Asian American Entrepreneurs: Overcoming Hate – “Use your voice. You matter.” An interview with Alice Kim.

This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Alice Kim, a fashion industry veteran of two decades. Alice has worked for brands such as Diane von Furstenberg, Prada, Victoria’s Secret and is now the founder of PerfectDD. Alice is a graduate of Dartmouth College and resides in NYC. Tell me about your business, and what […]

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This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Alice Kim, a fashion industry veteran of two decades. Alice has worked for brands such as Diane von Furstenberg, Prada, Victoria’s Secret and is now the founder of PerfectDD. Alice is a graduate of Dartmouth College and resides in NYC.

Tell me about your business, and what kind of work you do. 

PerfectDD is a sustainable womenswear brand that accommodates DD+ cups and a small frame. Designing styles with a woman’s chest in mind, we create flattering tops, providing options when you don’t want your chest to be a distraction. Our styles have feminine shoulder details that comes in black, white and grey – versatile for every day, made in sustainable fabrics. Our launch capsule includes Zoom-friendly tee, sweatshirts and button-downs, $65-145.

As a size 32DD, I started PerfectDD out of a need to solve my own problem of finding tops that fit both my large chest and small frame. Clothing options for women with this body type are limited – if it fits our shoulders, buttons pop open and shirts pull across our chest, or if we size up, we look bigger than we are. 

Even at DVF, whose wrap dresses are famously curve-friendly, I found myself having to safety-pin the dresses so my boobs wouldn’t spill out. Most designers don’t factor boobs into their designs, or think that having a large chest means you’re plus size (wrong!). The average bra size in the U.S. is a 34DD which means there are millions of women just like me who do not fit into standard sizes or plus sizes.

I was determined to create a solution to make getting dressed easier. And change the dialogue around body shaming boobs. My goal is to make fashion more inclusive and empower women to feel confident about their body – when you look good, you feel good. No longer do we have to get clothes tailored or settle with looking frumpy. Our mantra: getting dressed should be easy, so you can focus on being a boss! 

What unique challenges have you experienced as an Asian-American in business? 

Having been in corporate America for two decades, there are very few Asian Americans, even fewer Asian American women, at the C-level. Data shows Asian women are least likely to hold corporate supervisory positions within three reporting levels of their companies’ CEOs. Last year, across all Fortune 500 companies, Asian-Americans accounted for only 8% of new directors. Despite tenure and exceeding performance, there was a ceiling at the companies I have worked for. 

This led me to start my own company to cut through the bureaucracy and develop a more inclusive culture, however, I discovered similar challenges in the startup community. There is a clear discrepancy in obtaining funding among ethnicities. From the 30 person accelerator I was a part of, upon completion, the majority of Caucasian entrepreneurs were able to raise funding while the minorities lag. The reason? First and second generation entrepreneurs lack the connections and network that many of our Caucasian counterparts in business have. To level the playing field, we need more diverse talent at the top level. 

Although progress has been made in over the last decade promoting minority owned businesses, Asian Americans are often left out of the diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Other challenges? Overcoming stereotypes. Asians are known to be quiet, we do what we are told. Furthermore, Asian females are known to be meek. Well, this Asian American is different and speaks her mind.

Last year, at the inception of BLM, I spoke up in my startup community to stand with our Black brothers and sisters. I was immediately silenced and called “aggressive” by the white male program director. Upon intervention and further discussion, what made him feel uncomfortable was not what was said but who said it. I am Asian. I am female. He felt entitled. He probably would’ve never used that word with another race. 

I share this to show discrimination does not only happen with strangers. Sometimes, it is not overt. This happened with someone I trusted and respected as a leader in my startup community. He treated me differently because of the color of my skin. Only when we bring these stories to light can we begin to change stereotypes.

Have you experienced a noticeable difference in discrimination since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?

On a professional level, I have not experienced a noticeable difference in discrimination since the onset of Covid-19. However, on a personal level, walking the streets of NYC has become much more dangerous. I have been a victim of violence where a homeless man came from nowhere shouting racial slurs and socked me in the stomach with his bags. 

How do you cope with discrimination, and what might you suggest to other Asian-American professionals who might be facing the same discrimination?

I would love to tell my fellow Asian Americans to speak up. Use your voice. You matter. It is important to share your story and have someone you can speak to. Not only is it a healthy outlet for youself, but it can validate others facing similar discrimination and raise awareness to those who may not have known otherwise. 

When I shared my story of how I was attacked, several of my (non-Asian) friends were in shock and have commented they thought Asian hate was made up by the media. The outpouring of support and love was heartwarming.

What are some of the key factors in overcoming acts of discrimination?

Exposure to people and cultures different from you are key to overcoming discrimination. People are uneasy with the unfamiliar and often make incorrect assumptions. We also need to change the narrative that equality and justice for one group does not take away from another. There is space for all of us. 

What can non-Asian Americans do to support their Asian American friends and colleagues who are facing discrimination in the workplace or on the street?

The best thing non-Asian Americans can do to support their Asian American friends and colleagues to check in on them and listen. Defend and speak up for your colleagues if it is safe to do so. It can give perspective to the offender. Allyship is crucial as we need the support of the majority to affect change.  

To follow Alice’s entrepreneurial journey, connect with her on LinkedIn, Instagram, or follow her company’s Instagram.

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