INTERNATIONAL EXAMINER | How Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman built Refugee Artisans Initiative on the fabric of social and environmental justice

How Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman built Refugee Artisans Initiative on the fabric of social and environmental justice

By: Carmen Hom


{Excerpt - Read full article here.}

It is all because of a turquoise, cape chiffon dress, gifted and sewn by her grandmother.

Carried in Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman’s suitcase from Taiwan, to Saudi Arabia, and finally to America, it became a symbol of what inspires her everyday: the woman who made clothing for her family and community in Taiwan, showing the beauty of what is possible with just her hands.


(Photo by Carmen Hom)

Tung-Edelman is the founder and Executive Director of Refugee Artisan Initiative (RAI). 

“Pronounced ‘ray,’ like a ray of sunshine,” Tung-Edelman smiles.  

RAI is a nonprofit that trains refugee and immigrant women to sew in small-batch manufacturing, all while upcycling materials and diverting waste from the landfill. In other words, RAI is Seattle’s first environmentally-sustainable, socially-equitable nonprofit skill-training hub.  


RAI started with one artisan in 2017. Then one artisan turned into two, while neighbors told neighbors, and Tung-Edelman knew something had clicked. Today, RAI hosts about 17 women from six different countries including Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Morocco and China.  They divert 5,000 pounds (equivalent of about 15,000 t-shirts) of textiles away from the landfill and into the hands of their artisans to create. The artisans have cumulatively produced 120,000 items since RAI’s inception. Tung-Edelman sees building RAI as a testament to her community. 


(Photo by Carmen Hom)

There are four pillars that guide RAI: community, equity, skills training, and sustainability. However, rather than seeing these pillars as separate, Tung-Edelman sees the pillars as fundamentally intertwined.

“We hit both social and environmental justice head-on,” Tung-Edelman states, “We are not apologetic for who we are. We think that a circular, equitable economy can go hand in hand. Why can’t we create more work while preserving and reusing the materials that we have?”


Although they have grown immensely in the last five years, there is a lot RAI looks forward to in the future. They want to continue to find partners who are as eager as they are to divert textile waste. They are renovating their Lake City makerspace, and are potentially looking to host a satellite location in the South End. They have a goal of training 100 refugee women and helping them secure employment. 

However,  what stays the same is the community she wants to cultivate. 

“I think if nothing else we provide a safe and welcome place. For you to know that when you come, you’re not here just for the monetary exchange and your skills, but there’s a community here, actually, that cares about you.” 

Read the full article here.

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