Claudia Li: Fashion and Asian representation on the runway

Fashion designer Claudia Li uses the runway to spark discussion about representation.

New Zealand-born, New York-based designer Claudia Li has long been known within fashion circles for her beautiful prints and elegant designs.

But last fall, she made waves for a different reason all together; for her first official fashion week runway show, she featured 35 Asian models.

Fashion Designer Claudia Li
Photo Credit: SCMP

Many brands have come under fire during New York Fashion Week for a lack of diversity or blatant racism. Despite representing a global stage, fashion week runways have historically favoured white models.

While representation has gradually been improving overall at Fashion Week, critics have pointed out that the inclusion of one or two models of colour in a 35-look show is closer to tokenism than diversity.

For this reason, Li’s choice to use Asian-American models was more than newsworthy – it was groundbreaking. The exclusive use of models of colour was celebrated by many who commended Li’s representation of Asian women.

Spring 2019 Ready-to-Wear Collection. Photo Credit: Vogue

The designer also used the opportunity to showcase multiple ethnicities, featuring models who were Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Nepalese, Filipino, mixed race, and more to showcase what Li referred to as “a broad vision of Asian femininity.”

The message that Li sent through her decision of featuring only Asian models has started a global conversation that is particularly meaningful in an industry based on aesthetic. 

Models from 2018 NYFW show. Photo Credit: Guild Magazine.

Li’s show helped Asian women feel seen, spoken to, and celebrated by the fashion world. While there may be a long way to go before different skin colours are embraced by the fashion industry the way their dollars are, designers like Li are paving the way to a better future for fashion.

After taking a big stand and using her platform to further representation, Li’s time at September’s New York Fashion Week approaches yet again. Li’s show will take place on Tuesday, September 10th – and the world will be watching.

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