73 AAPI-Owned Businesses to Support 2021 | The Strategist
A porcelain tea set from Wing On Wo & Co. — the oldest store in Manhattan’s Chinatown — that you can buy online.
Photo: Wing on Wo & Co.
One of the most direct and sustainable ways to support the Asian American and Pacific Islander community is to shop at AAPI-owned businesses. And over the past several months, we’ve made a concerted effort to highlight some of these for our readers, with guides to the best gifts under $50 from AAPI-owned brands, the best pieces of wall art from Asian American artists, and even the best tea from Asian producers. But in writing up these specific shopping guides, we realized that we’ve featured lots of businesses with AAPI founders and owners and designers in our reporting, even if we haven’t called them out as such.
So we’ve created an evergreen directory of more than 70 AAPI-owned businesses in five categories: beauty and wellness, fashion and accessories, food and drink, home and design, and miscellaneous businesses that don’t fit neatly into any of the other groupings. These recommendations are pulled from our archives, meaning we’ve written about every single one of these companies before. They’ve all been vetted by our writers and editors, recommended to us by celebrities and experts alike, and, in several cases, become best sellers among our readers. We’ve also gone through the list and added a product or two from each brand so you can see some of our favorite picks. (And if the product we originally wrote about is sold out, we’ve included something similar.) If you want to jump to a specific category, use the links below.
Beauty and Wellness | Fashion and Accessories | Food and Drink | Home and Design | Miscellaneous
Cabinet sells over-the-counter medicines like generic anti-histamines and pain relievers. It first came onto our radar at the start of the coronavirus pandemic as a place to buy hand sanitizer.
Founded by Lauren Jin, Cle Cosmetics makes minimalist K-beauty products that are nontoxic, vegan, and cruelty free.
The dental floss from this brand has been recommended to us by dentists and Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional.
Our beauty columnist Rio Viera-Newton first wrote about Cocokind’s culty chlorophyll mask in 2018, saying it had not only brightened and cleaned her skin but also “calmed and reduced the size of an angry red spot that had made itself at home on my forehead.”
Korean American journalist and activist David Yi — whom we interviewed about his very good skin back in 2017 — founded Good Light, a skin-care brand that isn’t marketed around gender norms. (This toning lotion is one of SuChin Pak’s favorites.)
Created by Soko Glam Labs, Good (Skin) Days is Soko Glam’s first exclusively owned brand. Rio has said the C’s the Day Serum is excellent if you’re “looking to even out or add radiance to your complexion,” and the cleanser makes her skin feel “clean, refreshed, and bouncy without any tightness whatsoever.”
Another favorite of Rio’s, these pimple patches are superthin, super-sheer, and ideal for the daytime treatment of zits.
Oral-hygiene brand Huppy makes toothpaste tablets it says are more sustainable than your traditional tube.
Created by beauty influencer and YouTuber Liah Yoo, Krave Beauty makes simple skin care (that comes recommended by another YouTube star, Hyram Yarbro, and that Rio describes as Gen Z–approved).
We first featured this oddly shaped massager from an “under-the-radar ecofriendly Taiwanese ceramics brand called Acera” on the Strategist in January 2020, and it’s also a favorite of Pak’s. She says it “simulates a hot-stone massage and can help melt away tension and boost circulation.”
These custom-fit, stick-on gel nails were recommended to us by Franci Girard, founder of the Sixes, who called them one of the best things she bought in quarantine.
Mount Lai makes gua sha tools and facial rollers inspired by founder and esthetician Stephanie Zheng’s grandmother and traditional Chinese medical practices.
Pak says that “these mineral peels for the body and face are the next best thing” to getting an exfoliating treatment at a Korean spa.
Alicia Yoon is the founder of Peach & Lily, which started as a place for carefully curated Korean beauty products and has since begun making its own skin-care line. This hydrating serum is a favorite of Rio’s and our readers’.
Rio calls this combo pack of a rose-quartz gua sha tool and facial oil the “perfect duo for gua sha beginners” — especially because, for $20 more, “you can purchase the duo with an added gua sha workshop hosted by a traditional Chinese-medicine practitioner and gua sha expert.”
According to former Strategist writer Lori Keong, this BB cream from Purlisse “combines the dewy effect of Asian beauty products (thanks to its Chinese herb extracts) with the natural feel of French apothecary brands.”
This gua sha tool from beauty guru Sarah Cheung’s brand, SACHEU, is made of stainless steel, so it has self-cooling capabilities and is easy to clean.
SLMD is owned by Dr. Sandra Lee (a.k.a. Dr. Pimple Popper), who told us that this exfoliating cleanser is the best-selling product from her line.
Founded by Amy Ling Lin, Sundays started as a brick-and-mortar nail studio and now makes nontoxic and vegan nail polishes in a rainbow of colors as well as this long-lasting top- and base-coat set.
Another line of skin care from Soko Glam, Then I Met You makes some of Rio’s “can’t-live-without staples in both my morning and evening routine.”
Tower28 is a Los Angeles–based, nontoxic skin-care and makeup line created with ultrasensitive skin types in mind (and the lip jelly is one of Rio’s favorites).
This tattoo-care line was created by Dr. Woo — who has tattooed the likes of Drake, Miley Cyrus, and Justin Bieber — to help tattoos heal and last.
This larger gua sha tool from Dr. Ervina Wu’s brand, YINA, is an excellent option for both face and body.
Founder and designer Sheena Sood’s colorful clothing is produced in small batches in India and Peru — and during the pandemic, the company started making surprisingly stylish tie-dyed masks to match its tie-dyed hoodies and joggers.
We first wrote about ADAY and its seasonless, sustainably made staples in 2019, when trend forecasters raved about its “sloungewear.” Our friends at the Cut also recommend its leggings.
Model Yumi Nu says, “I found this brand when I was looking for big silver jewelry a while back.” It’s designed by a Korean woman named Aeri who lives in San Francisco. “In addition to this Twin ring, I own the Sadie ring, Hana ring, Smiley Flower necklace, and so much more — I’d have to look at my full collection to tell you everything. Any time you see me wearing silver jewelry, it’s Aeri Go.”
It’s hard to count the number of times we’ve written about Baggu’s totes, purses, and pouches on the Strategist — but the standard Baggu, which the brand has been making since 2007, is still a classic.
Y2K-inspired jewelry brand BONBONWHIMS creates charmingly chunky pieces with a nostalgic flair. You can find anything from oversize resin heart rings to fluffy leopard-print bags that someone like Dionne from Clueless would proudly use to store her hot-pink flip phone. Best of all, for each purchase, the company gives back to AAPI organizations like Send Chinatown Love, Stop AAPI Hate, Heart of Dinner, and AALDEF.
We first heard of Caraa because of its well-made work bags (which can do double duty as gym bags), but at the start of the pandemic, the brand pivoted to making face masks that we described as “comfortable and well fitting” and that eventually became reader favorites.
Founded by Tiffany Ju, Seattle-based Chunks makes very colorful, high-quality hair clips that draw inspiration from Memphis design.
If you need a bag, Dagne Dover probably makes it. The brand has been recommended by lots of stylish folks in our guides to the best work backpacks, fanny packs, weekender bags, gym bags, and work bags for women.
Evolvetogether makes some of our best-selling — and surprisingly stylish — disposable face masks, though the company is now expanding to make other daily essentials like mosquito patches and water bottles.
Founded by two brothers, Tim and Dan Joo, Haerfest makes simple, easy-to-carry bags that are excellent for travel.
Singaporean Chinese–owned brand Hey Maeve makes delicate gold-plated jewelry and partners with i=Change, so $1 of every sale goes toward a women’s-empowerment cause or charity.
Julia Vaughn comes recommended by SuChin Pak, who told us that “Julia has become my one-stop shop for both old and new pieces; her inventory sits squarely in the middle of small dainty chains and over-the-top show jewels.”
Photo: retailer/Copyright 2020. All rights reserved.
When we tested the best fine jewelry that you can buy online, we said Kinn Studio was tops for solid-gold pieces for less than you would pay at a typical department store.
Another recommendation from Pak, Laos Supply was founded by Salong Namsa, who emigrated to the U.S. after years of living in a Thai refugee camp. Of the designs, Pak says, “Salong’s cultural pride helps make what would otherwise just be utilitarian streetwear feel a little more unique.”
M.M. LaFleur started with practical but stylish workwear for women and has since branched out to more out-of-office options like leggings, T-shirts, and this jumpsuit (with pockets), which was recommended in our roundup of jumpsuits for tall women.
Jessica Tse’s Notte Jewelry draws a lot of inspiration from aughts fashion with daisies and smiley faces and even an occasional puka shell, but everything is adult enough to wear to the office.
Paper Project makes clothing and socks out of Japanese paper yarn, which is naturally moisture wicking, odor eliminating, and quick drying.
Pepper makes bras specifically for women with smaller busts — in this case, AA, A, and B cups — both with and without underwires.
We’re fans of Sandy Liang’s fleece jackets for humans and for dogs. (Liang even wrote a haiku to her favorite pair of fleece-lined clogs for us.)
Another recommendation from model Yumi Nu, Tank Air makes clothing out of deadstock or leftover fabric from other brands.
As the name suggests, the Little Bra Company, founded by Emily Lau, makes actually nice-looking bras for women with smaller bust sizes and frames.
Most of the recommendations for AAPI-owned tea brands on this list come from Lisa Li, herself the founder of a tea brand called the Qi. She likes this herby lemongrass-and-ginger tea from Alaya, a company founded and run by Esha Chhabra and Smita Satiani, who work directly with Indian tea farmers.
According to former Strategist writer Nikita Richardson, Diaspora Co. “has quickly distinguished itself as the place to go for high-quality, single-origin Indian spices.” Its offerings are great for everyday use — as Rebekah Peppler, author of Apéritif, can attest — but they also make very nice gifts.
Five Seasons was founded by Zoey Gong, a former chef and nutritionist who is now training to be an herbalist in the style of traditional Chinese medicine. “To me, no person or brand knows how to blend Eastern holistic wellness and herbal medicine with Western nutrition better than Gong,” Li says. “And she does it all with an eye for beautiful colors, flavors, and tea blends that are totally out of the box in the best way.”
Photo: Cassie Zhang/Cassie Zhang
SuChin Pak says the food subscription boxes from Girl & Dug have “completely changed my approach to cooking.” Instead of sending meal kits, the company sends boxes of produce that invite you get creative and help you discover food “you have literally never eaten before, like oca, ice plants, white strawberries, squashini, and even minari (not the Oscar-nominated film but the vegetable it’s named after).”
If you’re looking for sculptural kitchenware or a wicked-sharp Japanese-style chef’s knife for a fraction of the cost, check out Material Kitchen, founded by Eunice Byun and David Nguyen.
Photo: Courtesy of vendor
Founded by Sahra Nguyen, who is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Nguyen Coffee Supply works with Vietnamese farmers and directly imports their beans to be roasted in Brooklyn. This kit includes a phin filter and a bag of beans, so anyone can learn how to prepare coffee the Vietnamese way.
The Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown is perhaps best known for its dumplings and dim sum, but its merch is quite cool too — like this T-shirt that features an image of the iconic storefront, which has been used in many, many movies.
Founded in New York City, Noona’s creates ice cream with Asian-inspired flavors like mochi, taro, golden sesame, black sesame, and toasted rice. According to author Jenny Han, who recommended it, “They really found a way to distill those exact flavors.”
Okina founder Kristin Eldredge searched high and low for an easy-to-bake mix that included healthy, organic ingredients to make breakfasts she felt good about serving to her sons. When she couldn’t find one she loved, she created her own. You can shop different muffin mixes, like banana chocolate chip or zucchini double chocolate, each of which is vegan and gluten free and contains only organic ingredients.
As Richardson wrote, “Sisters Vanessa and Kim Pham launched their company, Omsom, in collaboration with some of the most accomplished Asian chefs in New York City. The result is this spice kit of flavor packets (equivalent to 16-plus meals) that allows any cook to easily create authentically flavored Southeast Asian dishes, including Vietnamese lemongrass barbecue, Thai larb, and Filipino sisig, in 30 minutes flat.”
Made in Portland, Oregon, using ingredients imported from a family-owned farm in Assam, India, this chai concentrate from One Stripe Chai Co. is “pure, powerful, and so easy,” according to Pak.
Pak learned about Pursuit Farms through Girl & Dug “because its specialty Korean-barbeque-themed Ssamthing Else box can be paired with Pursuit Farms steaks.” Erik Sun, the founder of Pursuit Farms, is a hunter and chef and sells some of the widest selection of Wagyu steaks outside of Japan.
After experiencing her own postpartum difficulties, Rae’s Roots founder Joanna Linton brought traditional Chinese herbal teas and adaptogens into her daily routine to help her feel better. From there, she created her own teas specifically for moms and moms-to-be. Each one tackles a specific need for moms, including milk flow, sleep, and digestive health.
“Before the pandemic, the Japanese couple that owns Setsugekka would mill various tea leaves into matcha (or tea powder) right before your eyes in their East Village shop using a stone grinder they brought over from Uji, Kyoto,” says Li. And whether or not you can buy it in person, you can always order it online.
“Founded by Taiwanese American Elena Liao and her husband, Té Company operates a tiny tearoom in the West Village,” Li says, and it specializes in “oolongs, teas that are native to parts of southeastern China and Taiwan. The latter is where some of the most sought-after oolongs, grown high up on mountains, are produced.”
Founded and owned by Korean American Shin Won-Yoon and her husband, Tea Dealers specializes in Korean teas, which are generally harder to find in the United States than Japanese or Chinese teas.
“Tea Drunk’s Chinese American founder, Shunan Teng, has a master’s degree in tea and specializes in blends for Chinese gong fu tea ceremonies, rituals that are all about slowing down, practicing your brew, focusing on serving your friends or guests, and savoring the moment,” says Li.
Lisa Li’s own brand, the Qi, specializes in floral teas and works with small family-owned farms that offer only single-origin whole-flower herbs.
Amy Zhang is a Denver-based graphic designer and illustrator who makes lots of cute greeting cards and other illustrated gifts.
The cleaning products from Blueland — hand soap, multi-surface cleaner, bathroom cleaner, and glass-and-mirror cleaner — are tiny tablets that dissolve in water. Each comes in a sleek, refillable glass bottle to minimize plastic waste.
We’ve said Hudson Wilder’s dinnerware, which was inspired by vintage Danish dishes found in upstate New York, is the closest to traditional china (and a set your grandmother would approve that doesn’t feel fusty).
The classic glass tumbler candles from Ilha burn for about 50 hours each and are hand-poured in Queens.
Photo: Justin Chiu/Photographs: Justin Chiu
Italic sells luxury-quality goods without the markup of a luxury brand. These sheets, for instance, are from the same manufacturer as Frette and the Four Seasons but cost a fraction of the price. (A heads-up: To order from the site, you’ll have to purchase a membership, which costs $60 a year.)
Founded by husband-and-wife team Ted Vadakan and Angie Myung, Poketo makes incredibly fun, colorful, and actually practical stationery items. The planners come recommended by teachers and productivity experts alike (and make nice gifts for the bookworm in your life).
The Sill is our pick for the person looking for a more full-service plant-buying experience — like a help desk to answer questions or the option to buy a stylish planter — but who doesn’t want to spend too much.
Wing On Wo & Co. is the oldest store in New York City’s Chinatown, operating since the 1890s. It’s now run by Mei Lum, the fifth-generation owner, and sells its porcelain online.
Azn Flush is explicitly described as an “Asian drinking game” (and according to its website, the makers created it after drinking a bit too much soju). All you have to do is pick a card and do what’s written on it. “The brilliant thing about it is that all of the cards have some kind of nod to Asian culture,” says SuChin Pak.
Founded by Joan Nguyen and Chriselle Lim, both of whom are mothers to children under 5, BümoBrain “is basically an online learning hub for children ages 1 through 9 that offers live classes in subjects from reading to math to geography to music,” according to Pak. She recommends the language program, which her children have used to learn Korean.
Jason Markk’s business is keeping sneakers clean, both at his storefront in Los Angeles and in your home with his line of shoe-care products. This kit contains enough to clean around 100 pairs made of just about any material.
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