Travel

How Sukeban Is Redefining the Japanese Concept of Delinquent Girl Gangs

Erika Bowes and Yuki Haze — the dynamic duo and founders of online platform Sukeban — discuss why feminism should no longer be the sole domain of white women, but include people of all color, gender, and creed.
Semua foto dari arsip Sukeban

This article originally appeared on i-D.

"Feminism does not only include women. Feminism does not only include white women. Fashion deserves to be feminist." Such is the manifesto of Sukeban, an online platform dedicated to showcasing the work of aspiring and like-minded creatives; a space for writers, stylists, artists, photographers, and designers to come together and collaborate, with a special emphasis on women of color.

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Drawing on their Japanese heritage, stylist Erika Bowes and photographer Yuki Haze named their collective after the Japanese term for "delinquent girl," which was usually bestowed upon the rebellious girl gangs of the 70s and 80s, who stopped at nothing to challenge traditional notions of femininity in Japan. Keen to challenge the current feminist narrative — which seems to champion white cis women only — and open it up to people of all color, gender, sexual orientation, and creed, the girls set up their platform in March earlier this year as a way of spreading their more universal interpretation of fourth wave feminism. Currently working on their second magazine, we caught up with the girls to talk growing up mixed race, breaking into the creative industries, and why feminism should no longer be the sole domain of white women.

Yuki Haze and Erika Bowes

i-D: What's the story behind Sukeban?
Erika Bowes: Yuki and I first met briefly at a party in London, but it wasn't until we were both in Tokyo visiting family that we were able to properly hang out. I was at a point in my life where I didn't know what to do; I wasn't enjoying university and I felt I was out of creative choices for a career. After hanging out more with Yuki in Tokyo, we realized we were in the same position and we also had more or less the same opinions on the fashion industry — what we disliked and liked about it. We touched upon the idea of starting some kind of movement for women, or an online platform to discuss issues of being a young creative and trying to break out into the industry with all the constraints we felt as a woman. It wasn't until we got back to the UK we really decided to make Sukeban legitimate.

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We started it to support up-and-coming creatives. We wanted to truly give them a platform to showcase their work and also a place to discover like-minded people. However, it was also very important to us to have a place for other young women of color. We wanted to have a website that actually portrayed diversity — whether in the written pieces or editorials — instead of promising it.

How have your backgrounds shaped who you are and what you do today?
Our mixed race heritage is really important to us. In fact, I think it's one of the things that we really first started to bond over — we're very different but we're equally passionate about our ethnicity and how it defines our identities.

In Japan, we often spoke about feeling excluded growing up. Growing up, we were never white enough, but being an Asian mixed race person meant that we were also almost never perceived as an actual person of color, whether as a child, or as an adult today. The mixed race identity isn't really a point or experience that's discussed at a large scale — and the Asian mixed race identity in particular is a bit of a weird experience sometimes. I say sometimes because everyone has a different experience, even the difference between us and our siblings' experience with their ethnicity is totally different.

We're lauded and put on a pedestal in most Asian countries — everyone wants that hafu look from dying their hair to a lighter shade to wearing circle eye lenses and having double eyelid surgery — while being pushed even further into the category of "honorary whites." But, conversely, we also experience being fetishized. Additionally, although hafu culture is intense in Asia, there's also a lot of ignorance when it comes to being 'pure' and 'not truly Japanese.' It's really confusing.

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Should one's gender determine one's creative output?
Gender is such a boring way to determine anything. Why should one's sex limit anyone in anything? Or define one's creativity? In saying that, we're not trying to marginalize the female experience — after all our magazine is feminist. It's just that, in an ideal world, it'd be great if gender wasn't such a restriction, a constraint. Women should have the ability to do things without being confined or defined by their sex.

Is fashion feminist do you think?
It would be nice if it was, but it's not. Fashion on a large scale invests its interests into what sells, and exploiting people's insecurities — especially women — is what sells. That being said, we have the utmost respect for actual people in the industry, of which there are many, who are not only extremely talented and hardworking, but also strive to push the boundaries in fashion which are set by industrial goals and general ignorance in the popular media.

Feminism is part of the cultural conversation in a way it's never been before. Why do you think this is?
People are starting to wake up and smell the bacon. Our generation in general is also so informed thanks to the internet and has the access and ability to reach lengths that we've previously, as young people, never been able to do before. We actually have more of a say and more of a drive to push what we want to see in the media. Additionally, big companies are beginning to realize that they can make a lot of money capitalizing on this trend, so they're also big contenders in pushing this wave.

What do you feel about this idea of feminism as a trend and that it's suddenly become cool to talk about?
Many people might argue that feminism as a trend is turning it into a glib, superficial version of what it actually is and stands for. Honestly, we're kind of happy that it's a trend because it actually spreads the word. Thanks to Beyoncé, her majesty, young girls can actually sit in class and be like "Yeah, I'm a feminist" and not be ridiculed by their peers — something we definitely weren't able to do in middle school. Feminism isn't some clique, some after school club that hands out invites only. It's the opposite of that.

What are you currently working on?
Our second print issue of Sukeban Magazine, as well as Sukeban Girls — which is the name for our photography and styling partnership.