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Baltimore-area college student, first-generation voter featured in Calvin Klein ad and social media campaign

Ting Tai, an Elliott City resident, is one of 11 people featured in the new Calvin Klein CK One campaign "One Future."
Ting Tai, an Elliott City resident, is one of 11 people featured in the new Calvin Klein CK One campaign "One Future." (courtesy of Ting Tai/courtesy of Ting Tai)

As the daughter of Malaysian immigrants, Ting Tai, knows that representation matters. So when Calvin Klein’s CK One brand tapped her to be part of an advertising campaign, she used the opportunity to amplify the importance of voting by members of marginalized communities.

“Being a first-generation voter and a child of immigrants is definitely important to me,” Tai said. “My parents are not as involved in legislation and politics as they would be had they been born here. I want to have a vote for them — also myself. It means something for me to be able to vote for my parents in a way.”

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Her parents are permanent U.S. residents, who have green cards, but are ineligible to vote.

Tai, a 21-year-old Ellicott City resident who is studying environmental science at Howard Community College, is one of 11 people featured in the fashion giant’s “one future #ckone” national campaign.

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The ads spotlight diverse people from across the country talking about issues that are important to them. In an emailed statement, a Calvin Klein spokesperson said the ads capture young people “in their everyday environments, speaking to their individual experiences, perspectives, and hopes."

With the reach of the brand — it has 21 million Instagram followers — and the entire country to choose models from, Tai was surprised Calvin Klein picked her.

“To be honest, I’m still a little in shock from it,” Tai said.

She had done some modeling for her friend’s smaller projects and said an agency referred her to the designer for possible inclusion in the ads.

Tai said she almost missed being featured because she initially thought that an email from Calvin Klein asking her to participate was a scam. She turned to her father, a computer security manager, to research the offer to make sure it was real.

After confirming that the invitation was legitimate, she was photographed and videotaped in Baltimore’s Federal Hill and Station North in late August.

Tai appears in several Instagram and Twitter videos for the campaign. Her image also is used on Calvin Klein posters at bus stops throughout the country, according to the company.

“That was super cool. I would love to be able to see those in person,” she said.

Tai wasn’t always interested in politics. She credits the 2016 presidential election and her group of friends with helping increase her interest.

“I’m lucky to have a group of friends and community that are open minded and they care to make a difference,” Tai said.

She started developing her political mindset at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, watching the 2016 presidential debates with friends. She said she phone banked for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. For a while, Tai even thought she wanted to become a political science major.

Now, she said, politics "is not my career focus. But it is something I focus on in my personal life.”

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Fan Tai, her father, said he is excited for his daughter to have the opportunity to participate in the ad campaign.

“She’s always been one who has a lot of viewpoints. I’m happy that she’s able to communicate a lot of that,” he said.

Tai said she loves that Calvin Klein has been doing campaigns that focus on marginalized people. The designer has made diversity a priority in ads before, such as celebrating the LGBTQ community through its ProudInMyCalvins ad campaign and by supporting Black Lives Matter.

On its website, the company said it’s working to ensure that its marketing and advertising “represents a full spectrum of races, ethnicities, gender identities, gender expressions and body types.”

“That is the example that all brands should be following," Tai said. “It makes people feel more relatable to the brand if they are showing and having people represent the consumer rather than the classic model."

Tai said she is focused on getting her associate degree then transferring to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree before launching a career.

“I also want to travel,” she said. “I want to be able to have a job that will allow me flexibility. I don’t want to stay in one spot."

This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor, Sundra Hominik at shominik@baltsun.com.

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