Representation Matters: East Asians Pushing to be Seen in the Global Fashion Stage

As the curtains close on Paris Fashion Week 2023, the City of Lights resonates with the electric ambiance that has come to define one of the world’s most prestigious fashion extravaganzas. Models strutted down the runways, designers unveiled their latest creations, and celebrities graced the front rows in spectacle of the new seasonal styles and innovations. Yet, amidst the glamour and the chaos, one Hong Kong influencer commands attention: Elva Ni, celebrated for her fashion sense and an Instagram following of over 828,000.   

“I am immensely grateful to be here, to be a part of something magical, and to connect with talented individuals,” says Ni during her commute to the Issey Miyake show. Since the commencement of Milan Fashion Week on September 19th, Ni has been documenting her journey to 17 fashion shows and sharing the latest fashion trends along with behind-the-scenes content. 

Her primary goal? To showcase the fashion scene to her audience back home in Hong Kong. “When I participate in these rare global events, I am not only representing myself; I represent the place I am from. I have a responsibility to bring fashion week closer to home so everyone can experience it,” Ni shares. 

Elva Ni at Issey Miyake SS24 Show. (Source: Elva Ni)

Ni also expresses her enthusiasm for proudly proclaiming her Hong Kong heritage to others at Fashion Week. “When someone asks me where I am from, I proudly say ‘I’m from Hong Kong’. As a Hong Kong influencer, I hope to create a positive image and show that Hong Kong can be at the forefront of the fashion world,” Ni explains. 

“When someone asks me where I am from, I proudly say ‘I’m from Hong Kong’. As a Hong Kong influencer, I hope to create a positive image and show that Hong Kong can be at the forefront of the fashion world.” – Elva Ni

Behind the Scenes with Miu Miu SS24 Show (Source: Elva Ni)

However, the path to the global stage is not equally accessible to all fashion enthusiasts and industry professionals. Isabelle Zhang, a 21-year-old Chinese accounting student and model, discusses her struggles to break into the global market. “I have been in the Hong Kong fashion industry for over 3 years, and I still haven’t made a personal breakthrough to model internationally,” says Zhang. 

Zhang believes that the strict requirements for models make it challenging to make a breakthrough in the industry. According to Backstage, female runway models typically stand at a minimum height of 176 cm, with a waist circumference 10 inches smaller than that of their chest and hips, while male runway models typically range in height from 183 to 195 cm, wear a size 40–42 top, and maintain a 32-inch waist. 

“I know that my height limits my opportunities to model internationally. The minimum height standard is 176 cm, but I am only 173 cm. It’s frustrating because this is not something I can control,” Zhang shares. 

During the Spring/Summer 2021 fashion week season, 41.3 percent of models were people of colour, according to The Fashion Spot, an online magazine that monitors diversity in the industry. The lack of representation of East Asians could also be attributed to the narrow standards imposed on Asians. “The East Asians that designers generally go for have stereotypical Asian features, with narrow eyes and pale skin,” Zhang states. According to Lise Shov’s article ‘Fashion-nation: a Japanese globalization experience and a Hong Kong dilemma,’ “The transformation of global fashion involved creating the image of “exotic Oriental (Asian) fashion.”

Isabelle Zhang Post Show CENTRESTAGE (Source: Hanna Vanharanta)

Nonetheless, there is optimism that efforts can be made to enhance the representation of Hong Kong in the global fashion arena, and the solution lies in social media. Ni believes that the reason she had the opportunity to attend fashion week was her substantial social media presence. “Social media breathed life into my fashion career. Without my platforms, no one could see the work I’ve done,” Ni shares. Zhang also believes in the power of social media in the fashion industry and has recently started sharing her modelling journey on her Instagram account, which currently boasts over 30,000 followers, and on 小紅書 (translation: little red book), where she has over 10,000 followers. “Ever since I started using social media, I have been able to secure various jobs, including my recent runway show,” says Zhang. 

Zhang recently walked in Hong Kong’s latest annual fashion event, CENTRESTAGE, representing the brand FETICO, a women’s fashion label founded by Emi Funayama from Japan. The four-day event, held from September 6 to 9, featured runway shows and seminars on fashion trends and sustainability.  

Video credit: Hong Kong Trade Development Council 

For Zhang, the experience brought newfound hope for the future of the industry she loves, and that while Hong Kong may not yet occupy the pinnacle of the fashion world, there’s still unwavering hope that one day it will. “Of course, it might take a while for Hong Kong to make it big in the fashion scene, but I do hope that one day when I attend fashion week, I can sit in a show by a Hong Kong designer and feel proud,” Ni shares. 

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