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Aimi Duong, Founder of Oimei Co. (INTERVIEW)

— September 21, 2011 — Social Good
Even over email, Aimi Duong, Co-Founder of the peace-promoting pillow enterprise Oimei Co., exudes positivity. Some say it’s hard to tell a person's character over email -- or a person’s lack of character -- but occasionally, despite the presence of smiley-faced emoticons and exuberant exclamation points, a genuineness comes out. And this honest-to-goodness essence is reflected in Oimei Co. as a business.

Here, speaks to Aimi Duong about her early interest in textiles, how business school's focus on the maximization of profits proved uninspiring, and more importantly, how compassion and love are necessary to keep her and her business going -- and that's not at all cheesy. We swear.

To contribute to Aimi Duong's start-up social enterprise, please visit Oimei Co.'s Start Some Good campaign website.

Four Questions with Aimi Duong

1. How did the idea for the business model come about?

I’ve always loved ethnic-inspired textiles; all the vibrant bold colors and patterns that are rich with cultural and historical context. During a year studying abroad in Bangkok, Thailand, I had the opportunity to travel throughout Thailand and neighboring countries such as Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, discovering that each of these countries has their own unique style of beautifully hand-crafted textiles.

After visiting many small villages where such textiles are being produced, I quickly became intrigued. I saw that many artisans live in undeveloped communities struggling to make a living. I asked questions, researched about fair trade and soon realized that by helping them gain exposure to new markets; they are able to work for a fair wage, preserve a traditional craft and be self-sustainable.

After traveling to many undeveloped communities I learned that a small effort can make a big difference in the lives of the rural poor. As a newly college grad who is fascinated with the power of social enterprise, I had the idea to start a small business to support rural artisans while also re-investing a percent of net profits into peace-building initiatives. As a result, I will sell “pillows for peace.”

2. How did you decide to join this sector?

During college I had many “jobs” ranging from waitressing, retail, sales, administrative, working with handicapped children and interning as a research fellow for an NGO in Thailand. I’ve also dedicated a lot of time volunteering with underprivileged children and families. From my work experience I knew that philanthropy is what I enjoy but as I was studying business for my undergraduate degree; I didn’t think I could pursue that passion.

In business school we are taught in almost every course that the ultimate mission is to maximize profits using traditional business models, which was quite uninspiring for me. Then, I discovered social enterprise, which has completely changed my future aspirations, empowering me to combine my passion for philanthropy and business knowledge as an entrepreneur.

3. How do you get your inspiration?

Call me cheesy but I am inspired by love, compassion, good vibes and simplicity. These are a MUST to keep me going. I am aware that life and its obstacles can sometimes be daunting but I don’t believe in wasting time dwelling on the bad. I try my best to incorporate these essentials in my everyday life. I seek and embrace beauty in the simplest things and I grasp onto “feel good” moments. It can be a nice conversation had with an old friend, a smile shared with a stranger, witnessing the simple act of compassion, walking through a fresh flower market in Thailand or getting lost alone in Myanmar.

Life inspires me.

4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?

I make an effort to step away from the computer; spend time with good friends and family; have nice conversations unrelated to work; go for walks; read; and hunt for cozy cafés with pastries and good coffee! For me to stay creative, I strive to achieve balance in all aspects of life.