of the Asian-American: I don't look 'American' enough to be fully accepted as that, but I'm not Asian enough to be that either. That's why the recent AAPI hate crimes have hit me especially hard. This is my country — born in Minnesota, it's the only one I know.

"I feel scared for my community, especially since the defenseless, including women and the elderly, are being targeted. The hate crimes are inexcusable and despicable. But it's only the tip of the iceberg, as it's the most extreme version of what's happening. For every one of those acts, how many hundreds of thousands of people are thinking the same thoughts, but not acting on them? The blame and resentment of the pandemic and all the economic devastation that has come with it has fallen at the feet of the AAPI community, and it's dangerous. As a kid, I remember being so embarrassed when friends came over and would see what my family eats, including pig and chicken feet. That feeling of knowing that someone else thinks you're dirty or gross is a hard one to shake. And now I feel that same way, worried to cough or in general be perceived to be unhygienic.

"It's imperative that we're anti-racist in this moment and challenge this thinking before it becomes more widespread. I strongly believe that representation matters and that we vote with our dollars. I encourage others to use the platforms of influence they have — small or big — to do the same."

Vicky Tsai, Founder and CEO, Tatcha

"The rise in attacks against Asian Americans hits incredibly close to home, not only because I'm a female AAPI brand founder, but also because I'm the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and the mother of an 11-year-old Asian daughter who's come home from school multiple times crying over the past year because classmates have said they 'hope all Chinese people die.' I reported this to the school administration and never received a response. My family, employees and clients are sad and scared.

"We created Tatcha to share stories of Asian beauty culture with others. As the largest population within our company is Asian women, we see it as our responsibility to continue telling our stories every day, whether it's through a social media post, an email to our clients or the ingredients used in our product formulas. And yet, the only thing that's more painful that the discrimination and the attacks is the feeling of invisibility — an issue that has haunted the Asian American community throughout time. Without speaking out or showing up, the pain that so many members of our community are feeling will continue to remain invisible — and that's no longer an option. It's time to move the conversation and community forward.

"We need our allies' help — especially from within the beauty industry that has profited off of Asian clients, culture, heritage and ingredients for so long. Every major beauty and fashion brand is looking to Chinese consumers in the U.S. and abroad for revenue growth. You use our faces in advertising and you build campaigns around Chinese New Year and Singles Day because you want our money. But where are you right now? To the influencers who spoke so loudly in support of the social movements in 2020, where are you now? The silence is deafening. Knowledge, compassion and collective action are the solutions to this epidemic of hate."

Ju Rhyu, CEO and Co-Founder, Hero Cosmetics

"Change will only happen if we all unify and make our voices heard. There's a lot of discussion happening in private social circles, in public forums, at the federal and local levels and I hope we can work together to stop the violence against the AAPI community. The awareness is spreading and the discourse is happening. The next step is change.

"I'm thankful for people like Daniel Dae Kim and the politicians who represent us, such as Grace Meng, who are speaking on our behalf. What I've seen with our Hero team is that when we all rally with the same goal in mind, we can move mountains. Let's rally together to support the AAPI community."

Tina Craig, Founder, U Beauty

"Support the AAPI community. If you're not sure how, here are ways to do so: Share our stories and bring awareness; initiate conversations and dialogue and shed light on what's going on; be actively anti-racist and be a proactive ally; speak up when you see or hear anti-Asian racism on social media, in the media and, of course, in real life. And please think about the people providing your beauty services, those who work hard in nail salons, massage parlors and more.

"There are a lot of microaggressions within the beauty industry that seem to be generally accepted, and it's time for that to change. It’s common for Asians to hear genetics are the reason for their good skin, a dismissive comment usually accompanied by an eye roll. I have seen plenty of Asians — my cousins included —with problematic skin just like any other race. 'You're born with good skin' is the aesthetically-minded equivalent to the enduring 'All Asians are booksmart' (or the cruder, 'You Asians always ruin the grade curve'). They're both backhanded compliments that undermine efforts and accomplishments, whether it's the care and attention put into our skin or a stellar report card.

"Then there's the misconception we don't suffer as much because we have a supposed excess of material things, à la 'Crazy Rich Asians' (the scenes featuring the Singapore-based characters is a go-to). In reality, one out of four Asian American immigrants in New York State lives in poverty — that's just a single example. Once people stop propagating falsehoods and dealing with the actuality of the AAPI experience, we'll start making progress."

Marianna Hewitt, Co-Founder, Summer Fridays

"There's a lot that could be said about this, since this treatment of the AAPI community has been happening for generations. That said, I think right now it's so important to support your AAPI friends and donate time or money if possible to organizations doing work to help AAPI communities and most of all, be kind and compassionate to others."

Christine Chang, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Glow Recipe

"Speaking out matters. Showing up makes a difference. Every word of positivity and action during this time creates a ripple effect that can effect change. For a community where there has been a long history of erasure of AAPI identity and representation, using your platform to show solidarity is an incredibly powerful thing."

Erica Choi, Founder, Superegg

"It's been an immensely painful time of realizations of how broken our country is. Recollections of upsetting memories from my past made me realize even the most 'harmless' words or actions may have been rooted in racism. I ask the beauty community to empathize with the Asian community, to educate yourselves and to respect our heritage and history. When using traditions or ingredients that originated in Asia, give credit where it's due. I hope we can continue to make fundamental changes as we use our voices to share our stories."

Divya Gugnani, Co-Founder, Wander Beauty

"As an AAPI woman, I personally condemn racism in all forms. It's heartbreaking to see this happening to the Asian community and we must all educate ourselves on ways we can help and provide support. There's no place for racism of any kind in any industry, especially in the beauty industry, where we celebrate individuality, confidence and freedom of expression."

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