FINDING MY DESIGN DNA - AN IMMIGRANT STORY:

Grandma (Laolao) said: "Mimi, lai jie mama de dian hua" (“Mimi, come pick up your mother's call”).

5-year-old me climbed up the stool and picked up the phone call, "Wei, mama?” (“Hello, mama?”)

Shortly after, she asks, "Do you want to come to America?"

I'll never forget how those thoughts raced through my mind: “What is America? I've heard so much about this mei guo, but I don't know what it looks like. Is it like Japan? I missed Japan. It sure sounds like a magical place.”

"Hao a", I replied (“sure”).

In 2005, I landed in JFK. I changed my last name from “Liu” to “Zhao”. I saw blonde hair and blue eyes for the first time. I touched snow for the first time. Fascinated. Eager. Excited. Foreign. Is this a vacation? Am I here to stay?

Do I belong?

For the next three years, we carried an electronic dictionary everywhere we went and typed in every English word we saw. We got a lot of stares… not the best kind. The kind that made you want to stay home. Embarrassed, frustrated, anxious, but regardless, I forced myself to smile a lot, because saying the wrong words in English would be even more embarrassing. I often wondered, “Where are my friends? I want to go home. Home as in China & Japan.”

At school, we got laughed at a lot. When we tried to stand up for ourselves, they couldn't really hear us – they could only hear our Chinese accent and poor pronunciation. Gripped by fear and anxiety, I was reluctant to embrace my heritage, hesitant to speak Mandarin in public, embarrassed by my "foreign" lunch, non-American family members, scared to just show up as ME. Without the understanding of language and culture, everything felt limited. Your entire BEING felt limited. Who was I in this new world?

My Asian features, accent, mannerisms, family, bento box lunch, japanese anime-themed stationary – everything was being questioned at age 9.

Everything that I had once known and loved transformed into unconscious mockery in this new world steering me away from the experiences and people that I once called “home”. I quietly observed the cultural differences that made me feel like an outsider. In that struggle between two worlds, I learned the hard way, forsaking the very essence of my multi-cultural identity to blend in, aspiring to be seen as "American" as possible, to fit in at all costs.

On the outside, I wanted to fit in. On the inside, I could cry. I missed being me. Who was I and why was I caught in-between these two warring worlds? I promised myself right then and there that no matter where I went in the future, no matter who I found myself with – I would always make them feel safe, secure, and a-part-of.

Today, one of the first things I tell others when sharing my story is "I was born in Japan and raised in China". It’s a huge part of my story, and I’m so proud to be a first-generation immigrant. More and more over the years, I have come to realize that everything we experience, regardless of whether it came about by our own decision – was put in place to serve as a training ground.

I do not believe in coincidences, and I do not believe that you are where you are right now without deeper significance. I believe that our roots play a huge role in our calling, and the sooner we accept who we are, the more time we have to share our gifts.

After hearing so many coming-of-age immigrant stories seeking connection and belonging, I grew committed to turning these patterns into a community, a brand with a higher calling.

It’s interesting to look back... I see younger me who thought it was more convenient to run away in fear and follow was not me, versus accepting and embracing everything that was me.

The time has come to not only accept our personal truths but to use our personal platforms to share them with the world, because it is only when we do that that we are truly aligned with our highest selves. I know this to be true – our paths were meant to cross.

WHAT IS AKKI®?

AKKI® is a luxury fashion brand rooted in tasteful, heritage-driven design and personal story-telling.

An immigrant child's dream, a community where our stories feel wholeheartedly embraced and acknowledged. With an unwavering fascination for human emotions and behaviors, the brand DNA consists of three principals:

  1. Approach: Rooted in Japan's aesthetic philosophy of "wabi-sabi, (侘寂)" our intuitive approach embraces the beauty of impermanence, reflecting the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual realm.
  2. Dialogue: A heartfelt conversation between us and our ancient echoes: past vs. future, heritage futurism. Physical manifestation of Asian textiles and art, a tribute to the resilient spirit of human ingenuity and thousands of years of innovation.
  3. Silhouette: A reflection of emotions and lifestyle born from the vibrant streets of NYC, where no dreams are too big, bold, unapologetically us.

Every stitch, every line, every detail, we weave the intricate tapestry of emotions — hope, resilience, and the courage to embrace one's heritage. We're here to celebrate AAPI representation & connect the East and West for the next generation.

SIGNS ALONG THE WAY:

Hi, I'm AKKI, and this brand is something I've wanted to build since I was in third grade.

For most of my life, I've felt like an outsider. I want to share my story - I hope this inspires you to share yours, too. We are humans and we crave connection. We crave depth but we also run away from it. I've always known this: when you open up, others open up with you. Vulnerability is our power, and comfort and growth can't coexist.

I've never been a good writer, but I'll never forget the time I wrote about overcoming perfectionism as an artist in high school and my English teacher announced that we had one "A" in the class. When my paper got passed back to me, I was in awe. But this was also the experience I needed to confirm that when I'm passionate about something, there's nothing that will get in my way. Isn't it interesting, how looking forward, we can't see much but looking backwards, everything makes so much sense? When I look back on my journey as an artist, I see countless synchronicities along the way that served as “hints” towards the eventual launch of this brand:

Kindergarten in Amagasaki, Japan was full of naps, cold glasses of organic milk, sand-balls, and origami cranes. I spent hours every day perfecting how to make a sand-ball – yes, like a snowball but with sand and water. The second-best part of my day was picking origami paper and making paper cranes. The colors were beautiful. This was my introduction to graphics, rich prints, shapes, and color combinations. I loved working with my hands, and I disliked socializing. Oddly enough, I loved watching people interact with each other and seeing their emotions. I became obsessed with finding visual patterns around the room.

When I was five years old, I was living in Chong Qing, China, I would pull all-nighters drawing. My grandparents grew concerned. They would wake up in the middle of the night and tell me to go to bed. Most of the time, I didn't listen. “drawing what” you ask? Chickens, eggs, clouds, sun, flowers, grass, the best things I learned in class. As kids, we’re not conscious of our thoughts — but I knew this one feeling. This energy that transported me into another world: “flow state”. In those moments, time froze, and nothing could stop me and my pencil from creating something out of my imagination.

When I was nine years old, I was living in Framingham, Massachusetts. I was the new girl that barely spoke English, and I would often escape to doodling. In class, we had an assignment, “What do you want to be when you grow up?" - I drew myself next to a clothing rack and Google translated: "fashion designer" and wrote it down. Although I had no clue what that meant, no one in my family is in fashion or anything creative, an unreachable fantasy…I look back on this memory fondly today. Often feeling that I literally drew and manifested my future into existence.

Fast-forward to high school, my passion had been rewarded with over 20 scholastic awards in drawing, painting, mixed-media, photography, graphics – but being a fine artist wasn’t for me. I had heard of this all too often, especially in the Asian culture – "if you’re an aspiring artist, you will starve on the street". I pivoted my passions into graphic design & photographed on the side for the community. I even started a small business, customizing white sneakers, which also drew my future into existence - 8 years later at my first corporate role, I pitched sneaker concepts to global brands i.e. Nike, Adidas, New Balance, Puma, etc.

When prom came around, I couldn’t find a dress that truly spoke to me, so I asked my grandma to teach me how to sew 2 weeks before, and the rest is history.

I found that I am happiest when 1. I can create something out of nothing. 2. I'm able deeply connect with an individual.

I graduated from Fashion Institute of Technology in 2019 and jumped into a marketing role at Foot Locker North America. In 2022, I took a leap of faith to pursue this dream full-time, entirely bootstrapped. I decided that life is too short to not follow your gifts.

AKKI® is an AAPI woman-owned and operated business based in NYC.

MY DREAM FOR THE FUTURE:

To be honest, I care about luxury practicality and human connection more than anything. The questions I often ask myself are: “How will xyz change the way I see life? How will xyz change the way we feel?” When I was younger, the word “change” often scared me, but now it feels more exciting to follow the unknown, knowing that I’m in the driver’s seat. When you trust yourself and your capacity to handle any moment, change feels less scary.

My dream for AKKI® is to create a safe space and memory for as many people as I can. The goal is not to just impact your closet but your mind, a way of life: to open your mind to see bigger, dream bigger, and inspire you to tap into an experimental mindset. To run after your curiosity, and whatever you believe is worth pursuing, because you can. I can. We can.

The ultimate growth mindset is something I believe every person can achieve. This is my testimony to shine a light on what is possible. Because everything is possible, if we give ourselves permission – we are all humans with 24 hours. The mentality is the difference. When I hear a "no", I will find another way. If you care enough, you will find a way. If you care about your dreams enough, it will become a reality.

It has been said to "pay attention to what you pay attention to" and you will find your mission.

Growing up in three different countries, I've always paid attention to human behaviors and culture. The ways people interact with each other and why/ how that came to be. I believe that at our core, we are all very similar – we crave love, attention, and care. Nurture – however, has changed our perspectives, values, and beliefs. I'm fascinated by the effects of our environment and how the things we consume i.e. fashion & design can shape us, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually.