At Ally Maki's Asian American Girl Club, All Are Welcome
- Sep 9, 2020
Long before Ally Maki appeared in movies and TV shows like Toy Story 4, Cloak & Dagger, and Wrecked, the Japanese American actress was hitting the club. And no, not the high heels, music-blaring, vodka cran kind of club, but actual extracurriculars. "When I was younger, I was totally the club girl, and not the club girl who's going to the club, but the activities girl," she tells ELLE.com over Zoom. "My mom put me in every after school activity: Brownies, Girl Scouts, baseball, drama, everything."
As a fellow club girl and Asian American, I knew what it was like being thrown into activity after activity, hoping something would stick—and being disappointed when it didn't. "In every club that was designed to be inclusive, I always felt excluded," Maki explains. "Now as an adult, I look back and I get it. It was because there was no one there who looked like me. There was no one there who shared that depth of experience and identity."
In 2018, Maki founded Asian American Girl Club, her answer to the exclusion she felt growing up and experiences even now, as an actress in Hollywood. The fashion and lifestyle brand aims to redefine the modern Asian American woman through normalization and unity. AAGC's popular Instagram account showcases its vibrant members, proudly wearing the brand's T-shirts. "I wanted to change the narrative of what a club should feel like, what a club can be for you, your self-worth, identity and confidence," Maki adds.
Ahead, Maki talks AAGC, her special relationship with Olivia Munn, and why it's important for Asian Americans to be allies to the Black community.What prompted you to start Asian American Girl Club?
It was really after Crazy Rich Asians came out. That morning, I remember looking on Twitter and it was just this explosion of support and excitement around this movie that was the first all Asian American cast I'd seen in my lifetime. I had this glass-shattering moment of, if this is possible, what else is possible for us as a community? What I wanted to dive further into was Asian American women.
This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.How did your experiences as an actress help inform this project?
Well, I grew up in Kirkland, Washington, as the only Asian American within my town. I dreamed of being Tiffani Amber Thiessen, these California girls. And when I moved to LA to pursue acting, all of a sudden these boxes were put around me. "Oh no, you're not that. You're going to play the sidekick or the best friend or the girl who loves math or the over-sexualized ninja girl who does kung fu."
With female friendship, especially among Asian American women, I felt like we were so separate from each other. When you're in the industry and you're all trying to fight for that one role, it does end up feeling like The Hunger Games. You start to look at your own community as your enemy, which is completely wrong. We're actually going to be so much stronger if we unite and work together, collaborate, and share our thoughts and feelings.
This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.What’s it like seeing the community grow and be embraced by so many women?
Asian American Girl Club
Asian American Girl Club (Unisex Black Tee)asianamericangirlclub.com
It's absolutely incredible. When we launched, I had no idea what it was going to be. I was with a couple of people and they were like, "Just release the logo, see what happens." So at 10:30 at night one night, we dropped a logo, made an Instagram.
The next morning, our inbox, DMs, were flooded with girls from all over who were writing these college-style dissertations on identity and what this meant to them. They were like, "We don't know what this is either, but we just are so happy that this exists." From there, the shirts were really just this expression of friendship. "Hey, I see you. Here's a shirt, let's rock this together proudly." I've been taking the first two years to really get to know the community, taking a very multi-generational approach.Olivia Munn is a huge supporter of the brand. How did she become an ambassador?
She's so proud of her Asian identity. We connected through our friend, Amanda Ngyuen. We were together helping support Rise, Amanda's foundation for sexual assault victims. She was like, "Hey girl, do you want to go to lunch?" She literally hit me up in the DMs, and I love that because I always say, I go down in the DMs, but only with female friendships.
So we ended up going out to sushi and through that lunch, we were just like, "Oh my gosh, I totally see you.” And it was funny, she was like, "Wait, hold on. You founded Asian American Girl Club? I just put in an order last week." And she showed me her receipt. She was already a fan of the brand and since then, she's been an incredible supporter.
This content is imported from Instagram. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.Growing up, I never had anything like AAGC, where I could view myself in a really cool, contemporary way. How did you create that space?
A huge facet of our mission is normalization of the modern Asian American woman. A few years ago, I would search the #AsianAmerican hashtag, and it would be pictures that I didn't feel fully expressed the plethora and incredibleness of Asian American women. So I wanted to be able to say, if you go on Instagram, we are flooding you with images of what we can be and how beautiful we are.
And that's why we have the undefinable statement because you can't define us. We are not in boxes. We can be anything that we want. You see Sandra Oh nominated for an Emmy, you see journalists, of course doctors, writers, authors, but really across the gamut, we're killing it and we've been here. My family is four generations, so we've been here for so long.
There's so many instances in history where the Black community has shown up for the Asian American community. And I think we have this platform, we just need to tell people and encourage them to learn, because we're not reading about it in our history books.
For me, it's the biggest privilege to be able to share stories, especially the [story of] Japanese American people, but also to use my voice to become an ally for the Black Lives Matter movement and for the Black community.
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