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During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and what’s next for the AAPImovement. We will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the entire month of May.
There’s something about these 12 Asian American–owned brands that people can’t stop talking about.
From the world’s first low-carb, high-protein instant ramen to bras designed for smaller chests to exceptional stationery straight from Taiwan, these are the small businesses that are defining markets, improving our lives and that we’ve been recommended over and over.
Read on for a rundown of 12 Asian American–owned companies that you can support all year long.
Priyanka Ganjoo created Kulfi because she was tired of waiting for a brand that centered South Asians in its narrative. “Kulfi Beauty puts the South Asian community at the forefront: our skin tones, undertones, and skin concerns,” said Ganjoo.
Kulfi’s feature product is their eyeliner, whose formula draws from the original Kajal (Kohl) made by burning almonds and mixing them with ghee — and whose colors complement the undertones of South Asians. “Most black liners can appear gray when applied to tan and deep skin tones. That's why I formulated our black, Nazar No More, to be more warm-toned and highly pigmented," Ganjoo said. For many of us who’ve been struggling with ill-fitting makeup tones, Kulfi is a small product that’ll make a huge difference.
Trixie Encomienda and Lalene Leav’s clothing brand began with a survey entitled, “Do u love or hate getting dressed? LOL” sent out to a hundred friends and family members. The answers confirmed what they’d been envisioning: that Lovefool should only showcase versatile, high-quality pieces sold at an accessible price and with inclusive sizing. “Yes it costs us more to be size-inclusive, but we felt strongly that this should have already been an industry standard,” Encomienda and Leav said.
Just like their name, their pieces are a playful mix of nostalgic and romantic, inspired by community feedback. Take a look, for example, at their Button Party Cardi, which features two middle buttons that are sewn down, to “prevent boob gaps.” (They just know!)
Inspired by her personal experiences with “#smallboobproblems,” Pepper CEO Jaclyn Fu set out to create a lingerie brand that would help people “embrace the 'flat' in flattering” and address the misconception that “if you're small-chested, you're petite,” said Fu.
Pepper’s bras seek to address a hole in the market for people who have AA, A, and B cups, and represent the whole spectrum of bra-wearers, including trans women, athletes, grandmothers, people with disabilities and beyond. One of their most popular fits, the Classic All You Bra eliminates gaps, uncomfortable push-up padding and “feeling like your body’s not enough.”
Founder Allison Song, a second-generation Korean American, created Heritage & Bloom to inspire women to embrace their story and cultural background through thoughtful accessories.
The Taegukgi (the name for South Korea’s Flag) collection, for example, takes visual elements and motifs from the flag and translates them into various earrings and necklaces. Her selection might be small batch, but each piece is uniquely poetic.
Blueland is the brainchild of Sarah Paiji Yoo, whose research while transitioning from breast milk to formula led her to some harrowing discoveries about microplastics in tap water. She channeled her new knowledge into creating Blueland, whose household products seek to eliminate single-use plastic packaging.
And as an added bonus, Blueland’s products pair superb cleaning agents — such as hand soap tablets and powder dish soap that work just as well as the industry-leading stuff — with calming, pastel-hued glass bottles that you’ll be proud to show off all around your home. Their bestselling Hand Soap Starter Set will last you well beyond the pandemic.
Based out of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, this quaint stationery shop does the big job of stocking the finest stationery from Taiwan and Japan. “Our goal is to introduce and work with independent artists to feature their work in our shop,” says Daisy, who owns Yoseka with her husband, Neil.
From traveler’s notebook made with washable paper to the most beautiful fountain pens out there, you get the feeling that Daisy and Neil have done a superb job of seeking out stationery with a story — that is, products made for the romantic in each of us.
As the oldest continuously operating store in Manhattan’s Chinatown with a five-generation long ownership legacy, Wing on Wo & Co. is equal parts purveyor of ceramic ware and cultural institution. Their inventory reflects this binary and is sourced from local markets in Jingdezhen, China’s porcelain capital (personally combed through by owner Mei Lum and Director of Product Nate Brown), and made locally with the help of small workshops and factories.
The site is full of one-of-a-kind pieces, like their bestselling handpainted plates sourced in Hong Kong in the '80s. The store also hosts the W.O.W. Project, “a community initiative amplifying community voices through arts, culture, and activism in a time of rapid neighborhood change.”
In an industry as archaic and confusing as the wine industry, Three Gems Tea aims to make tea good, simple and fun — even if you’re new to the world of loose-leaf brewing. In designing an accessible space, co-founders Diana Zheng and Ayumi Takahashi drew inspiration from the unfussy tea breaks they’d enjoy with family on return visits to China or Japan, where tea appreciation is woven into the fabric of daily life. “In tea-obsessed regions like Chaozhou, everyone drinks tea all day long, and you can easily pick up knowledge just from sipping tea together and chatting,” Zheng said.
In that same vein, you’ll notice the site is extremely easy to navigate and make decisions off of. But if you’re still unsure of where to start, try out their bestselling Duck Shit Oolong, known for its “juicy, fruity flavor, counterbalanced with a little bit of bassy funk.”
Anyone who’s been through the “ethnic” aisle of their local American grocery store knows how limiting most Asian selections of ingredients can be. Enter Umamicart, which launched in March 2021 to make Asian cooking more accessible to anyone with an internet connection. To shop, browse through seven food categories that carry familiar items, such as Chinese sweet sausage, lotus root, white dragonfruit and all the snacks you ever loved as a child.
Their most popular items are included in occasion-specific kits for cooking activities like DIY sushi night and hot pot — as if shopping your favorite items could get any easier. (They currently only deliver to NY, NJ, CT, PA, VA, MC, DE, and Washington, DC — but they hope to expand shipping nationwide sooner rather than later!)
Co-founders Kevin Lee and Kevin Chanthasiriphan started immi to pay homage to their favorite Asian American food, reworking it with high quality ingredients and added nutrition. The result? The world's first low-carb, high-protein instant ramen that’s retained all the convenience of your favorite cup ramen.
Each packet comes with one serving of shelf-stable noodles and a flavor-packed packet of soup powder you’ll want to tap every single particle of into your bowl. Pro tip: Check out their bestselling black garlic “chicken” flavor.
If, like many others during the pandemic, you’ve developed a green thumb, then you might want to check out the oldest American seed company specializing in Asian vegetable seeds — also known as Kitazawa Seed. In operation since 1917, Kitazawa Seed sells over 800 varieties of seeds from all over the world (it was the first American company to import Asian seeds!).
And despite the retro feel of the site — it’s easy shop each of its seeds, including their popular Korean Perilla seeds, in small packets or quarter-pound, one pound and five pound quantities.
When turmeric-spiced things started gaining popularity a few years back, founder Sana Javeri Kadri noticed one thing: “Most of the turmeric sold in the United States was labeled as ‘Alleppey’ turmeric, but it wasn’t actually a varietal. It was simply a name for all turmeric that met a certain size and shade,” said Kadri. So in 2017 she created Diaspora Co. with the goal of reintroducing heirloom varietals and “putting the power back in the hands of Indian farmers.” Diaspora Co. does this by cutting out the middleman and paying their farm partners, on average, six times the commodity price.
And those intimate relationships pay off: The 16 spices she sells on her site are guaranteed same-year harvest to ensure the highest potency and freshness. Check out their bestselling heirloom Pragati Turmeric and taste the difference for yourself.
For more stories like this, check out:
- These 9 new cookbooks celebrate AAPI history and cuisine
- This K-beauty sunscreen sold out in a week — and now I get the hype
- I was skeptical of these eco-friendly cleaning tablets — but they blew me away