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Holiday Gifts to Empower: A Guide to Ethical Brands Owned by Asian Americans

This holiday season, why not get the most out of your purchases and opt for meaningful gift-giving?

The holidays are here, and shopping season is in full swing. This year, why not get the most out of your purchases and opt for meaningful gift-giving?

NBC Asian America spoke with Asian-American founders and designers of ethical brands to help fill up those shopping carts (online and in real life) so that your gift-giving can also help empower and support women around the world.

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Future Glory

Founded by Theresa Lee, Future Glory Co. handcrafts leather bags and accessories that support social causes in their local community. Based out of San Francisco, the brand donates a portion of their proceeds to local organizations dedicated to rebuilding women’s lives, such as Because Justice Matters and Freedom House. Additionally, their products are made in conjunction with their apprenticeship program geared towards training women.

“Women's rights and causes run deep within my core. I feel like I've seen women struggle my entire life, and wanted to help in any way possible,” Lee told NBC News.

The brand’s newest standout piece? This marbled leather handbag — a fun, colorful, and eclectic take on their sleek, classic designs:


Inspired by the girls’ education documentary “Girl Rising,” Olivia Rose Fay created her fashion brand Rallier as a rallying call to action to uplift the lives of girls around the world. Upon learning that the lack of a school uniform prevents many young women from pursuing their studies, Fay was moved to dedicate her fashion career towards her personal advocacy for girls’ education and gender inequality.

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Appropriately, Rallier dresses are inspired by the school uniform, which, according to the brand’s story, “mixes the heritage of archetypal dress codes with a modern spirit of ease.” The dresses are designed and manufactured responsibly in New York, and for every dress sold, school uniforms are sourced from regions plagued by gender inequality and given to local schoolgirls.

“Since launching Rallier earlier this year, it has been incredible to see how customers gravitate towards this connection between modern uniform dressing and donating girls' school uniforms," Fay told NBC News. "Now, more than ever, it is so important to vote with your dollar. I have always been a big believer in this concept as it is often the most effective way to create meaningful change."

RedGreen Rivers

Hailing out of the Midwest, RedGreen Rivers is a social enterprise that works with female artisans in the Mekong Region of Southeast Asia to produce jewelry, crafts, textiles, and homegoods.

Founded Bo Thao-Urabe, Kabzuag Vaj, and KaYing Yang, RedGreen Rivers is committed to promoting fairtrade artisanal handicrafts to create economic well-being and to preserve cultural craftsmanship.

"The company was founded on the belief that the status of women and girls is the litmus test of how communities are doing overall, so we choose to work closely with women and girl artisans to increase their economic opportunities,” Yang told NBC News.

She adds, “Our products are not massed produced, because we focus on quality and authenticity. We believe that artistic talent born from traditional indigenous designs can create sustainable communities."

RedGreen Rivers signature gift items include peace bracelets made from recycled scrap metal of unexploded bombs dropped on Laos between 1964 to 1973 by the U.S. during the Secret War.

Indigo Handloom

Indigo Handloom has been working with weavers in rural India since 2003, reviving traditional textile arts of khadi (hand-spun yarn) and handloom weaving, while supporting the lives of their makers through fair wages and fair working conditions.

"I started Indigo Handloom because I wanted to create beautiful things while employing as many people as possible. It was both the creative spark as well as wanting to save the valuable craft of handloom," founder Smita Paul told NBC News. "It started that way but I quickly learned that the way we make our products is so low impact in terms of energy and artificial chemicals, we are offering a superior product for the consumer. Our work supports hundreds of weavers - mostly women - who are then able to support and empower themselves."

While the brand is known for their scarves, they also have a fine selection of clothing items such as this reversible “Ikat Maxi” dress that can be considered as two dresses in one:

Kambuja Trading Co.

Kambuja Trading Co. was founded on a deep desire to help bring Khmer culture to the world, and to enrich the lives of Cambodian artisans and entrepreneurs through fair living wages and increased economic opportunities.

“Cambodia recovered from a genocide during the 1970s but it lost a great amount of their skilled craft makers and artisans. The garment manufacturing industry has thrived in Cambodia in the past few years, but the quality of the makers’ lives has not improved," Anthony Teav, Kambuja Trading Co. co-founder, told NBC News. "We want to contribute by providing an alternative choice that allows craftsmen, artisans and famers to make fair living wages and live a happier life, while making quality products.”

The brand makes well-crafted scarves called kramas, woven in Takeo, Cambodia, by women in the Weaving Village co-op who use sustainably sourced, naturally-dyed cotton. Thanks to their partnership with Kambuja Trading Co., the women makers can double their earning potential and achieve creative dignity.