The WOW Magazine Sets to Uplift Asia’s Vast Creative Talent

It is an arduous path for most independently published magazines, let alone those that seek to fill the gaps of an already oversaturated media market. For editor-in-chief of The WOW Magazine, Wei Liu the risk was well worth the creative rewards when he first set out to conceive the magazine’s focus on celebrating the vast array of modern Asian culture and represented talent in the UK. “Asian is one of the largest races of the world’s population, but diverse images of Asians are rarely included in Western magazines and other forms of Western media.” Since its inception, the magazine has aimed to change that troublesome statistic by featuring models and creatives that embody the immensely vast territory that Asia includes. We spoke to Liu about how he got his start, the power of visibility, and how his platform is consistently aligning with the best established and rising model talent.

Image courtesy of The WOW Magazine

How did you first start in fashion and what led to creating The WOW Magazine?
I was discovered by Vogue China Fashion Director, Yuhang Yao. She noticed me posting on Weibo about Chinese models working overseas and in fashion weeks back in 2010 when I was doing a master’s course in Seoul. She reached out and asked if I was interested in writing for them; I was elated and said yes immediately. I’ve been writing for them ever since.

I always dreamed of creating my own magazine, but I didn’t think it would ever happen. It wasn’t until I enrolled in a master’s course in Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion that I learned how to produce a magazine – I was also so overwhelmed by the existence of the world of small independent publications but one thing bothered me. I couldn’t find any Asian faces on the big titles in the UK. I remember when The Gentlewoman’s editor in chief, Penny Martin gave us a guest lecture: I am a big fan of the magazine and it inspired me a lot, but they never featured Asian faces on their cover. I made up my mind to create The WOW Magazine for fellow Asian people. There are currently no high-end magazines exclusively for Asian women. There is a complete lack of Asian representation in Western magazines and other forms of Western media, but here at The WOW, we allow them to be seen in a different light and to be fairly represented.

What type of talents do you look for when interviewing for feature stories at The WOW?
The WOW is a biannual magazine, each of our issues has a specific topic. I usually ask myself two questions when it comes to the interview features: do they fit the topic of this issue? and will the reader get inspired after reading their story?

How were you first able to cultivate a creative list of contributors as an emerging magazine?
I first started looking for local contributors in London through Instagram. I was rejected by countless photographers, stylists, PR representatives and even modeling agencies in the beginning, no one would want to collaborate with you because when you’re an unheard, new magazine, you are nobody – not to mention, I couldn’t afford to pay them. I kept trying until I got a few photographers on board, then I started slowly building the team, one by one. I am really appreciative of their support. Without them, I wouldn’t have been able to produce the first issue.

Things started getting better when I was preparing issue 2, some of the contributors reached out to me because they saw my first issue, and I also started using to search for photographers outside of the UK. We were lucky to get more attention and support issue after issue. A rather important part of the process is to build and grow your profile, showing others (potential collaborators or readers) that you are actually doing something meaningful. I think it’s also vital to give the contributors certain freedoms to create their works based on your vision.

Image courtesy of The WOW Magazine

How do you showcase various forms of beauty through your publication?
I am trying to be as inclusive as I can and am always happy to offer a platform to showcase all kinds of beauties since the first issue. I had a shoot with Thai-Swedish curvy model Lovisa on our first issue, and it’s rare to see a curvy Asian model, even today. Asian people have so many different ethnicities and cultures, it’s impossible to feature them all in one magazine, but I still want to cover the whole Asian and mixed-Asian community. The WOW is not only for people of Asian background in a global context but for anyone else who is interested in its cultures and their respective stories.

In 2 years, you’ve had a diverse cast of top models, actors, and designers such as Dipti Sharma, Sui He, Dara Allen, Yoon Young Bae, and Kiko Mizuhara on the cover of your magazine. Why do you think Western fashion media has traditionally been sluggish in giving solo covers to Asian models or actresses?
Asian is one of the largest races of the world’s population, but diverse images of Asians are rarely included in Western magazines and other forms of Western media. Asians are often not on the cover option list unless they won an Oscar or signed with a major fashion/beauty brand. Western media is just generally not interested in having Asians on their covers and they might also fear Asian faces won’t bring them sales. Most minorities and their subsequent representation are seen as transactional: as a person of colour, you must achieve a certain amount before you’re granted anything in return. I still remember the interview I had with British-Chinese actress Jing Lusi for Issue 1. She said Asian representation is where black representation was 10-15 years ago, and I can’t agree more, there is a long way to go.

Image courtesy of The WOW Magazine

How can the representation of Asian women and their cultures open up the conversation of inclusivity and the power of speaking up?
With little to no representation within Western media, it’s difficult to regard yourself as seen or understood, and that ultimately impacts how you see yourself and your relationship with the world around you. I think by representing Asian women, we give power and voice to those who are generally erased or pushed into incorrect and reductive stereotypes.

Inclusivity and representation cannot progress when Asia is seen in such a monolithic way. It’s important to push this narrative because there’s already so much erasure in Western media, for example, when Hollywood doesn’t cast the correct ethnicity for roles it reduces entire populations of people and their histories.

Although Asia is huge and is home to so many different ethnicities and nationalities, it is largely considered as a monolith in the West. Asia is so much more than just China, Japan, Korea, and India. Each culture and each individual, whether they’re in their native country or part of the diaspora will have their own struggles, their own ideas, and their own relationships. Without acknowledgment of individual cultures and nationalities and ethnicities, you cannot progress, intersectionality is so important. By providing a platform that allows Asian women to voice their opinions and speak about their situations, we facilitate conversation and hopefully help others who relate to what has been said to speak up or talk about it more freely.

With the rise of anti-Asian racism, how has your platform been able to dismantle negative stigmas and share the broad range of Asian creatives’ experiences?
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about Asians. It comes from years of negative stereotyping, misinformation, and oppression which are all byproducts of racism, not to mention the fact that Asians are being forced into a monolithic identity. The WOW tries to explore the different experiences of Asian individuals, it’s about shedding light on topics you don’t know about or that you know a little but want to learn more.

There has been a huge spike in anti-Asian sentiment recently due to COVID and this is only exacerbated by Western media pushing harmful narratives about Asians – they’re sometimes subtle but they’re there. Dismantling negative stigmas starts with learning and education. There’s a long way to go and I definitely acknowledge that, but by providing a platform for Asians to talk about their experiences, we start somewhere. Creating a space where Asian creators have the freedom to talk about stories and experiences, you are able to give voices to people that were traditionally silenced or whose voices have been diminished. It builds awareness and allows for people to speak without harmful agendas of spreading hate or misinformation, it comes from the source: those who are being discussed and oppressed, which can help change the conversation. Anti-Asian racism, of course, is going to take a long time, if not forever, to overcome. The WOW hopes to increase the visibility of Asians and to inspire and help readers to create conversation and remind individuals of their importance, their beauty, and their own strength. Visibility helps a lot; it brings people power.