Instead of asking who our neighbor is, us Neighbors tend to ask…who isn’t our neighbor? In today’s world, we’re aware of what’s going on in almost every corner of the globe. It’s also becoming ever more difficult to know the people behind each and every purchase we make on a daily basis. As a consumer, you become neighbors to every person who touched your product during its creation. Regardless of postal code, you are connected to them because of it. At Neighbors Apparel, we’re aware of the unjust business practices that are often implemented in production — especially in the fashion industry — and we aim to do the exact opposite. We give our customers the opportunity to know who created their product, and can assure that they both enjoyed and earned a living wage making it. We love our neighbors through apparel, and allow you to do so also.
Refugees are our neighbors, whether they're in refugee camps across the world or houses across the street. More often than not we know they're in our very own cities, but we don't actually know them or why they're here. We're unfamiliar with their stories, yet many have faced atrocities that most of us won't ever come close to experiencing.
Here in Akron, there are many different refugee groups from across the world. Our vision at Neighbors Apparel is to bring together all of these cultures into one brand, promoting peace and creating unity as we live alongside each other in one community. Currently, we employ Karen refugee women from Burma and Bhutanese refugee women from Nepal. Read below to find out more about these neighbors.
The Karen are an ethnic group indigenous to Southeast Asia. Karen people located in Burma have been fighting a civil war for over six decades against the Burmese military regime for autonomy and cultural rights. Civil war has produced many human rights abuses that the Karen have faced for decades, and most have been forced from their homes and villages. Tens of thousands of Karen refugees have fled to neighboring country Thailand, and many have since been resettled to America, Canada and Australia.
The Karen are a peaceful people who originate from small, close-knit villages in the hills of Thailand and Burma. They are known for their kindness and hospitality — it doesn't take long to experience this when in a Karen home. They are also extremely hard-working. Weaving is inherent in the Karen culture, and traditional clothing showcases their colorful, exquisite handwoven fabric. The Karen are a strong and resilient people; they continue to persevere through decades of life in war zones and refugee camps.
THE BHUTANESE (LHOTSHAMPA)
Beginning in the early 1990s, a Bhutanese minority group living in southern Bhutan, the Lhotshampa, were facing such an increasing amount of violence and persecution from the Bhutanese government that they began fleeing the country. They were denied citizenship because Bhutan’s government wanted to protect the Bhutanese “cultural identity”, and, even though they settled in Bhutan in the 19th century, this specific minority had Nepalese ancestral roots -- not Bhutanese roots.
They sought safety in refugee camps in Nepal established by the UNHCR. There were hopes of establishing citizenship here, but due to both political upheaval and other refugee communities already present, the Nepali government did not leave this as an option. Talks with the Bhutanese government were made, but both parties decided that the only option for the refugees to obtain citizenship was through being resettled to a third country.