Asian American fashion in Utah: appropriation appreciation and expression


Clothing is a means of expression and a way to represent culture. The presence of Asian American fashion is growing within the industry, and it is important to learn about where these trends are coming from.

Krecia Fullmer is a full-time freelance model, an interior design student at Ensign College in Salt Lake City, and a fashion blogger. She is also half Indian and half Vietnamese.

The combination of Krecia Fullmer’s passions: interior design and modeling. She is holding a pot of inspiration. She said she loves working with natural elements such as plants and stone. Photo by Emily Michelson.

Growing up in Utah, Fullmer saw her father as the odd one out. Other dads didn’t wear traditional Vietnamese slippers, silk pajamas, and button-up shirts with bright designs. She remembers degrading her father and telling him that was not how he was supposed to dress.

Fullmer said it is hard to embrace one’s culture when everyone around doesn’t accept it and makes fun of these cultural customs.

“My father was proud of his culture and a lot of the time my siblings and I were the ones to bully him because we didn’t think he fit in,” Fullmer said in a Zoom interview.

Fullmer began to appreciate her ethnic background and regrets the disrespect she showed her father. Now, she is proud of where she comes from — a mindset she learned to have from both her parents.

Fullmer gets to represent her culture through clothing and embrace it through modeling which she describes as a unique experience. She is working on a photo shoot with a Utah-based clothing brand that celebrates her mother’s history through Indian fashion. Her body will be painted with a henna tattoo and her face will be decorated with traditional Indian makeup.

The world of modeling can be very intimidating. It requires vulnerability. Fullmer finds herself comparing her dark skin, hair, and eyes to other models she works with, who often have light skin, hair and eyes. She reminds herself that companies want her to represent them because of her differences.

“I have the most confidence when I stop comparing and fully embrace my Asian American identity,” Fullmer said.

She brings diversity into companies. Fullmer loves how Utah brands are trying to branch out. They want to show their market that they can embrace diversity, and Fullmer has the opportunity to be the face of this change.

Fullmer said Asian trends are becoming more popular in Utah because similar standards of modesty are important in both cultures. She likes that her ethnicity and culture are represented in Utah, even if people don’t recognize it.

Whether it’s off-centered buttons down a dress or high neck collars, Fullmer said these examples show that Asian-inspired trends are rising especially within various Utah-based boutiques.

Because of beliefs within their Asian culture, Fullmer’s parents didn’t always support the idea of her chasing her passions of modeling and interior design. Her parents often led her to think that she couldn’t succeed and encouraged her to pick a more stable career in the medical field. 

The battle between passion and financial and career stability is also familiar to Andy Suh, a current student at Salt Lake Community College.

He is in the fashion design program but is planning to change his major to computer science. For him, having financial stability is important, and the main reason behind his degree shift.

“Fashion won’t be my career, but it will be a hobby I continue to pursue,” Suh said in a Zoom interview.

Both of Suh’s parents were born in Korea and then moved to California. Growing up there, Suh said he was surrounded by mostly white people. It was hard for him to accept his Asian American identity. He tried to immerse himself in “normal” culture and didn’t want to seem different.

During his high school years, Suh found his love for fashion which also became a way for him to accept and appreciate his Asian American identity. Scrolling through Instagram, seeing Asian influencers and high-end designers, he was inspired to create and sketch outfits.

Moving to Utah in 2019 was a challenging transition for Suh. There is a lot less diversity in Utah which caused some culture shock. Suh said It is harder to find Asian fashion in Utah than it was in California, but slowly he began to adjust. The representation of Asian American fashion could be better, he said. But he believes that is changing.

Social media, Anime, K-pop, and Asian American influencers are a few ways that Suh has seen Asian American fashion begin to be more accepted. The interconnection of fashion and other cultural aspects is helping to propel the change forward.

But, Suh said cultural appropriation happens a lot among high-end designers and haute couture fashion houses, which can strip traditional fashions of their cultural significance.

“This is a problem because a lot of trends start at the top and work their way down. We don’t need cultural appropriation being a part of those trends,” Suh said.

Kathy Tran, a University of Utah student and fashion lover, explains cultural appropriation as a lack of education and bad intent.

Paris is known as one of the fashion capitals of the world. Here, Kathy Tran visits the Louvre dressed as artistically as the museum she visits. Photo courtesy of Tran.

“If there is one Asian-inspired dress in a whole store, it’s cultural appropriation. If designers use an Asian pattern, copy a traditional dress such as an Ao Dai — a traditional Vietnamese garment — or use any part of a culture that isn’t theirs for personal gain, it’s stealing,” Tran said in a Zoom interview.

Tran loves her Vietnamese culture and wishes people would take the time to research it before they use a part of Asian culture.

Taking the time to learn where it came from, giving credit to the sources, and having respectful, good intentions are things Tran encourages everyone to do. These things can allow individuals to appreciate culture instead of appropriating it.

Despite growing up in a predominately white part of Utah, Tran stayed very connected to her Vietnamese identity. She went to a Catholic Vietnamese church, was taught to speak Vietnamese, and was surrounded by supportive friends and family.

Tran’s parents both worked full-time to have a successful life. Tran said her life has been very blessed because of them despite the challenges they faced.

“My friends all did tennis or dance. My parents couldn’t afford to put me in extracurricular activities and didn’t have the time to drive me to them,” Tran said.

Fashion and beauty became her passion and sense of identity. Everyone wears clothes and it was something she had access to. She remembers cutting her clothes and repurposing them after being inspired by YouTube videos.

Over the years, Tran became more confident in expressing herself through bold clothing and makeup. Music festivals are one of her favorite events to dress up for. Eccentric and avant-garde fashions are the norm at these festivals, and Tran loves that she can wear whatever she wants without the worry of what others might think.

Fullmer, Suh and Tran all have different positions in the fashion world and express their passion for it in various ways. It is an outlet for human connection and cultural expression. It is a time and place for education about Asian American culture, and an opportunity for fashion enthusiasts to embrace it.

“I love that we are in a day and age where I no longer feel that I have to divide my love for fashion from my Asian American identity,” Tran said. “I am learning how to embrace both and I hope everyone else can do the same.”

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