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When news broke about the March murder of Korean American Christina Yuna Lee in her Manhattan apartment, Sahra Nguyen remembered she’d once met Lee at a friend’s art gallery — Nguyen, 35, saw herself in Lee, who was the same age when she was killed.
Like other members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, Nguyen, founder and CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply, has felt less safe in New York City in the last year. Nguyen has been increasingly concerned with the safety of her staff — in fact, her New York-based, predominantly AAPI team often reminds each other to avoid headphones while walking or commuting by train, to turn on location settings when using ride-sharing services.
Anti-AAPI hate crimes more than quadrupled nationwide between 2020 and 2021 — nonprofit advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate received more than 10,000 reports of anti-AAPI violence since it launched in March 2020.
“We have to navigate and balance the mental and emotional weight of just doing our jobs every day,” Nguyen said, calling it an “added layer” to the already difficult challenges of running a business. Amid these obstacles, Nguyen and other AAPI business owners we spoke to have found ways to help their community and continue to innovate.
- Nguyen’s company is pushing Vietnamese culture into the third wave coffee movement — her team helped popularize the Vietnamese-grown robusta coffee bean, which the New York Times predicts will trend in 2022.
- Travel brand Lo & Sons partnered with a nonprofit to help reduce food insecurity in the elderly East Asian community of New York.
We spoke to over a dozen leaders of the AAPI business community to better understand the challenges they faced in the last year — and what they’re optimistic about for the future. We also connected with over 90 AAPI-owned businesses to recommend ones worth considering across beauty, food, apparel, wellness and more.
Notable AAPI-owned products in 2022
Here are 14 items from AAPI-owned brands that stood out to us, from travel essentials and skincare products to eco-friendly tools and home goods. Since there is no central directory of AAPI-owned businesses, as defined by the Census Bureau’s 51% edict, we asked each business below to confirm that it meets the criteria.
One of their bestsellers includes this rose quartz gua sha that stimulates lymphatic drainage to reduce puffiness and increase elasticity in the skin, according to the brand. In including this product in their line, Chen initially wanted to celebrate Traditional Chinese Medicine and her heritage, “I want to contribute to the diverse voices in this industry and push for more inclusivity and positive change,” she said. For maximum results, the brand suggests users of the gua sha pair it with the Over the Moon Gua Sha Facial Oil, which is made from a sunflower-moringa oil blend that soothes skin inflammation.
Amy Liu originally started the company to deal with her own eczema and now Tower 28 is the “first and only makeup brand to 100-percent follow the National Eczema Association’s ingredient guidelines and avoid every known skin irritant and allergen for all skin sensitivities,” she shared. This AAPI month, Liu wants consumers to realize AAPI heritage “is about recognizing the incredible people in our community who are pushing the boundaries and speaking up about racism and the need for more Asian representation.”
Made with apricot and raspberry seed oil, this lip gloss is one of the most popular products. Designed to hydrate your lips without drying them out, according to the brand, the gloss comes in four shades: Coconut, Cashew, Oat and Almond.
Frustrated with the fit of his dress shirts, Taiwanese-American Wesley Kang founded Nimble Made “to bring more representation and inclusion in sizing standards, starting with a slim fit that actually fits,” he elaborated.
Made from 100-percent cotton, the brand’s machine-washable dress shirts feature 2-button adjustable rounded cuffs and a Franklin semi-spread collar.
Terrence Santos founded his company in 2015 when he was expecting his first child. Originally, he started looking for toys that would teach the Filipino language to his child, but found nothing — so he created a toy company that provided options. Now his company sells toys that teach Tagalog, Ilocano, Bisaya and Hawaiian. On each of the ten blocks, the company has engraved the Roman number, Tagalog translation, Mahjong character and an English translation.
Eunice Byun and Dave Nguyen are challenging the notion that we need dozens of gadgets to cook delicious meals. A few years ago, the ex Chanel and Revlon executives founded Material Kitchen, a direct-to-consumer company that offers a simplified kitchen starter set at an affordable price. This seven-piece set, which has a 5.0-star average rating from almost 100 consumers, features an 8” knife, 4” knife, tongs, wooden spoon, metal spoon, slotted spatula and wooden holder. What’s more is you can customize the set’s wood type and handle color.
Private Policy is a “genderless” clothing company founded by Haoran Li and Siying Qu, two former Parsons graduates. Inspired by the youth culture in New York City, the pair said they design clothes without the traditional menswear and womenswear labels. The PXL Mixed Checker is made from tri-acetate, a silky and cool-to-the-touch fabric, and features a slightly oversized silhouette, according to the brand.
Nearly two decades ago, Taiwanese American Melinda Hwang’s father worked with a scientist (and family friend) to come up with a nanofiber membrane mask during the 2003 SARs epidemic. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S., Hwang’s family sent her those masks from Taiwan and, thus, Happy Masks was born.
The brand’s Pro Series offers a range of sizes — with the small size fitting ages three to 10 — and can withstand at least 50 washes by hand. It has adjustable ear straps and a nose wire to fit different face shapes, while its “parrot beak” design leaves enough room between the mask and the mouth and nose in order to breathe comfortably for long-term wear.
Nguyen Coffee Supply imports Vietnamese coffee beans from its partner farms in Vietnam and roasts them fresh weekly in Brooklyn, according to CEO and founder Sahra Nguyen. The Original Vietnamese Coffee Trio features three different coffee blends: Moxy, Truegrit and Loyalty Arabica-Robusta. The coffee comes finely ground, and you can brew it using the brand’s Phin Filter.
Nguyen told us AAPI month is an important time for the community to share their stories. “Many people don’t understand our community because we’ve been erased and ignored for so long,” Nguyen said. “Taking the time to learn about our community's unique experiences will deepen our connection and sense of shared humanity. From here, we can effectively work together to build a better world.”
CEO Jan Lo said the brand was inspired by his mom’s need for a lightweight, stylish and functional carry-on bag to take with her while traveling. While designing the brand’s first bag — The O.G. — Lo said he “quickly found that it wasn’t just my mother in need of a travel bag that didn’t sacrifice style for functionality.” Lo & Sons, which was co-founded by Lo, his mother and his brother, Derek, sells a variety of bags for men and women, including The Catalina Deluxe, which is one of our favorite weekender bags. The company sells apparel and face masks, too.
Lo & Sons also found success in focusing on sustainability. Derek Lo said that despite economic challenges, they launched new eco-friendly products using more sustainable packaging. The brand’s Catalina Collection bags are now made with both recycled and organic cotton, in addition to recycled polyester — the brand says each bag in the Recycled Poly Collection prevents “31 plastic bottles from entering our landfills.” Lo & Sons will also release their first vegan leather alternative bag later in 2022.
Edward and Judy Kwon founded the family-owned CALPAK in 1989 with the mission of making quality bags at an accessible price. Their daughter Jennifer Kwon has run the company since 2013. CALPAK’s bags range in size, style and color from the Kaya Laptop Backpack to the Hue Duffel Bag, which we also featured in our roundup of top-rated weekender bags. Beyond bags, luggage and organizers, CALPAK also sells men’s and women’s apparel, as well as wellness items like face masks, hand sanitizer and linen and room spray.
After five years of running gr8nola as a side hustle, founder Erica Liu Williams left her 10 year tech career to pursue the brand full time. gr8nola sells granola that's free from refined sugar, dairy, soy and GMOs in a variety of flavors, from Peanut Butter and Matcha to Cacao and Cinnamon Chai. Williams said she feels it’s her responsibility to use her platform to share her perspective and the voices of others in the AAPI community. “I feel socially responsible to myself, family and broader community to be a role model for others by leading by example and showing other young girls and people who look like me that you can achieve success on your own terms, without succumbing to becoming a “model minority” stereotype,” Williams said.
Silk + Sonder is a subscription service that sends members guided monthly journals with prompts inspired by positive psychology, as well as gives them access to virtual programming for peer-to-peer support. “Silk + Sonder’s mission is to solve the emotional health epidemic for customers versus being a band-aid fix,” said Meha Agrawal, the company’s founder. “At its core, Silk + Sonder is a space for mindfulness, journaling, planning, tracking and creative expression all in one.”
When Paiji Yoo decided to reduce her personal plastic consumption, she quickly realized how difficult it was to do. “Many household items use single-use plastic in their packaging,” she said. “This ultimately is what led me to found Blueland, as no one should have to sacrifice a clean home and clean clothes for a clean planet.”
Blueland has “benefitted from an increasing number of consumers who are interested in leading a more eco-conscious lifestyle,” Paiji Yoo told us. The brand has focused on refillable cleaning products like Glass + Mirror, Multi-Surface and Bathroom sprays, all of which are certified by the EPA’s Safer Choice program, which we highlighted in our guide to eco-friendly cleaning supplies. In total, Paiji Yoo counts 15 new Blueland products in the past two years. Blueland recently expanded into the self care space with the launch of its tablet-based Botanical Hand Soap Duo and powder-based Body Wash Starter Set. The hypoallergenic body wash is offered in three scents — Waterlily Dew, Sandalwood Sage and Raspberry Hibiscus — and is made with oat and vitamin E.
Stephanie Hon launched Cadence with the mission to eliminate single-use travel-sized plastic in February of last year — a month before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S. “We definitely put a pause on talking about air-travel, going to the gym before work, date nights, etcetera,” said Hon. But despite launching in the midst of the pandemic, the brand’s sustainable capsules repeatedly sold out.
Cadence specializes in magnetic and refillable containers made from recycled ocean bound plastic that snap together and can keep your small travel essentials and daily items organized. You can buy the capsules individually or get them a bundle of six, and they come in a variety of colors including Lavender and Terracotta. Hon said one of her biggest challenges as an AAPI business owner was being “bullish” and retraining her inclinations. “To say I think we’re going to be a million dollar company, to say it’s a great opportunity for people to be involved — there’s a perfect balance of humility and confidence that comes to light,” she said.
AAPI-owned businesses in 2022
There are 2.2 million AAPI business owners in the U.S., according to the Asian/Pacific Islander Chamber of Commerce (ACE). But the AAPI community is far from a monolith — it spans numerous cultures, countries and languages, so defining an AAPI business means dealing in broad strokes. According to the Census Bureau, to qualify as an AAPI-owned business, the organization must be 51% owned by persons of Asian or Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander origin — akin to the way the Census defines Black-owned businesses and women-owned businesses.
Of those 2.2 million business owners, nearly three quarters (72%) have a positive outlook for the future, according to a survey of 1,341 small businesses — including 151 AAPI businesses. Small business marketing firm Reimagine Main Street partnered with several chambers of commerce, including ACE, to run the survey, which focused on the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- While a majority of AAPI business owners are optimistic about their lot, that number is lower than it was for business owners who are Black (83%) or Latino (87%) — and lower than the average across all businesses (77%).
- AAPI business owners said they were “least likely to have experienced signs of recovery and expect a longer road to recovery” compared to other radial groups.
Last year, Nguyen told us that supply chain and freight issues had negatively impacted her businesses. When we caught up with her again this year, she said that those issues have actually gotten worse.
“Our freight will arrive, but it will be stuck at the ports for weeks because there’s no availability to unload the containers,” Nguyen said. That said, there have been many success stories in the past year. Megan Ruan, a general partner at AAPI advocacy group Gold House, told us that the “general trend” for AAPI-owned businesses in the past year was “growth.” Business owners we spoke — and whose stories we shared above — largely echoed that sentiment.
90+ AAPI-owned brands to support in 2022
In addition to our favorite products from AAPI-owned brands, we’ve rounded up some businesses we think you should know about across categories, including home, food, beauty and wellness. We asked each business below to confirm it meets the Census Bureau’s criteria of at least 51% AAPI ownership. While this list of AAPI-owned companies and products isn’t exhaustive, we aim to actively update this feature to help keep you informed about AAPI-owned companies worth considering.
AAPI-owned home and kitchen brands
- Anak Toy Kompany
- Bark and Vine
- ILHA Candles
- Material Kitchen
- O-M Ceramics
- Pawena Studio
- Solera Sleep
- The Homebodies
- Wing on Wo & Co
- Woo Ceramics
AAPI-owned wellness and fitness brands
- A Good Used Book
- Arkipelago Books
- Bel Canto Books
- Eastwind Books
- Femme Fire Books
- Giant Robot
- Maomi Bookstore
AAPI-owned beauty and skin care brands
- Caire Beauty
- CLE Cosmetics
- Ellis Brooklyn
- EM Cosmetics
- Essance Skincare
- Everyday Humans
- Glow Recipe
- Happy 2nd Birthday
- Hero Cosmetics
- Mount Lai
- Peach & Lily
- Pink Moon
- Soko Glam
- Tower 28 Beauty
AAPI-owned fashion and jewelry brands
- Jason Wu
- JW Pei
- Kahili Creations
- Nimble Made
- Notte Jewelry
- Paper Project
- Private Policy
- Rue Saint Paul
- Sonia Hou Jewelry
AAPI-owned travel brands
AAPI-owned food and drink brands
- Fly By Jing
- Kasama Rum
- Malai Ice Cream
- Mother in Law's Kimchi
- Nguyen Coffee Supply
- One Stripe Chai
- Red Boat Fish Sauce
- The Qi