Lunar New Year is coming up on February 1, and many brands and retailers are releasing limited-edition products to mark the occasion. With this upcoming year being the Year of the Tiger, new and existing products have been adorned with imagery depicting the animal and motifs in red and gold (which traditionally represent good fortune and happiness) in an attempt to lure Asian customers, and more specifically Chinese customers, a market that holds significant spending power.
The commodification of holidays is nothing new (hello, Christmas and Valentine’s Day!) but it does feel different when Canadian, American and European brands are capitalizing on a cultural holiday seemingly without researching the meaning behind it. By neglecting to learn the symbolism behind culturally specific themes, colours and motifs and using cultural traditions for monetization, the sentiment behind the holiday itself is lost—and that’s not even touching on the products that veer into cultural appropriation territory. With that in mind, putting a tiger on a sweatshirt comes across as a lazy attempt to join in on the Lunar New Year festivities simply for the sake of making bank, in a way that is reminiscent of the rainbow-washing seen around Pride month.
And with the rise in anti-Asian racism that has plagued Canada this past year and continues to happen, supporting the Asian community is more important than ever. At the very least, non-Asian brands that create Lunar New Year collections should be hiring Asian artists and creatives to design or produce their products and to work on any accompanying campaigns. Donating proceeds of products towards grassroots organizations that support and uplift the Asian community is also a step in the right direction. Finally, if you truly want to support the Asian community during this important holiday, the best way is to shop from Asian-owned businesses, particularly local ones, as they have been hit the hardest amid the pandemic.
Below, eight Lunar New Year picks from brands that got it right.
Lucky Lunar Candle by Apothegeri x Auntie’s Supply
This limited-run soy wax candle is a collaboration between Apothegeri, an Asian-owned, Toronto-based artisan candle brand, and Auntie’s Supply, an Asian-owned superette also located in Toronto. It smells like sweet strawberry milk and was inspired by the “lucky candies” Apothegeri founder Gerasil “Geri” Coria would enjoy after family dinners at local Chinese restaurants growing up. This particular candle is red for good fortune and, when lit, the wax sparkles with gold.
$25, auntiessupply.com (in-store and online) and apothegeri.com. Available from January 27, 2022 through February.
Nobis LNY Capsule Collection
Canadian outerwear brand Nobis has teamed up with Fête Chinoise, a Chinese Canadian cultural platform created by design firm Palettera, to create a three-piece limited-edition capsule celebrating the themes of bravery and courage, two characteristics often associated with people born in the Year of the Tiger. The collection is comprised of two quilted mid-layer jackets and a reversible bucket hat adorned with auspicious plum blossoms that represent strength and growth in spite of adversity. Nobis also tapped renowned Toronto director and photographer Justin Wu to photograph the campaign.
Ferris Wheel Press x Fête Chinoise Twin Jade Ink Collection
Fête Chinoise also teamed up with Ferris Wheel Press to create a collection of two calligraphy inks: Sunlit Jade, a warm lockwood green ink with a gold shimmer, and Moonlit Jade, a green ink with silver shimmer. The shade of green was inspired by the remnants of a bracelet made with jade stones that once belonged to Fête Chinoise editor-in-chief Deborah Lau-Yu, while the gold etchings represent a popular phrase often seen on red Chinese walls scrolls: 金玉满堂, which roughly translates to “a house full of gold and jade.” The packaging evokes traditional apothecary bottles and features peony floras and buds, which signify prosperity and good fortune, pine trees to represent longevity, and auspicious sayings handwritten in traditional Chinese characters.
$28 each, ferriswheelpress.ca
Lin’s Lucky Red Envelope and Lǎo Hǔ Lunar New Year Plush Toy at Holt Renfrew
Holt Renfrew is celebrating the Year of the Tiger by releasing Lin’s Lucky Red Envelope, a children’s book written by Toronto-based author and poet Sennah Yee and illustrated by Vancouver-based artist Elaine Chen. It tells the story of Lin, a young Chinese Canadian girl celebrating her first LNY in her new home in Vancouver, where nothing seems to be going right for her and her tiger doll Lǎo Hǔ.
The book is available in both English/Mandarin and French/Mandarin, with all proceeds of the sale going to project 1907, a grassroots Canadian, women-led organization that works to elevate underrepresented and undervalued Asian voices. A special Lǎo Hǔ Lunar New Year plush toy handmade in Nepal in collaboration with Hazel Village is also available for purchase.
Lin’s Lucky Red Envelope, $25, Lǎo Hǔ Lunar New Year plush toy, $80, in-store and online at holtrenfrew.com
Barbie x Guo Pei Lunar New Year Doll
Esteemed Chinese couturier Guo Pei (who famously designed Rihanna’s 2015 Met Gala dress) has partnered with Mattel to design a dress and accessories for its 2022 Lunar New Year Barbie. The LNY Barbie, which was dreamt up by Mattel Senior Product Designer Joyce Chen, wears a traditional Chinese cheongsam featuring Guo Pei’s signature embroidery detailing in gold. The phoenix motif represents femininity and grace, while water and waves (traditionally seen on the attire of royalty) symbolize wealth, nourishment and resilience. Phoenix-themed accessories (particularly the standout hairpiece) complete the look.
Paper & Rice Co. Lunar New Year Collection
Paper & Rice Co. is an Asian-owned, Montreal-based stationary goods and accessories brand that creates art around humorous and uplifting themes inspired by East Asian culture and diaspora experiences. Founder Vivian Yu’s LNY collection is comprised of five cards, including one designed around traditional LNY foods, with a snippet describing the symbolism of each illustration at the back.
$6 each or 6 cards for $33, paperandriceco.com
“Tiger Balm” Giclée Limited Edition Art Print by Janice Wu
Tiger Balm is a staple in Asian households thanks to its magical abilities to heal everything from stomach aches to muscle pains and mosquito bites. Vancouver-based artist and illustrator Janice Wu always had a little jar of the analgesic ointment in her household medicine cabinet growing up, and its menthol scent now brings her a sense of comfort and nostalgia. To celebrate the Year of the Tiger, she created a limited-edition ‘Tiger Balm’ giclé print using archival-quality pigment-based inks on cold press watercolour paper.
Kopi Thyme X Simple Herbs Lunar New Year Gift Set
Kopi Thyme is a Toronto-based Asian-owned brand specializing in authentic, artisan-made South East Asian sauces, like Malaysian Laksa (curry noodle soup) and Sayur Lodeh (Indonesian vegetable stew). For LNY, they’ve teamed up with Simple Herbs Toronto (a mother-daughter duo curating tea and soup mixes) to offer a LNY Year of the Tiger Gift Set filled with hand-picked herbal mixes and a selection of Kopi Thyme’s sauces. The set also comes with a limited-edition apron and recipe cards.