ORLANDO, Fla. – What started as a venture in a garage with two University of Central Florida students has turned into a thriving small business in Orlando. Now the men behind Impress Ink are working to make a statement the best way they know how: with T-shirts.
Impress Ink is selling shirts that read “Not Your Model Minority” to combat anti-Asian rhetoric and violence. All proceeds benefit the non-profit group, Stop AAPI Hate. The group tracks incidents of hate against Asian American Pacific Islander individuals and provides resources for those who have been attacked.
[CHECK IT OUT: Stop AAPI Hate 2020-2021 National Report]
“We want to have a message to just entertain more questions,” said Michael Cho, managing partner of Impress Ink said.
The campaign launched in partnership with Pi Delta Psi Fraternity, a national Asian-American cultural organization. The fraternity, commonly known as PDPsi, recently announced Stop AAPI Hate as its national philanthropy, according to a news release. Ricky Ly is a former national executive leader spearheading the campaign from Central Florida.
“Ricky and I are actually fraternity brothers of Pi Delta Psi, which is the first Asian-interest fraternity at UCF,” Cho said. “The reason I started Impress Ink was that I was actually influenced by other fraternity brothers at the University of Florida that started something similar.”
Cho said Ly approached him with the idea, agreeing to the campaign in light of recent attacks against Asian American individuals.
“We’ve been friends forever and we’re working on that to make an impact coming together,” Ly said.
Ly explained that the theme of the campaign is one that resonates with the overall Asian American community.
“Model minority is a stereotype that Asian Americans do well, don’t need help or are really good at school or like the good minority and we’re just trying to break that stereotype that people have,” Ly said.
The civil engineer expressed though the stereotypes may sound like compliments or seem harmless, they do typecast Asian Americans and set expectations while putting them in a box.
“And it kind of pits you against other minorities,” he said. “So in efforts of solidarity with other groups, we want to make sure that hey, you know, stereotypes are wrong and we need to fight that in our lives.”
Cho chimed in saying it’s pertinent now to raise awareness about the model minority stereotype and how it afflicts the community.
“It’s essentially putting off (to) a group that we’re privileged, we’re benefitting of everything, there’s no issues in our group, therefore, no one should mind it,” Cho said. “Which is kind of like, in a way, some sort of negligence to not care because they seem fine.”
This sentiment is what helped spark the campaign, which launched in April. The fundraiser has raised more than $1,000 so far.
“(It’s) hopefully educating people that are curious,” Cho said.
Cho and Ly explained that it was easy to step in as they have the resources and fervor.
“We’ve got our degrees and we’ve got our careers but we still want to give back in this moment,” Ly said.
The two expressed that the campaign is their way to support a community that’s been hurting during the coronavirus pandemic. Ly said the coronavirus pandemic has heightened hateful rhetoric against Asian Americans with words like “kung flu” and “China virus” being used in both verbal and physical attacks. He also referenced the violent shootings in Atlanta that killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women.
“It kind of inspired us to put this together to take a stand because we want to be leaders in our community and also bring light to it,” Ly said. “And if not us, then who?”
Cho echoed similar statements, adding Impress Ink has always served the Orlando and Central Florida community. He said it’s part of their business model.
“It’s based on the roots of this business,” he said. “We try to be out there in the community, not just an instance.”
[Visit Impress Ink]
Impress Ink partnered with a local artist to help promote the Black Lives Matter movement, donating all the shirts. During the pandemic when restaurants were hit hard, Impress Ink started the Orlando merch store, which would sell apparel with proceeds going to the local eateries. Cho said they were also able to donate close to $9,000 to Second Harvest Food Bank.
“As far as the business goes, but also the sense of community, anytime there’s challenges not strictly with a specific group of people we try to spearhead something, take initiative,” he said.
As an Asian American business owner, Cho said right now he has the opportunity to help his community and the means to.
“We sold shirts all across the U.S., we’re shipping them everywhere,” he said. “(If) there’s more demand, the shirts will carry on.”
People can support the campaign by purchasing a shirt using this link. For now, the campaign is slated to end May 9.