Prabal Gurung is taking a stand against the lack of diversity in fashion with his new ad campaign “Stronger in Color.” The Nepalese-American designer’s fall fashion campaign highlights an all-Asian cast of models and a majority Asian crew.
The casting allows for greater representation of Asian models in the fashion industry by celebrating women of the Eastern hemisphere.
“I’ve always believed in the power of visual representation,” he told HuffPost. “Growing up, I never saw someone who looked like me represented in Hollywood films or fashion photos in a desirable and glamorous way (or really represented at all to be honest.) I want to change this.”
Prabal Gurung said that he drew inspiration for the collection from his childhood in Nepal, where he was primarily raised by women. He was also inspired by the Gulabi Gang, a group of women who fight against violence against women in India, and China’s Mosuo ethnic group, a matrilineal society nicknamed the “Kingdom of Women.” In the Mosuo group, women traditionally own property, manage finances, and have full rights to their children.
"Our Fall collection was inspired by the strong, vigilant and graceful women I was raised by back home in Nepal and was an ode to the women of the Eastern world," he said. "Therefore, we wanted to dedicate our Fall campaign to casting talent that represents this part of the world."
Last year, less than 1% of lifestyle magazine covers in the US and UK featured Asian models, according to a study by Zava. Only 22% of magazines showcased women of color on their covers during the year.
Gurung told HuffPost that he believes kids should be able to “open a magazine or go on Instagram and be able to identify with the faces on the screen or in print.”
This campaign comes after the designer Claudia Li solely employed Asian models for her upcoming Spring line during New York City Fashion Week.
“As an Asian woman, I am automatically seen in a certain way. For me, it’s about recognizing that within a race, there is diversity as well,” said Li.“There is not one standard Asian beauty. Every Asian woman looks different, and there are different personalities. There is not a singular way of defining what Asian is.”
Other prominent figures in the fashion industry are paving the way for inclusivity.
For instance, Allure’s editor-in-chief Michelle Lee selected three Asian cover models for the magazine’s June issue. Before this, only two Asian models had graced Allure’s cover in almost 30 years and more than 300 issues.
Lee also spoke out about the lack of diverse representation in the modeling industry.
“There are a lot of people right now who still think that by putting one person of color within that mix, ‘Oh, great, I’ve checked off the diversity box!’ It’s like, ‘I’ve got my one Asian girl. We’re all good.’ A lot of people think about East Asians, but then it’s like, ‘Wait, but where’s your South Asian representation?” Lee told Fashionista. “When it comes to Asians, and just people of color in general, I feel like there’s still a lot of tokenism.”
Gurung shared similar sentiments with Lee about the need for inclusivity in the fashion industry.
“So many of the decision makers in this industry, those with ‘a seat at the table,’ don’t understand the nuances of race, or are totally apathetic, because it isn’t a part of their personal experience,” Gurung said. “It was a priority for us to represent a diverse range of Asia.”
Gurung said that while many people immediately think of East Asians when they think of Asia, he wanted to highlight the diversity of Asian culture, hiring models and crew members from China, Thailand, Nepal, India, and elsewhere.
The designer hopes that his and other efforts will make it so that diversity is the norm rather than the exception in the fashion world.
“The women are vigilant, resilient, and rooted,” Gurung said. “Our show, collection, and this campaign is our love letter to this heritage and spirit.”