The main argument made by Chinatown Market’s critics was that Cherman hadn’t thought hard enough about the name in the first place. “He’s a white man, so, naturally he’s privileged,” says Vicki Ho, who works in social media and founded the Asian culture and fashion magazine Banana Mag. “It’s likely he didn’t think about his own impact. But now that you know, do better. And he has the ability to influence others to do better too.”
“If you’re going to put a design on a shirt, and it takes a piece of a different community, then that will open up a dialogue whether you mean to or not,” she added. “If you don’t want to have that conversation, don’t have that graphic on your T-shirt.”
Cherman says he’ll announce the new brand name later this summer, and that all proceeds from goods that have Chinatown Market branding will be donated to nonprofits that benefit the AAPI community. (The company recently posted an update on its renaming, thanking its partners in that community, while its Instagram page—@chinatownmarket—continues to promote Chinatown Market-branded products.) “Because to give respect, and to leave legacy behind the right way, we need to actually make sure that we’re affecting the community in the right way,” he said. “Not just walking away, saying, ‘Cool, we changed the name and nothing’s wrong.’ We know that.”
This represents a marked shift. Once it was enough for brands to make cool clothes and, ideally, a profit. Today’s young consumers, however, want the brands they buy from to align with their political and social beliefs. Some companies, like Patagonia, bake this sort of activism into their core philosophy. But others, especially streetwear brands, are suddenly expected to have a political stance, which can be difficult to forge as an afterthought.
“The popularity of Chinatown Market was never about the name, it was about the signature style and voice the brand had, and the self-aware, tongue-in-cheek way they talk about themselves and what they make,” Deleon said. “Mike could have called it Bootleg Market or Los Angeles Apparel Brand from the start and I don’t think it would have been any less successful. I think the name change is a step in the right direction, but their complicated history with their previous name now means they have to hold themselves accountable to the work they’ve started doing, and have pledged to continue to do.”
Bush is, of course, happy that Cherman is changing the name—it was the explicit request of his campaign—but when I asked him if he was happy with the outcome, he was conflicted. “I don’t feel great about how it ended,” he said. “I didn’t want to tear the brand down. It’s funny: they did everything I asked for, they’re changing their name, they’re donating the proceeds to Chinatown. But I’m not happy with how it turned out.”
In response to criticism of the slow speed with which he responded, Cherman said there were conversations happening behind-the-scenes that were nuanced and difficult—he wanted to speak to his employees to hear their thoughts, and anyway, changing your brand name isn’t a snap-your-fingers sort of decision. After all, that sort of quickfire response had led him here in the first place.
In today’s world where fashion controversies operate at the breakneck speed of social media, public debacles like this can obscure more nuanced daily actions that take place offstage. “I’ve known Mike Cherman for a while on a personal level,” said Deleon. “I know the ways in which he’s helped give kids who look like me opportunities behind the scenes and also on social media, and how he’s also been a low-key figure whose access to manufacturing and willingness to help people out through making lines for aspiring brand owners.”
“He’s having the right conversations,” he continued. “And now it’s about the actions that will result from them.”
While the situation is on its way toward resolution, it’s hard to point to a real winner or loser. Bush got what he wanted, but doesn’t feel vindicated. Cherman admits that the original name was misguided and vows to change it, but he’s no villain. Even many of the comments on the Chinatown Market post announcing its name change include many commenters—some of them members of the Asian community—criticize the decision.
But for now, Mike Cherman is taking his first steps toward whatever comes after Chinatown Market, and the rest of the streetwear scene is no doubt watching.
“It’s more than just the name,” says Ho, of Banana Magazine. “It’s bigger than him at this point. A lot of eyes are on him at that point. And that’s an opportunity, really, to step up and do better.”
Source by www.gq.com