Seniors Rachel Yang and Isaac Kawate started their fair trade fashion business, AHmong Us, LLC to empower the Hmong women, with whom Yang culturally identifies and with whose culture Kawate has been intrigued since he and Yang met.
For Yang and Kawate, AHmong Us, LLC is more than just a business venture. They are using their business’s values of integrity, love, culture, creativity and development to address many different issues.
Yang said, “I love my culture. I love business. I’m interested in fashion. I want to empower women. I want to bring glory to God. I want to create ways for people in developing countries to be able to sustain themselves, and so I started AHmong Us, LLC with my partner, Isaac.”
Yang said she has always wanted to show her appreciation for her culture through fashion. AHmong Us, LLC accomplishes her goal because of the bright and colorful clothing and accessories that AHmong Us, LLC carries from a variety of upcycled vintage Hmong fabric that the Hmong women in Thailand hand-make.
Yang said, “Traditional Hmong clothing is a vital part of the culture. Over the years, traditional Hmong clothes have changed and evolved. However, many components stay the same. One of those components is the exquisite design and pattern on Hmong clothes. The patterns are sewn onto the skirts and along the sleeves and neckline of the clothes. Today, many have adopted the Hmong patterns onto scarves, backpacks, purses and even shoes.”
The Hmong are an ethnic group from the mountainous regions of southern China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. AHmong Us, LLC currently has a supplier that employs over 100 Hmong women in the northern Thailand area. These Hmong women live in rural villages where it is difficult to find employment.
Knowing that these women are well known for the handiwork, AHmong US, LLC allows for these women to display their talent and use their skill to supplement their income for their families. In Hmong communities, women are severely oppressed at times, making it hard for them to have a voice in their own society. By providing them with job opportunities, Hmong women will have more chances and be more likely to have an influence on the decision-making process in households.
According to the Guardian, when women have more of a say in their household, there is a larger increase in rural economy and in gender equality, especially in the world of women farmers.
Growing up as a Hmong American woman in a refugee family has given Yang plenty for which to be thankful. Growing up as an Asian American has also caused Yang to juggle her family’s heritage along with the heritage of her family’s new home in the United States. Yang said, “I’ve faced many levels of challenges. From (women’s) oppression to maintaining ‘face,’ it’s been quite the roller coaster. On top of that, being labeled as an Asian American in the United States comes with a lot of preconceived notions and stereotypes.”
Yang continued, “The Hmong, who came to the United States as refugees, are definitely different from the Chinese American immigrants. Though it’s been hard, I’ve always been amazed by how proud the Hmong are to be Hmong. Our parents have always instilled a sense of respect for our heritage and a pride for our history. The Hmong are truly people that care for each other. Though we may resist change and assimilation, we are sure to strive for harmony and peace.”
AHmong Us, found at ahmongus.com, is attempting to empower the marginalized Hmong women in Southeast Asia and hopes to build a bridge between modern Hmong American women and traditional Hmong designs and patterns.
Through Yang, Kawate has come to appreciate the Hmong culture and its many different aspects, including the clothing, people and language. In addition, he said he is passionate about the fair trade options and hopes that AHmong Us can promote fair trade practices of seeking equity in international trade and celebrating the beauty and history of the diverse history of Hmong designs.