When Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman was growing up in Taiwan, her grandmother made all of her clothes by hand. She was a home-based seamstress and a single mother who was able to raise three kids through her sewing skills. Ming-Ming immigrated to the United States when she was a teenager. She was able to get a good education and has had a productive decades-long career in health care, but she wanted to do more to help the immigrant community of which she is a part.
In 2016, Ming-Ming launched the Refuge Artisan Initiative (RAI), a non-profit organization. RAI partners with immigrant women and provides artisan skills training, along with connections and assistance with employment opportunities. TheWMarketplace is so pleased to have an array of these affordable small-batch homemade goods for sell, such as tea towels, pet toys and beds and shopping bags. When you purchase one of these items, you can know that there is someone who sewed it that is gaining skills that will help them build a better life. As Ming-Ming says, “I’ve witnessed that tools plus skills can transform lives.”
How long have you been in business and has your business changed since you started it?
I have been in the business for six years, and went from an LLC to non-profit two years later as I realized we spent a big part of what we do in skill building. We pivoted to make masks from donated bedsheets at the beginning of the pandemic when no masks were found. We realized our strengths are making things people need while being very resourceful.
What has been the most challenging thing about getting your business up and running?
Besides initial funding, the most challenging is to find the right staff to help training our artisans to work with them as many don't speak English well.
What has been the most exciting or rewarding part of owning your own business?
I can be as innovative with my idea of circular equitable economy to create jobs for refugee and immigrant women while keeping unwanted textiles out of the landfills.
What communities have been important for you as you grew/developed your business?
Our partners are companies, organizations and institutions that believe in ethically handmade products by refugee and immigrant women while providing them living wage.
Do you have items, photos or mementos on your desk that inspire you each day? What are they?
I have photos of all the artisans in my program with list of items they have made to remind me how much they have accomplished.
If a journalist were to write a headline about you, what would it be?
Immigrant woman helping refugee and immigrant women stitching new lives one sewing machine at the time