The brainchild of Andrea Davis Hefley and Neung Ritter their small business We Are In Bloom began to sprout in 2015. They are very much blooming in 2019 making a difference in the lives of women in Northern Thailand as well as touching lives around the globe. They have committed their hearts, energy and resources to confronting regional language barriers and stigmas long in existence.
Through We Are In Bloom Andrea and Neung are spreading precious seeds of love to women who need and appreciate their guidance and mentorship. They are teaching how to create a sustainable income by identifying markets for products imagined and patterned for those they felt called to minister while gifting them with skills for generations to come. This is a life-transforming ministry for all involved.
Andrea, a native Athenian, earned her Bachelor of Agriculture degree at Texas A&M University followed by a degree in Master of Emergency Management. It was a group trip with Aggies' for Christ that took her to Thailand where she "fell in love with the people there," she recounted. It would be her first of two such mission trips.
Thailand, known as "The Land of Smiles," drew Andrea back for a second visit. It was on this trip that she met Neung of Chiang Mai. They became roommates and best friends and, ultimately, business partners in We Are In Bloom based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
We Are In Bloom sells one-of-a-kind hand-crafted bags, jewelry, kimonos and key chains as well as unique gifts from artisans in Northern Thailand. A ministry as much as a business, the two developed a way to connect Neung's passion for sewing with spreading God's love to empower women by offering valuable skills and jobs.
"We saw a need to enhance Thai women's self-value and to help them feel needed, "Andrea said. "Our goals first and foremost involve being a part of their lives, giving them something of value and developing skills. All 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 the women learn sewing skills the company provides respectable jobs 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 allows their older children to remain school and they are able to bring their younger children to work with them, Andrea related. As the business grows 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 skill and a job, "Andrea said.
Most recently Andrea and Neung developed relationships with the Hill Tribe in the mountains of Northern Thailand. Supporting their work helps artisan efforts thrive. "This is why some of the products look very different than others," Andrea said. Hill Tribe bags are of a style unlike what they produce in the studio. Their collection includes fully embroidered, very tediously made purses and bags. Some have small amounts of leather interwoven. In Thailand leather is hard to come by because the tribe members do not eat much beef or drink milk, consequently there are very few cows.
Hill Tribe women produce fabric that We Are In Bloom uses in its hand-stamped, hand-woven and silk fabrics for bags, scarves and kimonos. They also purchase key chains and some jewelry in Nan. The company has a connection with a silver provider in this Northern Thailand province that provides bibles to its employees.
Thai silver is 96% to 97% pure and contains no nickel. Therefore, it does not tarnish as quickly as less pure silver. Molds for rings and earrings are hand carved from wax by the Hill Tribe. Each mold is used three to four times before new ones are required. This results in unique jewelry pieces.
Presently, the company is raising money for a new building to provide more jobs. Out of room to expand the business in their current location requires some women to work from their homes. A concrete foundation has been poured for a new facility, leaving the exterior, interior rooms and preparation for air conditioning to be completed at an estimated cost of $50,000. Donations are being sought for the expansion.
Additionally, all proceeds from sales go directly to the Thai artisans and help support We Are In Bloom's full-time missionary and teacher, Neung. In the U.S. "99% percent of business is through trunk shows and hosted in private homes,” Andrea said.
Ultimately, building connections with other people and "letting them use the craft of their culture" in their home provinces is paramount to Andrea and Neung. "I think it is beautiful that they would share their culture and I can bring it to the U.S.," Andrea commented of those they serve in Thailand. "Their intricate designs are very distinct for South East Asia," she added.
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 the $50,000 building project, please visit:
Facebook: We Are In Bloom
Donation Specific: www.project521ministries.org
First-hand success and support stories from a few Thailand Artisans speak to the efforts of Andrea and Neung:
On a shopping trip to a Saturday market Neung and Andrea met a lady named Gade when they noticed her beautiful bags. Made of embroidered textile work from the Hill Tribe, they had been fashioned into purses. She told us her story. Having owned a store in her home in a handmade, hand-crafted area of Chang Mai she was forced to close because the business movement of the area changed – "it fizzled out." Since this was her sole means of support times had been very difficult following her business closure. After some conversation Andrea and Neung asked to see her work process and items. She now sews one-of-a-kind bags for We Are In Bloom, which helps meet ends. They learned of her niece from stories they shared. She was the first to go to college in the family and was making hand beaded key chains to support her tuition. We Are In Bloom began to purchase her items, as well.
Mud works full time for We Are In Bloom. When she first began she was pregnant and this helped her with expenses for the baby. The job allowed her to bring the child 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 put herself through high school. This 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. She has since been able to enroll in physical therapy instruction classes so she can help others.