Founded in 2021, the Asian American Pacific Islander Design Alliance engages, promotes, and empowers Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders working within the home and design industries. We talked with Jessica Davis, co-founder and owner of Atlanta-based Atelier Davis (who was also just named to Elle Decor’s A-List for 2022) about how AAPIDA and its five mission pillars—advocacy, awareness, collaboration, dialogue, and mentorship—came to be.
“I always felt the world of high-end residential interior design is very Euro-centric,” says Davis, the daughter of a Taiwanese immigrant. Davis grew up in Hong Kong but moved to Dallas, Texas, during her middle school years. Attending a highly affluent, primarily white school where she and her brother were among just a handful of Asians triggered her advocacy for Asian inclusivity and acceptance at a young age.
Fast forward to starting her design firm here in Atlanta in 2019 (her home was the cover story of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME in winter 2020), she describes how “all of these things culminated, the shootings in Atlanta, and a lot of hate crimes towards AAPI people. It just made me think a lot more about that: How do we advocate for people in the industry that I’m in?”
“So, I started talking to a couple of friends who were also Asian and in the design industry,” says Davis, who had previously worked with New York-based interior designer Young Huh and sought collaboration after Huh sent a newsletter for AAPI month in 2021. Davis and Huh then wrangled a group of people together to start AAPIDA. “It was a year of phone calls and talking through what we wanted to do,” says Davis. The original founding members include Davis, Huh, design PR specialist Go Kasai, Dowel Furniture CMO Joanne Lee, Elle Decor and Town & Country contributing editor William Li, interior designer Jean Liu, and Interior Define creative director and Domino contributing editor, Benjamin Reynaert.
Currently, AAPIDA is “figuring out a formal structure for its organization,” says Davis, who helped kickstart their debut at the Schumacher showroom in New York this past May. The event was moderated by Reynaert, with assistance from fellow member Kasai.
“Seeing other people who are making it in the industry who also come from a similar background is so important,” states Davis, who, along with Huh, have both experienced a lack of inclusivity and mentorship in their design careers. “Many of us also come from backgrounds where our parents are more traditional and do not approve of our career choices,” explains Davis, adding how vital and “helpful it is to see other people in the industry who are successful. It sets a good example.”
“Now, we are starting to recruit more members and think about committees and local chapters as well as other local events we can do, and what we would like to potentially raise money for,” adds Davis.
“It all started very loosely; we are still early on and figuring out more structure,” says Davis, adding, “our main goals are to promote awareness, inclusivity, and collaboration within the AAPI design community with access to mentorship and scholarships.” As AAPIDA expands and becomes more formalized, Davis plans to allocate committees to each sub-cause. For example, one sector will spearhead education and scholarships, while another will manage new member recruitment and overall AAPIDA visibility.
For design professionals wanting to get involved, Davis encourages taking the first step by filling out the contact form on AAPIDA’s website. “We’re working on a welcome email and survey on what people want to get involved in,” notes Davis, who is currently pooling a list of Asian interior designers who will shape AAPIDA’s future structure and success.