Brainchild of Andrea Davis Hefley and Neung Ritter, small business, We Are In Bloom, began to sprout in 2015. They are really blooming in 2019, making a difference in the lives of women living in Northern Thailand, as well as touching lives around the globe. These women have completely thrown their hearts over the proverbial high-wire as they move forward bridging language barriers and stigmas that existed for many years in this region.
We Are In Bloom is spreading precious seeds of love to a people who really need and appreciate the teaching and mentorship by Andrea and Neung. Creating a sustainable income by identifying a market for products they dreamed up and patterned for a people to which they felt called to minister. Gifting them with the skills that will last for generations to come, Andrea and Neung continue their journey to help people completely transform their lives.
Andrea is from Athens, and attended Texas A&M, where she received her Bachelor's degree in Agriculture. She later received a Master's degree in Emergency Management. It was a trip with a group named, Aggies' for Christ that she took her first, of two mission trips in college, to Thailand, where she "fell in love with the people there," she said.
Thailand, known as "The Land of Smiles," drew Andrea back for her second visit, and this is when she met Neung of Chiang Mai. They became roommates and best friends, ultimately business partners years later in We Are In Bloom, based in Chaing Mai, Thailand.
We Are In Bloom sells one-of-a-kind hand-crafted bags, jewelry, kimonos, and key chains, among other interesting gifts from artisans in Northern Thailand. A ministry as much as a business, they developed a way to connect Neung's passion for sewing and spreading God's love to empower women in this area by offering valuable skills and jobs.
"We saw a need to enhance Thai women's value in their own eyes, to help them feel needed, "Andrea said. "Our goals, first and foremost involve being a part of their lives; to give them something of value, such as skills while being there for them-to-be like Jesus," Andrea explained.
Thai women involved with We Are In Bloom feel a boost in their self-esteem and worth. After learning sewing skills, the company provides respectable jobs for Thai women, supported by Christian relationships. This keeps many single and widowed women out of the sex trade and other unseemly ways to support themselves and families. It keeps their older kids in school, and they are able to bring their young children to work with them, Andrea related. As they grow, they hope to provide daycare services at the sewing studio.
Of the company's origin, the two began by offering sewing lessons and hosting sewing workshops in Chiang Mai. "Ladies began coming to Neung's home to sew, so it turned into a job, "Andrea said.
Most recently Andrea and Neung have developed relationships with the Hill Tribe living in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Supporting their work helps their artisan efforts thrive as well. "This is why some of the products look very different than others, "Andrea said. Hill Tribe bags are a different type than what they make in the studio. Their collection includes fully embroidered, very tediously prepared purses and bags. Some bags have a little leather interwoven. In Thailand, leather is hard to come by because the tribe does not eat much beef, or drink milk, thus no cows.
Hill Tribe women make a lot of fabric, of which, We Are In Bloom uses their hand-stamped, hand-woven and some silk fabrics for their own bags, scarves and kimonos. They also purchase key chains and some jewelry. As to silver jewelry they buy it in Nan. We Are In Bloom has a connection with a silver company at this province in Northern Thailand and are able to provide bibles to their employees.
Thai silver is about 96-97 percent silver, it does not contain any nickel, so it doesn't tarnish as quickly as others may. Molds for rings and earrings are hand carved and made of wax by the Hill Tribe. Each mold is only used three or four times before needing to be remade, causing every piece to be unique in some way.
Presently, the company is raising money for a new building to allow more women to have jobs. Out of room to grow the business in their current location, some women are working from their homes across areas of Thailand. A concrete foundation has been poured and shaped, leaving closing up the building, completing a couple of rooms, and readying it for air conditioning. This will require $50,000, of which, donations are being solicited and received. Donations can be made at www.weareinbloom.org or Project521ministries.org which has a donation button allowing you to get a tax deductible receipt.
All proceeds from sales go directly back to the Thai artisans, as well as, help support We Are In Bloom's full time missionary and teacher, Neung.
In the U.S. "Ninety-nine percent of business is through trunk shows, and hosted in people's homes who will then invite people to come and shop.
Ultimately, building connections with other people and, "letting them use the craft of their culture" in their countries is of interest to Andrea and Neung. "I think it's beautiful that they would share their culture and I can bring it over her," Andrea commented of Thailand. "Their intricate designs are very distinct for South East Asia," she ended.
Prices for various bags are below:
Small zipper pouches range from $8 - $10 (US); totes and purses can be found from $40 to $160 (US), while larger leather bags that are fully embroidered run $300-$350(US). However, the company website offers a variety of product pictures and other valuable information.
To learn more about We Are In Bloom; for purchasing products, hosting a trunk show or making a donation toward their $50,000 building project, please visit:
Facebook We Are In Bloom
Donation Specific: www.project521ministries.org
Success and support stories from a few Thailand Artisans blooming, body, soul and mind, with a little help from We Are In Bloom:
On a shopping trip to a Saturday market Neung and Andrea met a lady named Gade, because they noticed she had some beautiful bags. Made of embroidered textile work from the Hill Tribe, they had been fashioned into purses. She told us her story. Once owning a store in her house in a handmade, hand-crafted area of Chang Mai she was forced to close it down because the business movement of the area changed: "it fizzled out." Since she supports herself times had been very difficult following her business closure. After some conversation, Andrea and Neung asked to see her set up and her stuff. She now sews one-of-a-kind bags for We Are In Bloom, which helps support her. They learned of her niece from stories they shared. She was the first to go to college in their family and was making hand beaded key chains to help support her tuition. We Are In Bloom began to purchase her things too, which in turn helped her.
Mud works full time for We Are In Bloom. When she first started work she was pregnant and this helped her to have money to have the baby. The job allowed her to bring her baby to work every day, something Andrea says is unheard of in Thailand. Two and half years later she is still going strong and her baby has grown up with her and the staff. She is in Bible Class with Neung and receives counseling.
Koy worked with We Are In Bloom to help work her way through high school after Neung discovered that she was doing manual labor at an onion farm. Learning she wanted to go to a camp put on by a university, the company was able to support her in that effort to go. She has since moved on and is attending Physical Therapy School so she can help others.