Tommy Lei on Finding Truth, Belonging
Words by Ry Lei
Published Dec. 21, 2018
Multi-hyphenate Tommy Lei grew up literally surrounded by clothes, but it took a while for him to get to a point where he began to regard clothes and fashion as an art form.
“As newcomers to the United States as immigrants, my parents had to scrape by taking on odd jobs for clothing manufacturers,” he told Aspirants. “For a long time, I actually resented fashion. It wasn’t until college that I started to develop a sense of style.”
It still wasn’t love. A lot of that developing style was attributed to the need to layer up.
“The conflicting love I harbor toward fashion is what ultimately prompted me to initiate a dialogue about how our material belongings actually become a style identity,” recalled Lei.
Then came MYBELONGING, an exploration of sorts that grew to be his official brand. It’s “an extension of an interactive conversation on what it means to be essentially and unapologetically you.”
Growing into pride and learning acceptance have affected every aspect of his life, too.
“As Asian-Americans, we are culturally-predisposed to amplifying all of our insecurities. It’s true that we often are our own worst self-critics; in the long run, this deep-seeded criticism can do more harm than good.”
That message is something he takes with him wherever he goes, to photoshoots, to the studio, to home, and it’s all shown through his growth as a creator.
Those are words he’d go back in time to tell himself in college, too. Believe it or not, Lei wasn’t always planning on going into fashion and marketing; he was studying to become a clinical psychologist, but he knew that path was never meant to be.
What he hopes others take from his art is that fashion and style aren’t exclusive to the elites: they never have been.
See the rest of the articles from issue four here.