Prabal Gurung, the Nepalese-American designer, has been a vocal proponent of inclusion and diversity since his first show in 2009. In the wake of the Atlanta shootings and an upswing in anti-Asian violence, he talked to The New York Times about his own experiences and what his work has to do with it.
How do you grapple with what’s going on?
To watch a video of a 65-year-old woman being brutally attacked is triggering and heart-wrenching, not just for me but for my friends and people from my community. We all are so worried for our loved ones. My mother goes on walks every morning and evening. She’s 75-years-old. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a blond wig for her, and I said, “You know, just wear it when you go outside, wear a hat, wear glasses.” She tried it on. But the next day she came over to my place, and she was like: “I’m not going to wear it. Just buy me a big, strong cane.” That is the reality of this.
Is that why you were an organizer of a Black and Asian solidarity march with other designers and activists in March?
We didn’t know how many people were going to show up, but thousands and thousands of people showed up across races and gender: L.G.B.T.Q. friends, Latin friends, Black friends, Asian friends, white friends. What we recognize is that for this particular moment to turn into a movement, we have to have all the marginalized groups and our white counterparts coming together.
Oh, a wave of Asian designers.” Then there’s a wave of Black designers, a wave of women designers. We never say a wave of white designers. We are never considered designers on our own. So that kind of implicit bias, that kind of microaggression, we face it all the time.
Did you experience it when you were trying to get financial backing for your business?
For my 10-year anniversary I was at a potential investors meeting, and one asked, “What does the brand stand for?” I said: “The America that I see is very colorful. The dinner table that I see is very colorful. It’s diverse. That’s the America that was promised to me. That’s why I came here, because I was a misfit back home.” And he says to me, “Well, you don’t look American.” I looked at him, and I was like, “You mean to say I don’t look white?”
“It’s OK,” I said. “I’ve been in business in America for 20 years. I’m a citizen. I make more than 90 percent of my clothes in New York City. I am actively involved in social causes. I’ve contributed to my taxes.”
torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the U.S. began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Community leaders say the bigotry was spurred by the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus.”