On Monday, March 15th, Christina Chou, a longtime CAA agent and CEO of the cult menswear label Goodfight, had a pretty stellar day. That morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated Minari for six Oscars, including Best Director and Best Original Screenplay nods for Lee Isaac Chung and a Best Actor nomination for Steven Yeun, both of whom she represents. Chou is a major reason the movie came together in the first place, and the nominations were well-deserved validation after a decade of fiercely advocating for underrepresented voices. “I over-index in a lot of women and a lot of people of color as clients,” Chou says. “Back when I started, that wasn’t a typical path at a lot of large Hollywood places. It was not all rainbows and sunshine.”
Then a few hours later, Chung commissioned Goodfight, the brand Chou co-founded with her husband Caleb Lin and their close friends Julia Chu and Calvin Nguyen, to outfit him for the Academy Awards. “It came at his own request, without any internal coercion whatsoever,” Lin adds. “He fittingly wanted to represent an Asian American designer.” For all the heights Goodfight had already reached in its four brief years of existence—getting stocked in Dover Street Market off the strength of its debut collection; pieces popping up on the backs of everyone from Diddy to Billie Eilish—a platform like the Oscars felt like another milestone.
Chou, however, didn’t get much time to enjoy her accomplishments: The following day, a gunman walked into three spas in Atlanta and murdered eight people, six of them Asian women. Reading the news made Chou’s stomach sink. “It’s whiplash, right?” Chou says. “To see films like Minari, directors like Lee Isaac Chung and Chloe Zhao, producers like Christina Oh, all break through this bamboo ceiling of the Academy Awards. And then less than a day later, we’re mired in this horrible discourse of, Is this a hate crime? And, Oh, he was having a bad day. It makes you think, Wow, we have not made progress at all.”
For Chou and her Goodfight co-founders, the immediate aftermath of the tragedy was a time for reflection and recovery. It was also a reminder of why they’d started the label in the first place. “We’ve always wrestled with these questions,” Chou says. “We’ve always taken the microaggressions. We’ve always lived in the in-between—neither white nor Black, neither Asian nor American—and converted it into a creative outlet to tell our stories.”
As a brand, Goodfight speaks to a lot of what it feels like to belong to the Asian diaspora: It’s nebulous and hard to define, impossible to pin down into any one category. The aesthetic is a little high fashion and a little streetwear, a little punk rock and a little hip-hop, clean and elevated and grungy and raw all at once. More than anything, the clothes themselves are bound by an abiding sense of joy. “The final thing we ask ourselves is always, Is it fun?” Lin says. The fabrics are often audacious and out-there and sometimes vintage. Virtually every piece comes embedded with a sly twist: a silky button-up with a swooping crescent-moon hemline you can tie up at the sides or front, a zip-up hoodie that Optimus Primes into a crew neck pullover. Goodfight’s Instagram bio reads “Third Culture Kids”—like its founders, the label exists in what Lin describes as “that beautiful, liminal space where all these different worlds collide.”
Lin, Chu, and Nguyen all met working retail at Opening Ceremony in Los Angeles in the early 2010s. “It was so fun to work with people who geeked out over clothing as much as I did, you know?” Chu remembers. “A new jacket would come in and we’d all try it on, look at every detail, talk about the designer.” A few years later, the trio reunited at American Rag, where Lin and Chu headed up buying for menswear and womenswear, respectively. Nguyen, meanwhile, designed the LA institution’s private label.
Around that time, the four friends began meeting up for weekly dinners, where they’d express their frustrations with corporate culture and fantasize about carving their own path forward. Of starting something they could call their own. “Working within these larger structures, there’s only so much change you can affect,” Chou says. “Starting a clothing brand felt like the quickest way to get something tangible from our brains to our hands and out into the world.”
Out of those meetings emerged Goodfight, and that it happened to coincide with the start of the Trump presidency made the brand’s inception feel all the more urgent. “I remember my mom said to me, ‘This is probably not a good time to start a company,’” Lin recalls. “It was very Chinese advice. I said to her: ‘The struggle we’re going through right now, everything the country is going through politically, all the things that people are angry about, it’s a result of our culture moving to this place where it doesn’t matter how you win, as long as you win. And we don’t fucking believe that.’ That’s why we started the company, and that’s why it’s called Goodfight.”
From the jump, the goal was to upend the cultural norms they’d spent a lifetime adhering to, from the genre-bending clothes they designed right down to the way the team was structured. “We’ve been told so many times that our image is too complicated,” Lin says. “That only one of us should be the figurehead, like a Kim Jones or a Matthew Williams, to make it easier for people to understand. But that’s just not in us—the four of us represent the brand. That’s our identity.” Chou serves as the label’s CEO, which she somehow continues to balance with her day job as a Hollywood agent. “Literally my Goodfight computer is sitting on top of my work computer right now,” she laughs. “I feel like that’s an analogy.” Lin, with his background in buying and retail management, is Goodfight’s brand director; Chu, who works as a freelance stylist on the side, is the creative director; and Nguyen, who studied fashion product development after an adolescence spent tweaking his clothes on his mom’s sewing machine, handles design.
Goodfight has never shied away from its Asian American roots: an early short-sleeved shirt was inspired by a jade bracelet that Chu received from her grandmother; Nguyen often includes references to the foods he ate growing up in Southeast Asia. All of the label’s products are made in Asian-owned factories in Los Angeles—which Goodfight helped keep alive during the pandemic by getting them licensed to make PPE. But for the first few years, at least, its founders were reluctant to step out from behind the curtain themselves. “It was that very Asian thing of only wanting to be judged by the merit of our work,” Lin says. But with the rise in anti-Asian hate over the past year, the quartet have felt a responsibility to make themselves more visible, sharing personal photos and family stories on social media and making their voices heard publicly with more regularity. It’s been a difficult but affirming transition.
“I’ve only become comfortable with myself in maybe the past four to six years,” Lin says. “It’s still a process. I always felt like maybe there was something wrong with me growing up, like I had to be one thing or the other to fit in. I was always trying to make all of this,” he waves his hand in front of his face, “look like something else. It’s only recently that I’ve been like, ‘Yo, this is how I look. This is my body, my nose, my voice, my eyes.’ For the first time, I’m realizing that maybe I’m the answer to this time. We’re a bridge between cultures.”
In the same way that Goodfight has been a crucible for its founders’ senses of self, the brand is starting to develop a more concrete identity. The current model of starting from scratch every season—telling a fully fleshed-out narrative through a fresh batch of original and meticulously crafted clothes—has earned the label plenty of plaudits, but has made it difficult to connect with a wider audience. “As much as we love to chase these super crazy ideas,” Nguyen says, “the pandemic has made us stop and think: What do people really need?” The team is in the process of developing a core collection of past-season favorites, like their louche camp-collar shirts and wide-cut Japanese denim jeans, that’ll hopefully provide them with a steadier foundation to build their more elaborate and ambitious concepts upon. “We’re really good at giving you the cherry on top,” says Chu, “now it’s time to make the cake.”
The immediate goals are to grow the team beyond the core four—right now, every order is still packed and shipped out of Chou and Lin’s condo—and hopefully cut the ribbon for a Goodfight flagship store in LA in the not-too-distant future. But the brand’s longterm vision remains the same as it ever was. “Our goal was never to make a million dollars in the first year,” Chou says. “Our success is defined by how we treat people.”
For all the ways in which Chou, Lin, Chu, and Nguyen have used Goodfight to signal boost the complexities of the Asian American experience and kill off the stereotypes associated with it, there’s one pigeonhole—a relentless drive to achieve—they haven’t quite reconciled.
“I hate the model minority myth,” Chou says, “but I love the idea of being exceptional.”