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Entrepreneurs Julie Kuo and Jennet Chow Speak Out on the Shoe Industry’s Role in Supporting Asian Inclusion

It’s time to speak out against the hate crimes directed at the Asian community.

That served as the overarching message of FN’s latest Instagram Live, where Avre Life president and co-founder Julie Kuo and Evolution Design Lab founder and co-CEO Jennet Chow joined FN’s digital news editor, Samantha McDonald, in a candid conversation about recent incidents of anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander violence — and the role of the footwear industry in supporting AAPI inclusion and representation.

“I’m angry,” said Chow, who is Taiwanese and was born in California. At a young age, she began working in her family’s footwear manufacturing business in the state and now has her own technology and design company, Evolution Design Lab. “I’m 40 years old, and I need to speak up… We are here to tell our story. We are activated.”

Chow also urged allies to use their platforms to bring visibility to the Asian community. “Call us. It’s making sure [the media] has our backs and cares about this,” she added.

Like Chow, Kuo worked in her family’s shoe business, which has been operating for 40 years. In 2019, Kuo launched her the sustainable shoe brand Avre with her sister, Connie.

During the conversation, both women discussed the stereotype of the “model minority” — predicated on the myth that Asian Americans represented the ideal immigrants of color to the U.S. because they were dutiful, had a strong work ethic and excelled in education.

“Culturally, a lot of us have been taught to keep our heads down and work hard. That’s why we’ve been so quiet for so long,” said Kuo. “We’ve been taught to keep our mouths shut and to let our actions and achievements speak for itself rather than actually using our voices. In doing that, we were allowing racism to continue. We were allowing people to think that it was OK to treat us the way that they were. Now is the time to implement the changes — that’s not going to happen if we stay silent.”

But the footwear industry also plays a part in raising awareness: According to Kuo, shoe leaders in the position to do so can “give a face” to Asian and Asian American individuals by helping elevating them or sharing their accomplishments.

“The fact that we’ve been dehumanized and not given an identity, it has led to the racism that’s occurred,” she said. “When you disassociate a person and don’t identify them as a human, it’s easy to discriminate. When you actually start giving a story to these people that conversation will [move forward], and the more we talk about Asian designers and Asian achievements, it will bring about change.”

Chow also pointed to the decision-makers’ role in promoting inclusivity in the industry. “Make sure there are positions of leadership with Asians,” she said. “It cannot look like the old boardroom of white men in suits.”

Watch the full interview below.

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