When I saw this viral text message earring over my Instagram feed modeled by incredibly looking womxn with their aesthetically pleasing profiles, I assumed it was just another trend influencers have delved into. Like the new fad of jewelry and a simple accessory.
What I didn’t decipher was these particular earrings were calling out men who fetishize Asian womxn. Ada Chen, the artist and jeweler, behind this approached Asian fetish through her very well-curated collection. The “Text Message” earrings blew up online due to its realness and relatability based on conversations we’ve all shared and experienced like one where it says “I’ve never been with an Asian girl before” / “And how do you feel about that? / I don’t know I’m kinda excited.”
Behind her brand’s minimal online presence is the fact that it’s a powerhouse. The San Francisco born artist is breathing new life into the jewelry industry confronting and shattering Asian stereotypes. The cut-throat yet playful designs built connectivity and over the course of months she’s been featured from Teen Vogue, Refinery, Fader, I-D and more — even with an extremely limited product line.
So what’s the story and driving force behind this remarkable demand and brand performance? It has a lot to do with the brand’s founder, Ada Chen. I was curious about her background and unique approach, so I interviewed her to hear her thoughts on everything from inspirations, identity, strategy, operations, and beyond. Here’s what she had to say:
Can you walk us through your brand and how you carved out its identity, aesthetic and audience?
My brand started as my thesis collection for my final year at Pratt Institute. I majored in jewelry and I wanted to find a way to express my exploration of identity in my craft. As an Asian American woman, I realized that our experiences had not yet heavily penetrated pop culture. My aesthetic is heavily based on that because it plays a significant role in popularizing identity politics and because it is highly accessible. The viral text message earrings is proof of that. Over the past year, I quit my full-time job to focus on growing my own business while working part-time for another jeweler. I have to say that making my work to cater to consumers is not as fun as making work for its own sake, without the pressure of money.
How have your experiences fed into your art and designs?
When I moved to Brooklyn for college, I noticed a significant change in how I exist. College explicitly showed me the difference between the Chinese American, native Chinese, and American identities. I felt closer to American students of different ethnicities than to international Chinese students with whom I shared my ethnicity. Because I was not surrounded by as much Chinese culture as I was in my childhood, I began appreciating details of Chinese culture that I didn’t realize were so significant. I wanted to, and still, want to express all of these details in the work that I began to feel pride in.
Well, I am absolutely in love with the text-based earrings. What’s the story?
Both earrings are based on real conversations I’ve had with non-Asian men who wanted to hook up. They were just so ridiculous and so representative of what Asian womxn have to deal with in the dating scene. I made my thesis collection to represent multiple aspects of being Chinese and/or Asian in America, and this piece represents the Asian fetish aspect of it. They are an explicit depiction of ignorance that I hope will stymie non-Asian men from being this disrespectful to Asian womxn.
It’s amazing. Super glad you included them. You sky-rocketed from these viral earrings!
It just kind of happened! They were so relatable that they became kind of a meme. I gained a lot of followers and most of them resonate with my voice and appreciate my approach to the concepts I apply. The support I’ve received has encouraged me to continue in the same vein and my goal is to work past my financial setbacks and to make new work that isn’t necessarily sellable but is powerful and compelling.
How do you think these, including the rest of your collection: “Made In China,” “Asian Pussy,” “Shrimp Dick,” contribute to some of the world’s bigger conversation?
I want my work to contribute to the conversation around Asian diasporas internationally. I want to expand my understanding of how my identity affects my own experiences as well as those who are not Chinese. I still have a lot to learn. I hope I can make jewelry that As/Am womxn can appreciate and value even if they might not be able to afford it. I aim to make jewelry that has value beyond its intrinsic, material value. I also want to be an example of a successful As/Am artist. I’d love for more Asian Americans to pursue art if they can, instead of succumbing to the pressure of pursuing a career for money.
Why is it important to you as a designer to bring your identity and highlight them in your works?
Because it’s an exploration of how I move through space and how my skin and culture affect my experiences. I want our community to talk in-depth about our positions in America, to actively participate in improving our communities, and to stop avoiding topics our immigrant families cannot and therefore fail to address. Ultimately, I want to highlight my identity in ways that we can be proud of it. I am jealous of the younger generation who are now experiencing the rise of Asian Americans in pop culture.
Any advice for the younger/next generation of designers?
Invest time in higher education in the arts if they have the means to and if they are passionate enough. The guarantee of financial stability is not so strong, but the chance to live a more fulfilling life is strong. Creating work for the self as a designer or artist is also crucial. Even if they have a full-time job to survive financially, making time to create work for themselves is a way to feel more accomplished and satisfied.
To wrap this up, what’s ahead for the brand?
I’m not sure yet, but my goal is to start making impactful work that does not simply cater to the consumer but contributes to the rise in Asian American pop culture.