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Digital Star Andy Lalwani Talks YouTube, Fashion, & Representation

Digital Star Andy Lalwani Talks YouTube, Fashion, & Representation

Digital Star Andy Lalwani Talks YouTube, Fashion, & Representation

"As a queer person of color, I think it’s really important that people are represented online."

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For years, YouTube has been a place where young queer people could find role models to look up to. Despite recent concerns surrounding LGBTQ content, many creators still use the platform to connect with their audiences and share their experiences.

For queer people of color, however, the selection can be a lot narrower—particularly when it comes to creators who are making the jump to mainstream entertainment.

During TrevorLIVE in Los Angeles, PRIDE got to work with digital host Andy Lalwani and had the opportunity to ask him what it's like working in the industry as a gay man with Indian ancestry. He told us about his experience on YouTube, where his entertainment career is going, and how Queer Eye's Tan France inspired a newfound interest in men's fashion.

PRIDE: Tell us what it was like starting out on YouTube.

Andy Lalwani: It was about three or four years ago. I started making videos in the comfort of my own college residence hall, and everyone knew me as the kid that made videos.

The reason I started was because I Google-searched when I was young, 'What is gay? How do you catch the gay? Is it contagious?' It brought me to places like YouTube, where I found people somewhat like me, but no-one exactly like me who I could relate to. I was trying to make a difference with that.

A lot of LGBTQ people on YouTube have found it’s a great way to interact with an audience that might be asking the same questions that you were at the time. What’s that experience been like?

It’s been interesting, because I’ll get messages from people, and I sometimes forget how much of a bubble [some places are]. The United States, parts of it can be amazing, and parts of it can be really underrepresented or undereducated about certain spaces and feeling safe in them. I get messages from parts of Asia, and people who can be excommunicated or even killed for having sexual relations with someone of the same sex, or even liking someone of the same sex.

It’s hard to hear that we still live in that kind of world today. It makes me realize there’s more work to be done. There’s more for people who have a platform like myself to educate and inspire other people, that there’s still room to carry on and it does get better.

Has it been important to you that you’re a man of color representing the community?

As a queer person of color, I think it’s really important that people are represented online. I’m half Indian, and not a lot of people are Indian online, or showcased in media that they’re of Indian descent.

Growing up of mixed culture, it was hard for me to find my place, to identify with a lot of American beliefs or Indian beliefs. It was a lot to think about. But creating my own path and learning about my background has been really important for all the work I do. It’s just refreshing to keep learning. If I’m not learning, then what am I doing?

Recently in your career, you’ve been trying to break through to wider entertainment industry as a host and interviewer. What’s that been like for you?

It’s been interesting lately, from going behind the scenes of a lot of digital [media], to being in front of the camera and really helping tell stories. That was my favorite thing when I first started making videos online. But I would think, 'Maybe I don’t have what it takes,' and I started working for other people.

People were like, 'You’re really good at storytelling, and you should continue it.' I started getting into red carpets and online spaces, and helping people tell stories and getting their voices heard. That’s what makes me happy at the end of the day—not what can I do with my voice, but how can I empower other people’s voices and help them get their story heard?

You’ve also started branching out into men’s fashion, working part-time as a stylist for ALLSAINTS in Los Angeles. Why is that a passion of yours?

I didn’t always have the confidence to be in that sphere of life and think, 'I know how to dress well.' I’m not always that person who’s like, 'I look great!' But I really enjoy culture and art and different backgrounds. Clothes can represent people from the outside. What you wear helps you define your character, and I really love that.

Breaking into fashion is new to me. I came back today from a Mulberry photo shoot—I never thought that would be in the books. But I’m learning more about every industry, and breaking stereotypes about certain people with different backgrounds or religions and preferences. It’s about being represented on all platforms, from video to fashion, making sure sizes and races and people are not being appropriated for the wrong reasons. There’s work to be done everywhere.

Who or what inspires your personal fashion philosophy?

I am always a fan of [Queer Eye fashion expert] Tan France—my Halloween costume this year was the French tuck, printed shirt, with the Tan France voice. Seeing someone like him pave his way as a person of color, in a space where he’s comfortable—saying, 'This is what I enjoy, but at the same time if you don’t enjoy that, let’s help you find your character, what makes you happy.'

I recently watched a video of Tan France and Hasan Minhaj together, two of my favorite people—comedy and fashion combined. It’s seeing people relate across everyday lives.

Be sure to subscribe to Andy's YouTube channel and follow him on Instagram and Twitter!

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Christine Linnell