Meet Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman, the owner and founder of Refugee Artisan Initiative in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood. Ming-Ming drew on her own experiences as a refugee when she created Refugee Artisan Initiative (RAI) to provide employment for refugee and immigrant women through their artisan skills, as well as teach them valuable business skills. 

Bonus: RAI is not only a great place to shop for homemade goods, it’s also a great place to volunteer!

Get to know more about Ming-Ming and RAI in this week’s Business Q&A.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why is it important to you and your business that people #SpendLikeItMatters?
“RAI is creating a regional, circular and equitable economy. When people purchase from RAI, they are not only buying local, they are also helping us create living wage jobs for one of the highest unemployed demographics in the United States – refugee and immigrant women. Moreover, buying RAI label products helps us upcycle, reuse, prevent textile waste and divert from landfills.”

As a business owner, what’s the strangest or craziest idea you’ve ever tried?
“That would definitely have to be our decision to make masks. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were little to no masks and people were struggling to find the protective gear they needed. We looked at donations of 100% cotton, high thread count sheets we had received from Amazon returns and realized we could help meet a critical local community need with local upcycled materials and local labor. RAI ended up producing 80,000 cloth masks.”

What’s something your customers may not know about you or your business?
“Refugee Artisan Initiative just moved into a new urban manufacturing space in Lake City, going from 1,800 square feet in our former space to now 6,000 square feet! We have big dreams to turn our new home into an RAI Makerspace and Cultural Community Center where we will host upcycle workshops, community events, and have artisans meet clients to make custom items.”

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