“Starting your own business is not something easy to do.”

—Monica Phromsavanh

Monica Phromsavanh’s parents immigrated to Argentina in the late 1970s from Laos, a country in the midst of a civil war. Forced to flee to Argentina, they raised two children in a community of around 100 Lao refugee families in Posada Misiones. “It was really poor,” Phromsavanh says, in the latest episode of Maker’s Lane. “A lot of us suffering from not having shoes to go to school or going to bed a little bit hungry or we would have to walk miles for water.”

Maker’s Lane is a documentary series by APA filmmaker Sahra Vang Nguyen about creative entrepreneurs in New York City. In its first season, Maker’s Lane highlighted Asian Pacific American trailblazers during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Now in its second season, Maker’s Lane widens its lens to explore the process of creativity amongst a diverse set of creative innovators.

Watch other episodes of Maker’s Lane

“Our last names were extremely long so, in school, they would make fun of that. Also they would make fun of the fact that we were in a refugee camp.”

At fifteen, Phromsavanh dropped out of school for a job where she worked 60 hour weeks and earned $300 a month. She came to this country at 17 and began making her way to New York. “I’ve done everything from cleaning apartments to wrapping chocolates,” she says. She arrived in the city eight years ago with two hundred dollars in her pocket—that, and a lot of ambition. After working with clothing stores like Express and Burberry, Phromsavanh and Leona Vasserman founded Modalistas, but she wanted to do more. That’s how she came up with the idea of ModaBox, which puts personalized styles into the hands of women around the country.

Learn more about ModaBox

“Growing up in a refugee camp, I never began to imagine that I would be where I am today. But those very circumstances pushed me to work harder and persevere beyond tough times. It has allowed me to pursue my dreams.”

—Monica Phromsavanh, in an interview with Little Laos on the Prairie

Read the interview

“I don’t think you’re ever going to feel a point in your life where you’re like, ‘I reached the top of the mountain and I finally arrived.’

I think that you’re gonna reach the top of the mountain and look back, and then you’re gonna say, ‘Okay, can I go any higher than this?’”

—Monica Phromsavanh

Come back next Wednesday for the final episode of Maker’s Lane on Nicole Ponseca, restauranteur with Maharlika and Jeepney.