In honor of May being Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), we’re highlighting 7 small businesses, owned and run by Asian and Pacific Americans, that are driving change. These businesses are bringing new offerings to the world of online shopping and are impacting the industry through how they’ve designed, grown, and continue to evolve their products.
Anti-Asian racism due to the pandemic has impacted businesses owned and run by Asians across the US, so the Welcome to Chinatown initiatives and merchandise line strived to support these businesses. With a line of clothing and partnerships with other small businesses in New York City’s own Chinatown, they have raised money and awareness for supporting Asian-owned businesses and standing against xenophobia. The business itself has a line of custom prints, apparel, totes, and décor, which are decorated to promote the local businesses hit hard during the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they’ve continued to release seasonal lines of merchandise to go with the changing seasons and times and continue raising money through interest from customers for new offerings. Their online store offers the products as well as behind-the-scenes stories on the businesses behind these collaborative design projects.
As great examples of the continued digitization of business, both Pearl River Mart and Wind on Wo & Co. started life as brick-and-mortar stores and have expanded into the online shopping space. In 1971, Ching Yeh and her husband Ming Yi Chen co-founded Pearl River Mart in Manhattan, the first-ever Chinese American department store. In 2016, Mei Lum, great-great-granddaughter of the original owners of Wing on Wo & Co., took on the management of the store, which was founded in the 1890s and is the oldest store in New York City’s Chinatown. Both businesses carry similar offerings instore and online, of home goods and home décor products. Both serve as storefronts for products made for their business as well as products from other businesses, like Pearl River stocking the popular Fly By Jing chili crisp, and Wing on Wo having a partnership with the community-based initiative started by Mei Lum for preserving Chinatown’s cultural heritage.
One of the biggest hurdles for those curious to try cooking Asian food is the accessibility and preparation of the various spices and seasonings required for even the most basic dishes. Omsom tackled that problem by creating easy-to-use packaged meal starters for a variety of Southeast Asian dishes, with simple instructions for turning the concentrated spice paste into a full meal with the addition of proteins and vegetables. They even teamed up with Disney to have a line of products to promote the release of “Raya and the Last Dragon”, catering to movie and food lovers alike in this collaboration. This development of products specific to Southeast Asian cuisine is accessible to those haven’t tried eating or cooking these dishes before, as well as convenient for those familiar with these flavors but unable to source all of the ingredients necessary for these dishes. They’ve designed these products “to bring proud, loud Asian flavors to your fingertips any day of the week…”
Coffee shops around the world have changed what chai stands for. The traditionally heavily spiced, lightly sweetened tea brew of India has become overly sweetened and simplified by cafes everywhere. One Stripe Chai chief officer Farah Jesani is trying to change that. She launched the business with the express purpose of “bringing this South Asian beverage back to its roots—starting with craft coffee shops”, to make it easier to buy these complex and spiced tea blends and have simple instructions for making a strong cup of chai.
Subscription boxes are all the rage, these days. And what better to develop into a subscription box than difficult-to-find Indian snacks? Indifix was inspired by founder Zain Ali’s own experience with being homesick for the snacks she enjoyed, growing up in New Delhi. The boxes are filled with Indian snacks and drinks, to both hit the spot for fellow Desis who are craving these nostalgic flavors, as well as novices to Indian snacks and drinks to experience new flavors. The snacks come in beautifully decorated packaging to make the unboxing process that much more exciting for the customer. Not only that, there are two box sizes to provide different snacking options to the customers.
The world of cosmetics has been historically and recently impacted by practices rooted in Asia. Many popular and trendy practices when it comes to skincare are derived from treatments and practices based in wellness rituals dating back hundreds or thousands of years. Mount Lai was founded on just those traditions, when Stephanie Zheng took the practices she learn from her grandmother and opened a business focused on sharing just such traditions. The products offered by Mount Lai range from facial rollers using a variety of precious stones, to skin butters using a combination of traditional ingredients, like purple gromwell and licorice root, and more modern ingredients, like squalane. This combination of the tried-and-tested traditional methods with modern technology and ingredients keeps history alive in the best way.