Fashion Darling Tara Chandra On Overcoming Internalised Racism And Embracing Identity

To celebrate Syrup’s launch, we profiled five young Australians who are doing their very best at being their best selves—throwing typical ideas of career paths, style norms and patriarchal status quos out the window. These interviews are our way of foregrounding the diverse voices that are shaping our communities and digging a little deeper into the things that shaped them.

Nearly sixty thousand people are watching Tara Chandra (@tarachandra_), via her eclectic and electric Instagram presence. Not including the audience on the account @elleandtara that she runs with our girl crush Elle Hioe (@14strk). 

One of the fashion’s new guard, she’s worked with the likes of Furla, Gucci and Louboutin—as well as kicking it in London as a part of the launch of Converse X. Despite her easy, relaxed internet presence and these heavy hitting collabs, Chandra is about as far as you can get from an overnight success.

Chandra is a fan of the slow percolate of growth, both internally and externally, professionally and personally. She’s been Extremely Online since the tender bloom of Tumblr, and growing her social audience over seven years. A poster child for real growth and authenticity needing to take its time, she spoke with Syrup about her experiences growing up in a majority White area in Sydney and slowly unpacking the internalised racism that it spurred. 

Like Elle, Chandra took the hits that a lot of Australians with culturally diverse backgrounds endure. Embracing your identity is a lot fucking harder when the people who are supposed to be your peers are overtly racist. Identity, self-love, figuring out a career… just like the rest of us, she’s working on it.

How long have you been Extremely Online for?

I started my YouTube channel in January 2013 and my Instagram in July 2013… so I’m in my seventh year of doing this!

What was your first real brush with the Internet like? 

YouTube and Tumblr! From the ages of ten to 13, used to binge watch beauty gurus (despite having never worn makeup before), polymer clay, scrapbooking videos and some comedy channels (Community Channel was great). From the ages of 13 to 17 I was swept into the world of Tumblr and would spend HOURS a day on there. 

I had a One Direction fan blog and also twelve other blogs for different themes and aesthetics (I was extra like that haha). I started watching fashion YouTubers (Jenn Im, Amy Lee, The Fashion Citizen, Kailee McKenzie, etc) around the age of 14, and I guess I’ve continued to watch these channels till this day, eight years later!

Do you ever have nostalgia for the way the internet used to be?

Oh DEFINITELY! It was a completely different time. It was all so… ‘homemade’ on YouTube. I miss low production quality and people just talking to their cameras at three am in their walk in wardrobes.

Instagram back then was just people posting photos for their friends to see with the terrible Instagram filters or white borders to make horizontal/portrait photos fit into the 1:1 format. I liked how people… tried less? But I also love how everyone’s grown up and become ~themselves~. 

I honestly also miss being a part of the 1D fandom. Fandoms were fun. I mean, they still exist, but I feel like it’s different now? That was such a good time of my life on Tumblr and Twitter.

When did you first think you “broke into” the fashion industry? (Was there a single moment or job that you think tipped you over the edge?)

It’s hard to think of a defining moment because I’ve been doing this for so long and everything has been super gradual. However, it is funny thinking back to my first ever collaboration. I probably had around two thousand followers, which was a lot back in 2013/2014! It was with a small jewellery start up (everyone and their grandma had an Insta store back then… including me, haha) and they sent me a black leather choker with a daisy charm. I was so ecstatic to receive this in the mail. That in itself really puts everything else I’ve done since then into perspective.

In saying this, there have been a few moments over the years where I’ve really taken a step back to look at what I have achieved. Working with Charles & Keith in 2016 for a ‘Story’ feature on their website was really cool. However, I think the biggest ‘pinch me moment’ was working with Converse when they were creating Converse X in 2017. I was a part of the first six people in Converse X. We did a bunch of shoots, collabs and they flew me to London in February 2018 for the One Star Hotel in Shoreditch. When we got back to Sydney, we shot an Australia-wide billboard Converse campaign. I saw my face on bus stops, telephone booths, HYPE DC windows, and was interviewed for multiple websites including Oyster Magazine. It’s been a journey.

Recently? It’s hard to top these experiences I’ve had, but going to New York Fashion Week with Pretty Little Thing and E! in September last year was pretty awesome, and just being able to work with big designer brands such as Gucci, Louboutin and Furla is absolutely crazy to me.

I’m so lucky to have had these opportunities that are continually exposing me to brands, but also just being able to make connections and friends in this industry. Overall, I feel like I’m continuously breaking into different ‘levels’ of the fashion industry, each collaboration, sponsorship, and achievement at a time.

How’s the ride been so far? Has anything surprised you about your journey in the fashion world?

It’s been pretty smooth sailing! I like to lay low and do my own thing. I feel like gradual growth is the best type of growth, and that’s where I’m at.

I guess what ‘surprised’ me the most about the fashion world is that most people aren’t as scary as they seem. Ninety percent of the time, people are nice and want to talk to you!

You’ve worked with some heavy-hitting brands like Converse, Puma and JD Sports, do you have a dream collab in mind you’d like to do one day?

I’ve been so lucky with the brands and agencies I’ve worked with! I can’t pinpoint a specific brand I’d love to collab with… but I think creatively directing a shoot or production would be epic. I’d love to be able to cast, work on the set design, style and shoot something for a big brand! (Maybe one day it’ll be my own.)

How do you think about or manage sustainability within what you do?

Sustainability is a bit of a touchy topic because there’s a lot of hypocrisy in what I stand for and what my actions are. It’s widely known how destructive the fashion industry is towards the environment and people… and by doing what I do, I’m a large player in that destruction. I acknowledge that. 

I do try and manage this in little ways like always reusing and recycling packaging from shipments (I have a lot. I have a whole room for used boxes, plastic wrappers and shipping bags!!), being more conscious with what brands I’m working with, and just saying no to a lot of collaborations. I’ve definitely been more conscious about what I’m consuming (fashion-wise) by accepting, taking and buying less. When purchasing for myself, I strictly buy second hand clothing. I give my clothes away or sell them so they have a second life. 

My high school friends and I started a second hand clothing ‘store’ on Instagram, Second Time New (@secondtimenew), where we focus on extending the life of good quality vintage and second hand clothing. We use home-compostable shipping packaging for each order.

I know there’s a lot more to improve on my end with sustainability. And I know I’m fuelling the production of fossil fuels, mass wastage, toxic runoff, etc. On one hand, fashion is my job. On the other, is my personal gain over the environment worth it?

We love your series of videos on identity, how do you think about your own identity and all its intersections?

Thank you! I plan to bring the Identity series back soon!

I view my identity as being an amalgamation of three things: family, friends and the environment. My family forms the ties between my race, ethnicity, cultural practices, socioeconomic status, education, beliefs, and ethics. My friends influence and explain my interests, style, and social skills. The environment I am in forms a part of my identity through the media I consume, the accessibility to infrastructure, and the physical environment and how I interact with it. 

It’s impossible to list all the factors that stem from these three major points, but the idea is there. Like roots on a tree, all of these subsections have intertwined with each other to form me. My identity is how I react and respond to each of these things. What I choose to hide and share, reject and accept, unlearn and learn.

Have you ever faced challenges because of your identity and how did you deal with them?

I think my biggest ‘challenge’ was understanding, realising, then dealing with internalised racism. Growing up in a predominantly white suburb and school, I was surrounded by a lot of western ideals and ideas. I experienced casual racism such as people pulling their eyes into slits and saying remarks like “ching chong”. This definitely fuelled into my experience of internalised racism, where I’d turn these racist remarks into a joke—essentially making it seem like this was okay for other people to do. 

The ideal look was to be tanned, have natural blonde hair and blue eyes, and to have double eyelids. I don’t blame my family, because it’s what society has taught them, but I’ve been asked dozens of times if I want double eyelid surgery. If you want it, go for it, but I’m glad it’s something that never truly bothered me, nor was it something I ever desired to do. However, this is evidently destructive to how a ten-year-old feels about herself! 

I felt so much shame for bringing certain foods to school. I felt shame when my parents spoke Bahasa Indonesian in public, because “we speak English in Australia.” But why was it cool for any other person to speak their mother tongue—except for my family? I felt shame because I didn’t want white people to feel like I wasn’t “one of them.” Why did I want so much acceptance from people that pulled their eyes at me?

Internalised racism is hard to explain when you haven’t experienced it for yourself. It’s like pushing away every part of your racial identity. For me, it was everything except the few bits that were deemed as “cool” by western society. My ang paos and Buddhist practices on Chinese New Year, mi goreng, and in high school, cheongsams. I hated wearing traditional clothing till my white friends said how beautiful it was. Suddenly it was cool. Everyone wanted to wear one. And I had that. I claimed that. But how can you suddenly claim something you pushed away your whole life? That’s internalised racism.

I learnt what internalised racism meant in my first year of university from some new friends. They spoke about the exact. same. experiences I had growing up. I related so much to my three new Chinese friends who were born and raised in Australia, like me. I understood the way I was feeling, and how I needed to LOVE and ACCEPT my culture, my background, my foundations—my identity.  

The process of uprooting everything you’ve thought about yourself for the past eighteen years of your life is hard. It’s so hard. Because you need to teach yourself a new way of thinking and feeling. To remove shame and replace it with love and joy. It’s an ongoing process and I catch myself here and there. But for the most part, I love my racial background, my culture and my practices. I love my family for still speaking the languages they grew up with, cooking the food from their islands and ancestor’s homes, and continually sharing this with me even after I rejected it for so long.

What do you think is special about Gen Z’s relationship with their own identity?

In the past people accepted what was given to them and carried all the positive and negative traits, characteristics and beliefs with them through time. Gen Z have broken this cycle, and taken what seems right for them, rather than conforming to what everyone wants them to.

What are you working on next?

Honestly, just trying to find a job! I want a little more stability in my life, because freelancing can be very hit or miss. Aside from that, I might start up my magazine again and work on Issue Four of Easy Mag, and I want to take more photos on film and digital!

What do you think people get wrong about your generation?

Assuming we don’t know or care about anything. We care about a lot more than older generations think!! (Also, we’re not “always on our phones.”)

What do you think the biggest challenge facing your generation is?

Climate change and shit politics.

How do you want to be remembered (if at all)?

Nice gal, cool style.

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Double Gingham ☎️ Self Timer 🐞

A post shared by Tara Chandra (@tarachandra_) on

How are you practising self-care in 2020?

By not caring.

What are you manifesting?

Finding a job!!

If you could only wear one brand? 

Does only shopping at op shops/thrift stores count?

Fav artist/creative/person you think is doing cool shit/ who’s your creative inspiration?

Tyler, the Creator. I think he’s just managed to succeed in every industry. His music, Golf Wang, Camp Flog Gnaw. Sick stuff.

Fav meme account? Fav meme?

Do TikToks count as memes? I love the “somebody come get her, she’s dancing like a stripper” videos. And Ratatouille TikToks. I love Ratatouille.

What’s your fav place on the internet?

YouTube recommended videos. Including 2012 episodes of Bondi Rescue lol.

Photography by Holly Gibson.

Monisha is a writer with a background in publishing and digital media. A chronic Pisces, she’s into trying to be a better person and sparkling water.

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