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This AAPI Heritage Month, we’re sharing the stories you may not know behind some of your favorite AAPI-founded brands. Dive in below and check out our archives for more features – this is the last installment of the series.
Founded by: Oleema Miller and Kalani Miller
Oleema “The hardest part about starting MIKOH for me was the fear of the ‘what ifs’ instilled by so many people around us. Kalani and I had started MIKOH blindly – without any business background and design experience. And despite these doubts, I was still able to create a successful business because I was fearless – and beyond that, had so much passion, will, and a sheer determination to succeed. To me, there was no such thing as failure. That sort of faith in yourself can conquer anything.”
Kalani “Oleema and I were raised in a home that always encouraged us to be ourselves — strong, open minded, independent women who aren’t afraid to chase our dreams and achieve them. Our parents taught us to create our own paths and confidently take them. Because of this, we were able to start MIKOH and build our brand to what it is today. However, like anyone, I sometimes feel overwhelmed, anxious and overly stressed. To cope with this, I’ve learned that meditation and breathwork can instantly cut through those thoughts and relax my mind and body.”
Founded by: Shilpa Shah
“When we’re designing new collections and products for Cuyana, ensuring that each piece works seamlessly within our fewer, better wardrobing system is always our top priority. We’re endlessly inspired by the multifaceted Cuyana woman – aiming to design versatile, functional, and elevated pieces that will carry her wherever she needs to go and stand the test of time.
When Karla and I first decided to make the leap, there was little to no representation. As a South Asian woman, it was rare to see someone who looked like you. Because of this, it’s so important for me to pave the way for other AAPI women, creating opportunities and serving as the representation in the industry that I didn’t have when I first started.”
Founded by: Vanessa Dew
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like I was living a double life! Growing up, I was an outsider for being Chinese in a very Caucasian community. At the same time, I also felt very different because I was so Americanized and didn’t fit in with others at my Chinese school. Eventually I did find my tribe and my best friends who love me for me (with all the ‘extra’ and neuroses I come with as well!). But even to this day, as a new-ish mom, I don’t quite fit in with the stay-at-home moms – but because I can control my schedule, I participate in a lot more things than working moms can. At the same time, I don’t fit in with working moms either. So this is all to say, I’ve always been an outlier of sorts just doing my own thing. A younger me felt insecure about that, but the more experienced me has accepted all of this and the duality of where I sit makes me unique and even more special.
I used to feel this need to be accepted. It came with the idea of duality and trying to be accepted in the many worlds that I resided in. I also felt the need to be accepted and validated by my dad. Subconsciously, I either wanted to prove him wrong or make him proud. All of this has helped evolve to where I am today. I don’t need to fit into a box and, in fact, the better version of me is probably not neatly packaged. Best of all, my dad knows that all too well now that I live in my own world and do my own thing so there is no proving anything to him.”
Founded By: Julie Nguyen
“I put my entire savings into Methodology to get it off the ground, including taking no salary for about a year while working seven days a week. It was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. Looking back, I don't know how I powered through. Self-acceptance is what I seek the most. I try to live my life in a way that makes me respect, like, and accept myself. It's not easy. I have a lot of bad habits that are hard to break, but I'm doing my best to get a little better every day, month, year.
Getting to profitability was the most stressful thing I've ever experienced. I watched our bank account shrink each month as we constantly iterated on the product and marketing. Then, we had to quickly respond to the global pandemic. I wondered about my own health risks, but more importantly, I had to sort out the health and safety of a 100+ member team. I remember waking up at 4 AM every day for months because there was so much work to do. My cofounder, Stephen Liu, is the one who largely deserves the credit for navigating us through the pandemic. He leads our supply chain efforts and is a problem-solving genius!”
Founded By: Jaclyn Fu
“Pepper was first inspired by my own personal experience of growing up during puberty and hearing ‘flat chested’ as an insult. Then, as an adult, the experience of going to Victoria’s Secret and being handed a push up bra to look two sizes bigger. The hardest part about taking the leap to start Pepper was not knowing where to start or where to go for answers. Especially as a first-time, female, founder of color – I didn't have an established network of people in the industry I could go to for advice. I didn't know anything about fundraising, fulfillment, manufacturing (and a lot of other things!). However, I am good at asking for help and being really bold with asking. I knew I needed to talk to experts, so I went on Linkedin and started connecting with people who might be able to offer advice and asking people I knew whether they had anyone who could share knowledge. Through this process we ended up meeting so many helpful and knowledgeable people who opened those initial doors for us!”
Everyone goes through challenges and hardships. Through each obstacle is another lesson learned and it’s no surprise the owners of our favorite AAPI brands have been so successful. Make sure to read our previous installments for more stories.
Shop our favorite AAPI owned brands in this article below:
Hero image via @cuyana