Asian style has been known worldwide for its unique designs and patterns in its heritage way.
It has recently been the center of attention, both positively and negatively, the former being due to the rise of K-pop and the popular Chinese street fashion TikToks, and the latter being the appropriation of Asian culture (specifically the fox eye trend and Kim Kardashian’s maang tikka).
However, there are still very few Asian designers present in mainstream Western fashion. This is possibly due to the “model minority myth” — a phenomenon that has boxed Asian Americans into solely professional careers.
BLENDtw had the opportunity to interview Lea Chen, the CEO of the e-commerce apparel brand AA BATTERIES, which prides itself on being a brand that is “for and by Asian Americans.”
The recent Wharton Business School graduate said that the journey leading to the creation of this passion project was not an easy one. However, the result of this tough journey was a company that will make a difference in mainstream media.
Tell us about the name “AA BATTERIES.” What does it represent?
The “AA” part represents Asian Americans. I actually started this brand four years ago in college, and I only recently rebranded it to AA BATTERIES in the end of March.
That was when I wanted to do something very focused on the Asian American community. This is coming from someone who didn’t really feel pride in her identity growing up.
I feel like I didn’t see designs that were reflective of our culture and heritage. I wanted something that was not only representative of us, but that fueled us and made us feel proud — that recharged us, essentially.
I think it was perfect because I knew I wanted “AA” or “AAPI” in the name to represent us as Asian Americans. On top of that, AA batteries are already a thing, and I wanted a brand that really energized our community.
How did your relationship with your AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) identity evolve into what it is today?
I grew up in Edison, New Jersey. Though I’m fortunate to have grown up around a bunch of Asian Americans (for context: my high school was 80 percent Asian), I resented my Asian American identity during my childhood.
When I was a little kid, I would ask my parents if they were sure that I was one hundred percent Chinese. “Are you sure I’m not, like, Irish or Spanish or anything else?” Growing up in Edison, I always felt labeled as “just another Chinese girl.” I had expectations set on me, and I didn’t always fit into them.
I think when I went to college, my relationship with my identity changed. I met people who grew up in a very different background than me. They had grown up in very White towns and had always longed to meet other folks from the AAPI community.
I think it really opened my eyes to feel more grateful for the town I grew up in. It helped meeting some really creative Asian Americans who really wanted to make an impact and do something different.
My journey started with me growing up in Edison not really loving being Asian American, then me going to college and really educating myself about the community and really loving it.
You started with Lovelea. What made you want to create your own apparel brand that focuses on Asian American representation?
When I first started out, I was running on the adrenaline of “Oh, it’s so exciting to run a clothing brand, regardless of the name or how cohesive the designs look.”
That was really exciting and it did teach me a lot, but it came to a point, maybe about a year and a half in, where it kind of reached this stagnant point.
It was at this time when I was looking back, or just sitting back and looking at the brand and thinking, “You know, what is this brand really about? I’m not super passionate about it, so how can I expect other people to be interested in it?”
It’s really an investment of a brand and a mission that they believe in. So if I’m asking that of people and I don’t really even see the value of the company, I don’t expect anyone else to support it.
I had that moment where I just needed to reset this whole entire thing. And so I thought about, like, “what am I super passionate about?” and “where is there a gap?”
I know a bunch of Asian American illustrators and designers and creatives just from personal relationships and digital groups. A lot of people are so talented in this community, but either they don’t really pursue it seriously or they just see it as a hobby.
They don’t necessarily think they can make money off of it.
Since rebranding, I’ve been way more invested, excited, passionate, and fulfilled by the brand, but I also see the community response increasing and that’s equally, if not more, important to me.
As you know, there are hardly any Asian American creative entrepreneurs in mainstream media. This is possibly due to the fact that the Asian American community encourages stable professional careers such as medicine, law, and engineering.
Did your family have any hesitations with the idea of you pursuing a career in the fashion industry?
I think the biggest hurdles were sort of those external comments. I remember I would go to these Asian family parties, and we would go down the line and each kid would go down the line and say what we’re interested in.
I would always say that I’m interested in fashion and business, and other parents would just kind of raise an eyebrow and look at me and say “Oh that’s cute, but fashion’s just a hobby, what are you actually studying in college?” I was super fortunate that my parents were supportive.
My mother works in a more creative industry, so they really pushed me to pursue what I was passionate about. It was definitely a frustrating time to hear people in the community speak this way.
I even had some acquaintances my age question my passion and interest just because it wasn’t a stereotypical path that Asian Americans typically take.
It helped that I was taking a business perspective to fashion. I knew I wasn’t necessarily going to fashion school. I was going to business school, so it didn’t directly limit me in terms of my industry. I think that probably made them feel more at ease.
I also think with running AA BATTERIES, something that I’ve just been lucky to have with it is that I don’t look at it necessarily as a clothing brand that has to make a profit. From day one, I started it because I wanted to learn as much as I could about entrepreneurship and about this community.
Ultimately, I just call it a passion project that happens to have customers and bring in profit and have a community around it. It’s just really a passion project at the end of the day. When I describe it that way to my parents, it also helps them feel comfortable.
What advice do you have for young BIPOC women who would like to start their own business?
This is gonna sound super cliche, but know that taking the time is super valuable and that you only get to launch once. I remember when I started my clothing brand, I was a freshman in college. It was over winter break; I was super naive. I launched within four or five days from having the idea.
I essentially launched because I was like “Oh my gosh, I can print a shirt, this is amazing,” and I just put it out there, put like six designs; there was no cohesive mission. The name was really bad. The website looked kind of janky.
I remember I was so excited about it, but I didn’t do that much research into the best manufacturing that could have been done or if these were really the best designs. I was relatively narrow-minded and just thought, “I’m so excited about it, so other people are just naturally going to be excited about it.”
Then there were so many mistakes and things I had to fix that I had to do after I had already launched. Not only do you only get to launch once, but your reputation in potential customers’ minds is set once you have it there.
First, it’s very very hard to change your first impression. So there are a ton of people, I’m sure, who saw my brand four and a half years ago, and maybe they don’t even realize I’ve rebranded. They don’t realize I’ve changed my printing production partners and manufacturing process, or my whole website.
I’ve noticed that your website has a vast range of collections. What inspires the creation of each collection?
The collection vision and theme is really driven by the artists that I collaborate with. I think my favorite part about the brand is the fact that we collaborate with these artists.
These Asian American artists are so talented — their work deserves to be showcased and also financially compensated. That’s a huge part of our motto.
There are other Asian clothing brands out there, but I personally have never seen one that collaborates with artists and financially compensates them in the way that we do in our business model.
When I collaborate with an artist, the mission is to give them full respect and do their talent justice. I want them to feel comfortable with the collection and their product.
Therefore, I don’t mandate, like if it’s a Korean artist “you have to do one of our vintage Seoul.” I’m more like “What do you want to bring to the designs that you have? What do you think would work?”
It’s a super collaborative process, which is awesome because we’ve been able to work with a number of Asian American artists. A lot of those collections are really driven by the artists and what they’re looking for.
What is your advice for an Asian American designer who wants to design for AA BATTERIES?
We love seeing every single artist that submits work. We’re always open to seeing their work. We’re never going to reject artists on the basis that we have too many artists right now.
I think the collections that work best with our customers, as well as our whole brand and mission are ones that feel cohesive as a collection.
There are some artists who have individual pieces but lack the cohesive look of a collection. Pieces that do well typically reflect an artist’s ethnicity or something related to their identity. For example, we have collections inspired by Seoul, Japan, or Indian Culture.
I think those functions feel, at least to me, like the most authentic. For instance, I have a Japanese artist creating Japanese designs for clothing, and only they can really tell that story. I think that’s when the designs to me feel most successful.
AA BATTERIES not only sells apparel but advocates for important issues such as the Model Minority Myth, Asians for Black Lives, and Asian mental health awareness.
Tell me a bit about that. What made you decide that you wanted to bring awareness to that?
I collaborated with Dear Asian Youth, this student-run organization run by Asian American youth. I actually reached out to Dear Asian Youth to do a collaboration before the George Floyd murder happened and before The Black Lives Matter protests started.
For Asians for Black Lives, for every purchase, 30% of the profits go to an organization tied to the Black Lives Matter movement. It might be Black Lives Matter itself, or the NAACP, or the Black Visions Collective.
It was just the perfect timing because they were like, you know, we want something that not only looks good on clothing but really advocates for a specific mission.
In the Asian American community, there is this anti-Blackness rooted in generations in the United States, like my grandparents and even my own parents.
A lot of it is just unfounded in the sense that it’s just rooted in a lot of fear. I think that comes from the immigrant struggle or the model minority myth. I don’t think my parents are malicious, but there’s just like this lack of knowledge and understanding.
For example: In the beginning of COVID, there was a phobia against Asians.
Therefore, when Black Lives Matter movements happened, a lot of Asians were speaking up, saying “We were being attacked in the beginning of COVID and no one spoke up for us, so why do we really need to speak up so loudly for the Black community?”
However, our community would not be where it is today without so many leaders in the African American civil rights movement. I think there was just this education piece and gap there.
So by having this collection, one it was really perfect timing, but two, it allowed us to take a mission and put it on something tangible and really let people show that this is something that’s important to them.
What are some challenges you’ve faced as a young Asian American Entrepreneur?
One of my biggest challenges that I think is a challenge for any brand starting out is just really building your customer base and really building that community of people that will follow you.
I’ve been lucky to manage other social media accounts, just because it’s my day job. It’s definitely interesting running an account that’s for a brand where you sell products versus an account that’s all about empowering and community-driven.
At the end of the day, people are like, “Oh, yeah, we’re passionate about Asian Americans,” but they’re like, “you’re trying to sell me a product.” I think messaging is super key. When people wear merch and buy stickers, I love it.
But ultimately, AA BATTERIES is more about clothing, stickers, prints, and tangible objects. Our brand is about the feeling of pride and belonging in our AAPI community.
If someone comments on my Instagram post and says “Oh my god! This is so enlightening! I learned a lot!” that honestly might be more valuable than producing a product. The messaging was pretty key, and that was a challenge.
I also had a rebrand, so I had to build this new customer base — tell people who I was and also prove that you can trust our brand and who we are and our authenticity.
Who are some of your greatest influences in fashion?
A lot of my influences are not necessarily fashion brands, but just Asian American creators. Another clothing brand that I looked at in the beginning was Asian American Girl Club. It was started by actress Ally Maki.
There are so many cool people in the Asian American community who are really speaking up lately. Those are the people that really inspired me to want to create AA BATTERIES. The theme here is that it’s beyond the products and just the physical items for me. I’m trying to foster this kind of environment.
Design-wise, Asian American Girl Club hasn’t been really the inspiration, but more so how she’s fostered this community. It’s cool that people are happy to wear those designs, because on every t-shirt it says “Asian American Girl Club,” and people are proud to be a part of this “club.”
What are your plans for the future of AA BATTERIES?
Over the next few months or next few years, I really want AA BATTERIES to be representative of the whole Asian American spectrum. For example, having the Desi collection was super important to me. Growing up in Edison, I was so fortunate so many of my friends were Indian American.
For most Asian Americans I know in college, they assumed that when I said that all my friends were Asian in high school I meant East Asian. However, it wasn’t like that for me.
I’ve noticed a lot of my collections are from East Asian designers and that’s still cool, but something I’m really trying to work on is having more representation of the South Asian and Pacific Islander experience.
It started when I had the Desi collection. I was super excited, but I feel there’s still so much work I could do in terms of having more of those designers and making them feel like they’re part of the community as well.
I often reach out on digital forums asking if anyone knows any South Asian creators I can collaborate with. I want to make sure that my media content is representative so that when people see AA BATTERIES, they’re like, “Oh, yes, this is actually an Asian American brand.”
Stay tuned for when we do have another South Asian collection in the future. I want to continue working with as many other types of Asians as I can, so I definitely want that for the future. But I’m really glad that the Desi collection is there.
Can you give us a sneak peek for the collections coming up?
We have recently released the “taiwan on the streets” collection. This Taiwanese artist’s style is kind of this color block graphic style of Taiwanese street food, which is cool.
Another one that’s coming in the works is from an artist, Valerie Lam. She created these Mahjong-style earrings and promoted them on a Facebook group for Asian creatives. This will probably come out maybe next month or the end of this month.
Another one that I want to do is something that’s a little bit more focused on social justice. I’m not sure exactly how it will look yet; either it will be a text-based collection or drawings of Asian American icons or something more like the vibe of “we’re not your model minority myth.”
Recently, one of our posts blew up. The post says “Yes, I’m Asian. No, we’re not all basically the same thing.” Over 80,000 people have seen that post, which is crazy. I posted that at least over a week or two ago, but people will still — like, dozens of people — will still like it every day.
And I’m like, there’s something about that post. I think it’s just something about this very blunt text in your face, talking about who we are as Asian Americans and breaking down these myths and stereotypes that people dislike. That was kind of the inspiration behind why I want to eventually do this text series.
Meet Scott Hughes: The Entrepreneur Who Built One of the Largest Online Book Communities
Are you a book junkie? Find out how Scott Hughes built OnlineBookClub, a free online community for book lovers with over 2 million members.
Are you a book lover?
If you are, then you need to check out OnlineBookClub.org, a free online site for book lovers around the world.
The online site features book reviews, book & reading forums, and useful tools that enable you to store, track and list books you have read or want to read.
Scott was only 19 when he launched OnlineBookClub.
The idea of creating OnlineBookClub originated after Scott, a book fanatic, realized that there were too many restrictions for in-person book clubs such as tight deadlines on book reading, a limited selection of books, and little freedom to pick books to read.
Scott wanted to leverage the power of online discussions and create a flexible space where people all over the world could easily find people to chat about any book at any time. That is how OnlineBookClub came to life.
Building the online platform was a rewarding experience for Scott, but it was far from easy.
For 7 years, Scott ran the business and paid himself nothing from it. During those years, he worked odd jobs to pay his living expenses and put food on the table for his two kids.
“I remember one month I had to go to the coinstar machine at the bank with my spare change on the 10th of month just so I could cover the rent, but I did it.”
The hardest part of creating the platform for Scott was finding time to run the business while juggling his day job and raising two kids. It was difficult for him to find a work-life balance but he made it work despite the hardships.
At the end of 2014, Scott finally took a leap of faith, gave up his side jobs, and went full-time at OnlineBookClub. He knew that to make it work, he had to devote himself completely to the online site.
And his efforts paid off.
The platform is thriving with over 2.7 million registered users as of November of 2021.
The revenue of the platform primarily comes from paid online advertising and professional services to authors and publishers, such as editorial reviews and manuscript editing.
Scott is proud of the work he has accomplished so far, especially of the community he has built.
“OnlineBookClub has always been filled with kind people who have a strong sense of togetherness and community. It’s like a second family for us.”
Scott’s journey has been full of ups and downs, but through it all, he is grateful for all the experiences-good ones and bad ones.
When asked to advise young entrepreneurs just starting, he has the following to say:
“The journey never really ends. If you make a million dollars, then you might chase a billion. Even if you reach all your financial goals and lose interest in that side of things, your mind will create new different goals. So it’s never about reaching some destination. When you look back on it, in many ways the most challenging times are also seen most fondly.”
He also believes that entrepreneurs need to be driven by something other than money.
“I’ve found in my anecdotal experience and just from watching the world around me that those who desperately chase money are the least likely to find it. In contrast, when you work hard on yourself and your real dreams, money chases you. Money–and even health and physical fitness–are only really ever a means, not an end in themselves. Without some kind of vision or passion to be the real end, the real goal, the real dream, it’s like driving a car with no gas.”
Scott’s story is a great reminder that anything can be achieved with perseverance, passion, and hard work.
So, if you are just starting, make sure to stay tuned for his upcoming book, “In It Together: The Beautiful Struggle Uniting Us All,” which will be released soon.
‘Halloween Kills’ Cast & Crew Explain the Slasher
Article by Riley Farrell
The cast and crew of Halloween Kills told Blendtw why the latest slasher’s gore is anything but gratuitous in a year like 2021.
Jamie Lee Curtis, Andi Matichak, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Malek Akkad, David Gordon Green and Jason Blum tell horror fans to expect carnage. After all, Halloween Kills must live up to its title.
Chainsaws buzzing and bats swinging, Halloween Kills is a current-day cathartic catastrophe – and no character is safe – according to producer Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions.
Halloween Kills is the 12th movie in Michael Myers’ macrocosm, with the 13th, and allegedly final, movie coming out in 2022. When seriously injured Laurie Strode thought she killed Michael Myers after 42 years of trailing him, his annual bloodbath recommences. Sick of living at the mercy of “pure evil,” the town’s vigilantes revolt against the boogieman.
“Subtlety is not this film,” said director David Gordon Green, on fitting in as much bloodshed as possible in 105 minutes.
The cast filmed Halloween Kills two years ago and shelved it due to the pandemic, until now.
Picking up where Halloween (2018) left off, the film explores the aftermath of collective trauma, said Green. Given everything that’s ensued in the last two years, viewers do not have to live in Haddonfield to understand suffering, and inversely, resilience.
“We’ve taken a slasher movie and it’s landed in a time of cultural relevance because of our public consciousness,” said Green. “Though [the movie is] grotesque, there are moments when we feel the humanity underneath the surface of this movie monster.”
Halloween Kills brought back two characters from the 1978 Halloween in Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), the two children who Laurie babysat during Michael’s initial attack. Hall and Richards did not require much persuasion to hop on the franchise, said Green.
The callbacks of all-grown-up characters, of course, evokes nostalgia. But the twist on the trope is that, instead of running from Michael, the kids now face him head-on, said Richards. Hall, who described Halloween Kills as a “thrill ride” and “freight train,” said the slasher hinges on human resilience.
“We summoned something deep in themselves and decided to fight back, we’re not just survivors but fighters,” said Hall.
Resilience as a motif snugly fits within the cultural zeitgeist, even earning a title as Forbes’ 2021 word of the year. Though coincidental, the visceral and violent images in Halloween Kills harken to audiences’ nihilistic experiences of the past 18-months. Producer Malek Akkad said the slasher film can paradoxically be pertinent yet escapist for viewers who’ve experienced the horror genre by simply reading the news.
“It’s tough for everybody right now and this movie’s just a fun release,” said Akkad. “There’s nothing more cathartic for people watching than to see a final girl like Laurie.”
For reference, the final girl trope, pioneered by the character of Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween, represents the heroine left standing at the end of a horror movie who is charged with defeating the antagonist. Film theorist Carol J. Clover coined the term in her 1992 book, ‘Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.’ The final girl has been observed in many films, including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Alien, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream.
Scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis said she was unaware of the meaning and dialogue surrounding the final girl until recently. She argued, even though the trope has immense cultural significance, the original idea of the final girl is uncomplicated.
“The term is just about the tenacity of women to survive because, the truth is, women have survived through a lot,” said Curtis.
No characters know survival better than the Strode women. Andi Matichak, who plays Laurie’s granddaughter, and Curtis agreed that their favorite behind-the-scenes moment centered on feminine resilience in spite of harsh conditions.
It was a frigid 4 a.m. shoot, and the three generations of Strode ladies were alone in a truck, coated in fake blood, with only each other and a camera rig for warmth, Matichak described. This moment was the last time Laurie, Karen and Allyson were on screen together.
“It was a powerful moment to lean on each other and feel the weight of the project,” Matichak said.
Cutting through the sweet moments is the slasher at the heart of the story, said Curtis on the “high octave, frenzied” plot of Halloween Kills. For audiences who’ve lived through the chaos of the past two years, Halloween Kills should match their fast pace of existence.
“The past is irrelevant, you’re so in the present moment,” said Curtis.
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Waving Through A Big Screen: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ Cast Talks Film Adaptation
With Ben Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as the show’s titular character, a whole new Hollywood cast takes on Broadway.
Content warning: mentions of anxiety, depression and suicide.
Article by Riley Farrell
All that it takes is a bit of reinvention for Dear Evan Hansen to move from the theatre to theaters, hitting eardrums on Sept. 24 this year.
With Ben Platt reprising his Tony-winning role as the show’s titular character, a whole new Hollywood cast takes on Broadway. Platt, Julianne Moore, Amandla Stenberg, Amy Adams, Danny Pino, Kaitlyn Dever, Stephen Chbosky and Steven Levenson explained the movie’s newfound reach and relevance in an interview with BLENDtw, among other publications.
The Plot Thickens
Begrudgingly in therapy for anxiety, high schooler Evan Hansen is tasked with writing daily letters to himself, hence the movie title. After Evan’s peer Connor Murphy kills himself with Evan’s letter in his backpack, Evan’s page is mistakenly thought to be a suicide note from Connor.
Evan tells a well-meaning white lie that soon darkens with self-interest to get closer to the Murphy family, which includes Connor’s sister Zoe (Kaitlyn Dever), and Connor’s mom and dad (Amy Adams and Danny Pino, respectively). Via fake emails and a fundraiser, what once began as a misunderstanding spirals into an operatic betrayal about teens and their screens.
Oh, How Times Have Changed (Or Not)
To address the obvious, it has been a long time since DEH initially premiered in 2015 – but the cast said the musical remains relevant. Things have changed: a pandemic rocked our worldviews and Ben Platt, shockingly, aged.
Platt, 27, played Evan in the original musical version. After the movie trailer dropped in 2021, Platt faced online backlash over playing a character a decade younger, even though he lost 15 pounds and changed his styling routine to appear youthful.
“As a parent, I saw a teenager in Ben’s demeanor,” Julianne Moore, who plays Evan’s mom, said in Platt’s defense.
Speaking of something that’s aged us all, COVID-19, the ideas explored about mental health in DEH six years ago seem timely today, said Dever.
“This film is about feeling isolated, after the pandemic, we’re looking to feel heard,” said the Booksmart actress.
A 2021 study from the National Institute of Health found that anxiety symptoms increased during the COVID shutdowns, making ordering delivery and asking peers to sign your cast daunting. This film was a refreshing counter-narrative on what anxiety looks like, demographically and behaviorally, said Stenberg, who shared an on-set story about the stakes of DEH.
Chbosky, the author of Perks of Being Wallflower, showed a letter to Stenberg that a teenager had written to him after reading the novel. The reader expressed how his suicidal ideation disappeared after reading Chbosky’s book. That book saved him, said Stenberg. After that experience, Stenberg said she felt the movie served as an opportunity for mental health representation, not tokenism.
“I was excited to be playing a Black girl who is on medication,” Stenberg said of her high-achieving teen character, Alana Beck.
There’s no one face or behavior associated with anxiety, Stenberg said. Stenberg said she’s been prescribed medication as a teenager but has only recently come to terms with the shame she felt about mental health.
The year isn’t the only context that’s changed. The medium by which this sensitive story is delivered has transformed from the live stage to the screen. Freedoms of editing and re-filming takes helped storytelling, said Chbosky, who felt ‘obsessed’ with the spotlighting of each character.
Via camerawork, Chbosky and Levenson said they more innovatively explored symbolism and imagery. The film’s juxtaposition between social media and nature – contrasting screens with sunlight as motifs – is about duplicity in the dark and authenticity in the light, said Chbosky.
“You can’t have truth without the lie,” said Chbosky.
The filmmaking medium aided in communicating the perils of presenting a fake self online, said Levenson.
“We wanted to play with the idea of how fast lies can spread online,” said Levenson. “How untrue things make you feel great and the complicated nature of that.”
Expanded audiences can enjoy the story now that it has transcended the Broadway medium. Though fans of the original musical will encounter changes to the original stage material, Platt said he thinks Evan’s move from the stage to the screen is a step towards accessibility. The message of DEH is magnified when more audience members are added to the conversation, said the Pitch Perfect actor.
“No matter what, it’s important for me to communicate that there’s nothing that makes you unlovable,” said Platt.
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