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Lao Diaspora of the Week: Saengthong Douangdara

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This week’s featured Lao diaspora is Saengthong Douangdara, better known as Saeng. Saeng was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and grew up in Southern Wisconsin. He currently resides in California and is the founder of Tie Theory, a company that sells hand-crafted bowties and pocket squares to benefit social causes.

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What is Tie Theory? How did you come up with idea of starting up something like Tie Theory?

Before Tie Theory was created, I developed several small businesses on the side to help support myself through college.  The entrepreneurial mindset was always with me. When I moved to California, I took up sewing so I could tailor my own clothes. I was able to teach myself how to sew in a few weeks despite having never used a sewing machine before. Surprisingly, I discovered a new passion. In a few months, I found myself tailoring my friends’ clothes and making costumes, dresses, suits, and bow ties. Not too much later, Tie Theory was born.

Tie Theory is a social brand that infuses social connections, social causes, and fashion. As part of our business model, a portion of our sales goes to support social causes. We hope that when people browse our products, they will learn more about the organizations and causes we support.

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How did you select the two non-profits you support?

I made sure to choose to non-profits that reflected my values and experiences. One of these non-profits is the Los Angeles LGBT Center. I identify as a part of the LGBTQ community and have previously volunteered with the Hawai’i Island HIV/AIDS Foundation, where I learned a lot about the difficulties faced by LGBTQ people. I also donate to the Illumination Foundation, which provides services to the homeless community. I think people have stereotypes about both communities and I want to help break them down. At the end of the day, I believe we are all interconnected through our own personal lives and experiences.

What are your goals for the company?

One of my goals for the company is to expand the products we offer beyond bow ties, pocket squares, and hair bows. I am working on creating my own fabric designs related to Lao culture to make Tie Theory more unique to the public. I also hope to strengthen the social aspect of the company and find other means to promote social causes. Eventually, I hope I will be able to establish a scholarship through the company to encourage Lao Americans to attend college.

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Saeng wears a custom made shirt inspired by traditional Lao clothing. He hopes to incorporate these designs into Tie Theory products in the future.

Lastly, what message do you want to send to Lao America?

The reminder of my parents’ struggles of leaving their homeland and coming to a new country has helped push me forward. But it is also a story that needs to be pushed into the public, beyond the Lao community. I hope that Lao America can feel confident in telling our own history and not letting others do it for us.

I also want Lao America to know that anything is possible. I hope that we can all work collaboratively to show our youth the strength of Lao America, and to use our distinct skills to help one another. Even though we come from a history of war and tragedy, we can make a better life for ourselves and the future generation.

To learn more about Tie Theory visit:

– Leslie Chanthaphasouk, lchanthaphasouk@gmail.com 

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