Anh Le is a first generation Vietnamese American. Though Anh’s parents immigrated to the United States, their family has worked in Vietnamese garment factories exporting to the United States.
“I am Vietnamese and many women in my family have worked in Vietnam’s garment industry over the years, so I knew that if I ended up in the fashion industry after school, my design decisions might one day directly affect my family,” Anh said.
This intimate tie to the fashion supply chain led Anh to apply to Remake’s Made in Cambodia journey, hailed as the “peace corps” for young fashion designers. The experience of being in a country right next door to Vietnam, on the factory floors meeting women like their own “aunties” impacted Anh’s vision of the fashion industry and their role in it.
“I floundered for a bit after Cambodia. I was a little frustrated and confused, because I was still a student and not sure how much power I have in the fashion industry,” Anh admitted.
Anh thought back to their experiences meeting women makers and hearing their personal stories. In reflection, they realized that through personal stories we build empathy and over time inspire social change. So Anh refocused their thesis to be their personal story, a way of “fashioning identity through image making.”
“As a queer, Vietnamese child in small-town America, I realized my sense of self has always lived in multiple worlds at once; I exist in-between Vietnam and America, male and female, citizen and immigrant,” Anh said.
“Recognizing that there is little space for these identities to exist in mass media and entertainment, my goal was to create my own images as representation for myself.” Anh’s father modeled their thesis collection to explore the space one’s gender identity can inhabit without the restrictions of societal binaries.
Now graduated and starting their first job as a 3D designer for garment modelling software, Anh hopes to next research their own personal and familial connection to the garment industry in Vietnam.
“The trip [to Cambodia] has helped me plan out what my next steps are after Parsons. I am getting ready to apply for sponsorship to go to Vietnam and research garment work there,” they said.
The Remake journey also reaffirmed Anh’s commitment to source sustainable materials for their thesis garments. Seeing how clothing is made inside Cambodian factories made Anh want to ensure that the fabric they were selecting was manufactured responsibly with care for those who made it.
“Before Cambodia, it was very easy to fall into buying random fabrics that match my aesthetic and price point without caring much. It was hard to find things to prototype with that I could afford and I knew it would be an even bigger struggle to get final material that is ‘perfect’ and easy,” Anh said.
“Cambodia reaffirmed my drive to source with care, so I ended up reaching out to local mills and seeing if they could donate or sponsor my materials.”
Though the trip caused Anh to question their role within the fashion industry, they still are on path to being a fashion designer, with new commitment to bettering the industry and making it a better place for the women at the end of the supply chain to work.
“If I work the fashion industry and impact change, even if it’s at a snail’s pace, I’m still joining the garment makers in their fight.”