So today I sat down and had a quick rap session with Brian Yee, Co-Founder of Bok Choy Apparel (http://www.bokchoyapparel.com), an up-and-coming clothing company with a focus on Asian-American-themed apparel. Brian was kind enough to give me his thoughts on the relevance of their apparel and how they plan on giving back to the community through them.
So, tell us a little bit about Bok Choy Apparel.
BRIAN YEE: Bok Choy Apparel was officially formed in February of 2008. At the time, we had one design that we produced for a shirt, and we envisioned seeing many more through the network of artists we know. We also wanted to help some of the Non-profits and causes we were involved with and found that there was a high level of overlap between the two communities.
I noticed on the website that there is a focus on Asian-American artists and their work – was this a conscious choice on your part?
BRIAN: It was. We wanted to work with and provide for the Asian/Asian-American community to provide for the community and those who admire the culture. We have some great artists lined up whose designs strongly depict themes that people can identify with, as well as items and aspects unique to the Asian cultures.
You said that the designs would address themes that people identify with – does that mean you’re primarily targeting the Asian-American consumer?
BRIAN: Not exclusively, though I think people identify with things that are familiar to them.
What do you mean by familiar?
BRIAN: It’s hard to deny that our designs are specific to Asian culture. But Asian-Americans are individually dissimilar—we’re just providing images for which we can rally together for. Just the same, we want to our designs to be accessible to all groups. Our namesake Bok Choy is a vegetable that is supplied in grocery stores all across the United States. People regardless of race, ethnicity, or geographic location will recognize it.
There is another layer to it than its accessibility – there is also the meaning behind the name and the history of its recognition and prevalence in society that people can identify and appreciate. All of our designs exist like that; you don’t need to be from a specific group to enjoy the designs.
Okay, let’s switch gears – I’m getting the feeling that the company does have some goals in terms of what it wants to achieve. Do you mind elaborating on them specifically?
BRIAN: Like any company we would like to succeed and have some market share! We do feel that the Asian-American community is neglected when it comes to apparel, and we do want to address that. We want to provide an outlet for artists to create designs that they and their peers can relate to and be empowered by. There have been, sadly, a fair amount of designs by major labels that depict Asians in an offensive or misconstrued manner, and it’s a shame that the most recognized Asian-themed apparel right now is that design featuring two Chinese laundry men striving to be white.
A lot companies do promote “funny” tees, because they sell well. We see a lot of imagery making fun of things that are otherwise not politically correct in society. Would it different if Bok Choy were to sell tee-shirts with a similar type of humor targeted towards Asians?
BRIAN: It’s hard to say. It’s like comedians, who have to make jokes and make people laugh. You’re bound to upset people, no matter how good your intentions. What we do want is to have people be proud to wear our shirts, not just because they look good but also because it means something to them.
So your designs are meant to reflect a positive image of Asian-American culture, is that correct?
You spoke about helping out non-profits and causes earlier on – do you mind giving us an idea of what these are?
BRIAN: We currently work with Global Giving to provide earth quake relief for the Sichuan earthquake with sales from one of our shirts. The same goes for the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance (GAPA), for whom we designed a shirt for their 20th anniversary. The Chinese Culture Foundation is a non-profit that I have a stake in – their mission statement resonates with me and what our goals are for Bok Choy.
Thanks so much to Brian for taking time to answer my questions! For further inquiries, check out their website at http://www.bokchoyapparel.com, and vote on your favorite t-shirt designs.
If this topic interests you, please give a shout out in the comments section of https://nojuanhere.wordpress.com and tell me what you think as well as which Bok Choy shirt is your favorite! I will randomly pick one posters to receive their shirt of choice, and two others to receive an “I Heart China in American” shirt each. Promo ends on May 2, 2009. Multiple posts will be taken into consideration, so no spamming. Bonus karma points if “I Heart China in American” is your favorite!