As it did for companies across the globe, pandemic-related freight issues increasingly complicated the supply chain for Sahra Nguyen, founder and CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply — and made it much more expensive to manage. And the spike in anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander violence increasingly strained an already difficult year:
“The biggest challenge is staying mentally, emotionally and physically safe so that I can continue to show up for my business, family and community,” said Nguyen.
AAPI-owned businesses have suffered tremendously since the onset Covid, according to a survey from the Asian/Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (ACE). Of the approximately 900 AAPI small business owners surveyed…
- More than 80 percent reported negative effects
- 10 percent have closed their business
- And 45 percent have lost or let go of employees
In general, there’s been a 169-percent increase in hate crimes in major cities — nonprofit advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate received more than 6,600 reports of anti-AAPI violence since it launched in March 2020 — unemployment rates rose disproportionately and solutions have made headway, such as the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act. All of it has added to an increased national focus on the challenges and realities that AAPI communities face.
Within the past year, the visibility of anti-AAPI violence in the U.S. — which goes back centuries — caused a large mobilization of people, organizations and retailers to up their support of the AAPI community through advocacy, donations and awareness in light of AAPI Heritage Month. Multiple online retailers and brands have been increasing efforts to highlight AAPI-owned businesses.
- Amazon and Etsy launched storefronts highlighting AAPI small businesses.
- Reviews site Yelp announced a new feature last month by which businesses can self-identify as “Asian-owned,” making it easier for shoppers to find them.
- Shop by Shopify, a free app to navigate small businesses, unveiled a directory of Asian-owned businesses in March.
- Food delivery giant Grubhub began its Donate the Change program this month, giving all proceeds to National ACE and AAPI-owned restaurants across the nation.
Jan Lo, CEO of travel brand Lo & Sons, said reports of attacks on members of the AAPI community this year — specifically involving anyone around his mom’s age — brought his family’s heritage a lot more personal. “We’re extremely proud of our AAPI heritage, but we have also tried to build an ethos around inclusivity,” he said. The challenges “can also be viewed as opportunities, as I think many people can connect to our story of our mom inspiring her sons to help her achieve her professional dreams — not just because we’re Asian.”
AAPI Heritage Month “gives us an opportunity to lift each other up, to celebrate and express pride in different parts of our community,” explained Ian Shin, assistant professor of history and American culture at the University of Michigan, adding that it also offers an “opportunity to revisit history and remind people that, in fact, anti-AAPI violence is not un-American — it’s woven into the fabric of American society from the mid 19th century onward.”
AAPI-owned businesses in 2021
AAPI-owned businesses nationwide were the most negatively impacted throughout the pandemic, demographically speaking, according to CNBC: The number of working AAPI business owners fell by 20 percent last year. Among the most affected areas was San Francisco’s Chinatown, which saw 75 percent of its storefronts become nonoperational at some point last year.
But what is an AAPI-owned business in the first place? The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) told us that it doesn’t specifically define what constitutes an AAPI-owned business. The U.S. Census Bureau does, however: having persons of Asian or Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander origin owning 51 percent or more of the business — akin to its definitions of Black-owned businesses and women-owned businesses. This definition covers East Asia (like China, Japan and more), Southeast Asia (including the Philippines, Vietnam and more) and the Indian subcontinent (Pakistan, Bangladesh and more) — the three comprise more than 19 countries and 20 million citizens in the U.S. can trace their origins to here — as well as the Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia subregions, which include Native Hawaiian, Samoan, Fijian and Tahitian people, among others.
Despite these definitions, or lack thereof, the two agencies do provide some noteworthy insights. Based on the most recent data released by the Census Bureau, here’s what we know:
- In 2012, there were roughly 2 million AAPI-owned businesses in the U.S. (2016 data)
- In 2018, there were more than 577,000 Asian-owned and over 6,600 Pacific Islander-owned employer businesses in the U.S. (2021 data)
Sarah Paiji Yoo, co-founder and CEO of eco-friendly cleaning brand Blueland, said she’s “incredibly proud” to be an Asian American running a business but is often subject to racism, especially on social media — people comment assumptions regarding where Blueland manufactures its products, for example. Then there’s the “model minority myth,” a harmful argument that typically praises Asian Americans for economic, academic and cultural success based entirely on stereotypes. It’s yet another challenge for Lin Chen, founder and CEO of wellness brand Pink Moon. “People continue to generalize, stereotype and be selective in who they want to listen to, invest in [and] purchase from,” she told us.
In our guide to women-owned brands, owner and founder of Hero Cosmetics Ju Rhyu told us that running a business is accompanied by “a lot of responsibility” to support her community, “especially as a business owner, since there is privilege and influence in being in this position.” That privilege comes at a time when 44 percent of unemployed Asian American women have been out of work for at least six months. This year, over 1,000 AAPI executives like DoorDash founder Tony Xu and Zoom CEO Eric Yuan donated $10 million to groups supporting the AAPI community, including nonprofit Asian Pacific Fund and the Asian-Americans Advancing Justice, a legal advocacy group for hate crime victims. Other business leaders pledged $125 million to launch the Asian American Foundation, which will support AAPI organizations and causes over the next five years — the largest philanthropic commitment in history fully focused on the AAPI community. The foundation raised another $125 million from organizations like Walmart, Bank of America and the Ford Foundation.
While noteworthy efforts, the AAPI community receives less than 1 percent of philanthropic funds despite making up 7 percent of the population and the country’s fastest growing racial group, according to the Pew Research Center.
Being a South Asian founder, Silk + Sonder’s Meha Agrawal said “it often feels like all the odds are stacked up against us: We have to work harder [and] prove ourselves every step of the way.” But throughout her career, she’s learned that “the most important thing a female founder or woman of color can do is make sure that people in seats of privilege are brought along on our journey” to have transparent conversations while building a business.
Each Fall and Spring, AAPI nonprofit Gold House hosts the Gold Rush cohort of Founders — Sahra Nguyen participated last year — wherein founders attend weekly master classes and panels led by advisors, expose their brands to potential investors and influencers, and join a network of founders that meet regularly to share insights and build partnerships. ACE National also provides guidance for starting and maintaining a business, including how to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, loans, government programs and health and wellness matters.
Business owners said messaging and connecting with other founders on social media, from Twitter to LinkedIn, helped them network. Founders “will be extremely helpful and crucial as you build [your business] and oftentimes they’ll be the only ones who can empathize and understand what you are going through in successes and failures,” noted Rhyu.
Pink Moon’s Lin Chen said she’s part of multiple networking groups on Facebook for Asian creatives and entrepreneurs, including Asian Hustle Network and Asian Creative Network.
Notable AAPI-owned products in 2021
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-percent edict, we asked each business below to confirm that it meets the criteria: having persons of Asian or Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander origin owning 51 percent or more of the business.
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 design clothes without the traditional menswear and womenswear labels. Made from 100-percent Rayon, this jacket can be worn with the sleeves on or off, serving multiple purposes. You can also shop their collection at Selfridges.
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. 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.
CEO and founder Sahra Nguyen said 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, sells a variety of bags for men and women, including The Catalina Deluxe, which is featured in our roundup of the best weekender bags. The company sells apparel and face masks, too.
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 was also featured in our roundup of the best weekender bags. Beyond bags, luggage and organizers, CALPACK 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 Sarah Paiji Yoo, Blueland’s CEO, 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,” said Yoo. “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 sells refillable cleaning products like Glass + Mirror, Multi-Surface and Bathroom sprays — included in The Clean Up Kit — all of which are certified by the EPA’s Safer Choice program, as we previously reported in our guide to eco-friendly cleaning supplies.
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 $XM 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.
109 AAPI-owned brands to support in 2021
In addition to our favorite products from AAPI-owned brands, we’ve rounded up some businesses across various Shopping reader interests, including home, food, beauty and wellness. We asked each business below to confirm it meets the Census Bureau’s criteria of at least 51 percent 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 & Vine
- The Homebodies
- ILHA Candles
- Material Kitchen
- O-M Ceramics
- Pawena Studio
- Woo Ceramics
AAPI-owned beauty and skincare brands
Update your skincare regime by shopping for a Gua Sha facial tool from Mount Lai or combat maskne with Soko Glam’s Pimple Patch. You can also shop from dozens of AAPI-owned makeup brands, fragrance shops like Ellis Brooklyn or nail care brands like Sundays.
- AVYA Skincare
- Cle Cosmetics
- Caire Beauty
- Ellis Brooklyn
- EM Cosmetics
- Essance Skincare
- Glow Recipe
- Happy 2nd Birthday
- Hero Cosmetics
- Krave Beauty
- Mount Lai
- Peach & Lily
- Pink Moon
- Soko Glam
- Tower 28 Beauty
AAPI-owned food and beverages brands
- Fly By Jing
- Malai Ice Cream
- Nguyen Coffee Supply
- One Stripe Chai
- The Qi
- Red Boat Fish Sauce
- Wing on Wo & Co.
Looking to expand your at-home library but don’t know where to start? These AAPI-owned bookstores from across the country have a wide variety of options, from used to brand new.
- A Good Used Book
- Arkipelago Books
- Bel Canto Books
- Eastwind Books
- Femme Fire Books
- Maomi Bookstore
- Orphan Books
- Philippine Expressions Bookshop
- Townie Books
AAPI-owned fashion and accessories brands
- Bellemere NY
- Gentle Monster
- Hey Maeve
- Jason Wu
- JW Pei
- Kahili Creations
- Nimble Made
- NOTTE Jewelry
- Paper Project
- Private Policy
- Rue Saint Paul
- Sonia Hou Jewelry
AAPI-owned wellness and fitness brands
- Happy Masks
- L’Oeuf Poche
- Mono B
- Pluto Pillow
- Silk + Sonder