AAPI Heritage Month: Designer Brands’ Juhee Jang on What Makes an Effective Employee Resource Group

For AAPI Heritage Month, FN is spotlighting Asian American and Pacific Islander executives, entrepreneurs and designers as part of its ongoing commitment to champion diversity across all areas of the footwear business.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-Asian attacks continue to be on the rise. While the Asian American-Pacific Islander community remains in fear, many have felt empowered to speak up against injustice — including Vince Camuto senior design director Juhee Jang.

The executive serves as chair of Designer Brands’ new business resource group for associates who are Asian or Pacific Islander in heritage, alongside Camuto Group CFO Billy Wong and EVP of design and marketing Tsering Namgyal, both of whom are executive co-sponsors.

“Our objective is to build a sense of community and develop meaningful programs that accelerates growth and really shines a light on the Asian talent by creating mentor and leadership opportunities and just celebrate the culture that we come from,” Jang told FN. “The most important thing that we’ve been trying to achieve through all of this is a sense of empowerment and honest conversation and community.”

Listening to peers and understanding personal journeys are key pillars for the group. In fact, Jang recounted a defining moment that propelled her to lead the AAPI business resource group: She shared that a fellow team member gifted her a self-defense tool after she mentioned that she had felt uncomfortable commuting in New York.

“There’s this constant stress weighing on your shoulders because you’re always looking around. I’ve lived in New York for 10 years, and I’ve never felt as unsafe as I do now,” she added. “The silver lining is when you get to work — especially if you are in an environment where you feel included and are with people who are listening and you know they have your best interests at heart. For me, it’s been a lighthouse destination.”

Born in Seoul, Korea, Jang grew up in Hong Kong and in Vancouver, Canada, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from The University of British Columbia. She then headed to the U.S. to pursue fashion at Parsons School of Design in New York.

Growing up Asian, Jang explained that a career in fashion wasn’t encouraged by her family, but nevertheless, supported. She ended up making the jump into design and interned at Sam Edelman. In 2014, she joined Camuto Group as a private-label designer, working on footwear for Just Fab, Lord & Taylor, Saks Off Fifth, All Saints and Enzo Angiolini. She also launched exclusive brands for DSW after Camuto Group’s acquisition by Designer Brands Inc. before moving to Vince Camuto as senior design director this year.

Maneuvering through the corporate world as an Asian woman has brought on several challenges — especially when it came to her sense of belonging.

“In the past, I’ve struggled with overcoming this notion of being this workhorse and somebody who does the work but isn’t fit for leadership or isn’t empowered to be looked at in that way. The performance is always expected. But then you are never taken seriously for leadership positions,” said Jang. “I always saw people of color, especially Asian-Pacific Islander community members, cap off at a certain level. That also fed into the insecurity. If you don’t see people that look like you up there, do you really feel like you belong?”

That was the crux of the AAPI business resource group at Designer Brands — to provide a platform for members of the community to be seen, heard and advised on how they can advance into leadership roles.

“Diversity has to be consistent,” said Jang. “This can’t be some curve that just immediately downtrends after some sort of Band-Aid is applied; it [needs] a long-term solution. All the different opinions and different backgrounds only enriches us as a whole. We need to hone in these experiences and educate ourselves.”

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