Those Beaded Bags You Love? Susan Alexandra Wants You To Thank These Women

Posted by Michelle Li on

The first time I came across a Susan Alexandra bag, I did a double take. I hadn’t seen it before, but I recognized it: A purse encrusted with thoughtfully chosen colorful pastel stripes, like a disco ball-turned-box. They looked uncannily similar to those tissue-box covers that my Chinese grandma used to make from her glass coffee table that I ate fried rice cakes off of when I went to visit her in Shanghai.

My grandma wasn’t limited to just Kleenex boxes (which we displayed on top of our piano at home). She would send me and my brother all kinds of beaded characters: a palm-sized sneaker with a slightly wonky swoosh on the side, a keychain of a bootleg Hello Kitty, and intricate beaded lanterns to hang on our door handles. Our home in Indiana was filled with her work. But she never made a beaded bag because the available patterns were for knick knacks and toys — things to display, and not to take outside. For her, making these beaded trinkets was a way to pass the time with her friends, who were also in the business of giving away fun, sparkly gifts. It was their version of knitting, a hobby for restless hands.

But if Asian aunties like my grandma made them first, its recent renaissance is entirely owed to Asian-American aunties.

Lisa Deng with her daughter.Photo: Courtesy of Susan Alexandra.

Susan Alexandra didn’t have a grandma who beaded, but she wasn’t immune to the lure of the craft. One day, while walking through Chinatown, she came across a closet-sized storefront that stopped her in her tracks.

“I was so transfixed. It was this tiny tiny room just packed with little creatures made out of beads. There were Spongebobs and Hello Kittys, and I just had this idea that I wanted to make something, too,” Susan told me over the phone. At the time, Susan was making hand-painted jewelry, but she instinctively and immediately thought of bags at the sight of the beads. The shopowner, Lisa Deng, explained to Susan that she hadn’t yet had the chance to make purses, and Susan commissioned a watermelon bag from her.

One week later, the watermelon bag emerged ripe and ready, no grocery store tapping necessary. Susan made more, which became immediate hits; they all sold within a few days. Today, Lisa is now the head of production for Susan Alexandra, and, as the business grew, she led the charge in employing 35 more Chinese women to manufacture the bags. The bags aren’t easy to construct, and one bag takes at least one day to complete. So for these women, a flexible work schedule is paramount. “Most of them have children, so they all need to work from home,” Susan explains. The bags quickly became cult favorites, and were featured in every major fashion publication. This past summer, the bags became stocked at more than 30 stores around the world, and quickly outgrew what Lisa’s production team could handle.

Enter: Syeda Sonda, a Bangladeshi woman who moved to New York City with her husband in 2015. Growing up in Bangladesh, a neighbor taught Syeda how to make these beaded bags, as well as extravagant plastic-beaded chandeliers. Susan found Syeda’s resume online on career site Maker’s Row this past summer in an effort to keep things local. As Susan’s second production head, Syeda leads a team of 40 Bangladeshi women based in Queens.

“When I first moved to New York City, I didn’t know anyone except my husband and his friends, but now through making these bags, I’ve made my own friends,” Syeda explained to me in Susan’s Chinatown studio. “We’ll video chat each other if we’re up working late or run into any problems while beading. We’ve built a community. We’ll have large dinner parties and celebrate the Bengali New Year together. Now through word of mouth, other mothers also want to contribute to the business.”

Both Syeda and Lisa give their input on how the designs should be, what new techniques and beads they’ve discovered, and what the new colorways could work well. They work alongside Susan Alexandria to push the limits of the craft now that the originals have created a ripple effect across the world. Today, you can find fashion-forward beaded handbags as part of designer collections around the world, from Lisa Folawiyo in Nigeria to Truss in Mexico to Shrimps from the UK. You can even find them on Asian e-commerce sites Alibaba, AliExpress, and Lazada, alongside Kleenex boxes, demented Sanrio characters, and rainbow chandeliers

One of my grandma’s creations (inspired, in part, by Susan Alexandra’s)Photographed by Erin Yamagata.

My grandma might have beaded as a hobby, but now it’s a craft that is garnering the attention of fashion obsessives worldwide. When I show my grandma pictures of these bags, she thinks it’s hilarious that they’re so coveted. The last time I went home, I found a purple crystal bauble and brought it back to my New York City apartment to hang in my living room, where I also keep my Susan Alexandra bag. Side by side, they remind me of all my homes, and the physical and cultural journeys that I, Lisa, Syeda, and other diaspora women like us make in our lives. It feels good to know that something as small as beaded crafts have this kind of staying power, and sparks this kind of happiness.

In #NotYourTokenAsian, we take on the pop products, stereotypes, and culture wars that surround Asian-American identity. Follow along as we celebrate our multiplicity during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

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Children's Stories

Milton the Bee Tries too Hard

Posted by Steve Guidetti on
Milton the Bee Tries too Hard

Milton Worker Bee lived with his family in a ground colony.  They could not build their colony up high because there were no big trees or mountains where they lived.  So they dug a tunnel underground to protect them from animals and humans.

This was Milton’s first year to work among the worker bees, and he was excited to go after pollen so he could help make honey to feed the new baby larvae.  He had heard stories of how his father and uncles had almost been smashed or captured by humans.

Milton was curious about humans, but his mother—the queen—had warned him to stay away from them.  She warned all of her children about the dangers of leaving the colony so they would be ready to do their work and help the colony survive.  

Today was going to be Milton’s first day outside the colony.  He was ready! He was excited! He was determined to help his colony get all of the pollen he could find.  

When it was light enough to see everything around him, Milton got in line with the other worker bees.  The sun warmed the ground above him. It gave him a good feeling—of happiness and energy.

The worker bees started moving toward the opening of the colony’s underground home.  Milton knew everyone wanted to get out, so they could search for flowers, find pollen and bring it back to make honey to feed the little ones.  He fluttered his wings in excitement. The sound of his moving wings made a buzzing sound. As everyone started fluttering their wings, the noise became very loud.  But it was a good noise that helped Milton know how excited everyone was to get to work.

Finally, Milton was at the front of the line and he was ready to leave—but only so that he could return with pollen.  He stood on the edge of the opening for only a moment. But at that moment, he saw a large patch of bare ground all around the opening.  The bare spot helped them spot enemies who would hurt them before they could get too close.

Milton started moving his wings in larger circles.  His body started lifting off the ground. “Yippie!” Milton cried.  He was really flying. He could not fly fast enough to catch up with the others, but he knew where they were going.  They were all going where flowers grew on trees, on the sides of hills and on bushes and other green plants.

Suddenly, Milton saw hundreds of beautiful colors among the trees and all along the grass and bushes.  He saw all his bee cousins landing on colorful flowers and there were almost as many bees as there were flowers.  Milton flew over trees and between bushes. He flew past wide patches of dirt that stretched from one end of the world to the other, with strange things moving along them and humans inside of them.  Those strange things moved faster than Milton could fly and they made much more noise than all of the bees in his colony. But those strange things could only move on the ground and could not fly over trees and across the sky like Milton.

He saw many flowers below him in the grass and on bushes.  He flew low to the ground and landed on flowers that looked like no bees had ever landed on before.  He landed on one and rolled his body all over the pollen in the middle of the flower. He laughed and giggled and hummed as he rolled in the pollen.  It made him feel happy to be working for his family.

Then Milton flew to another flower and did the same thing.  He flew to as many flowers as he could and every time he rolled in the pollen, he laughed and giggled.  But each time, he became heavier with pollen so that he could barely fly.

Now Milton decided to fly back to his colony with all of the pollen he had collected on his body.  But he was heavy and could not fly high or fast. He suddenly realized he did not know where his colony was or which way to go to return home.  He had to fly close to the ground because he was so heavy and everything looked different from the ground.

Milton stopped to rest on a bush.  There were flowers on the bush, but Milton did not try to take more pollen from them.  He was already too heavy. He looked around for other bees to ask them how to get home.

But Milton did not see any other bees.

He tried to call out help, but no one came to help him get back home.

Finally, Milton started to fly again, but he could not fly for long because he was so heavy and tired.  Even though he had been told never to land on the grass, he had no choice. He was tired and there were no trees or bushes or other plants near him.

Milton tried to walk, but the grass kept wiping the pollen off his body.  He did not want to lose his pollen. His family needed it for the young larvae so they could eat.  Milton did not know what to do to get home again. But he did not want to stay out by himself.

After walking in the grass for a while, Milton got some of his strength back and he did not feel so heavy anymore.  So he flew into the air again. He knew he would have to fly high so he could find his home, but he was still very tired.

After a few minutes of flying and looking for other bees, Milton heard a soft voice calling his name.  He saw two of his cousins from the colony.

Milton smiled.  He was saved! He caught up with his cousins and they led him back home.  Milton landed on the bare ground outside his home and walked back inside the tunnels.  He had lost so much pollen that now he looked like he had as much pollen as the others.

Even though he tried to get more pollen than all the others, Milton discovered he could only do so much.  He decided to work smarter tomorrow instead of trying to gather more than the others. He wanted his work for the colony to be as good as the others so everyone would have what they needed.

Book Reviews

THE DREAMT LAND

Posted by Kirkus Reviews on

Journalist, biographer, and memoirist Arax (West of the
West, 2009, etc.) offers a sweeping, engrossing history of his native
California focused on the state’s use, overuse, and shocking mismanagement of
water.“Our water wars,” writes the author, “beg…

14 Coordinate Tattoos That Will Remind You Of Your Happy Place

Posted by Samantha Sasso on

If you’re in search of a meaningful tattoo design that makes the pain worthwhile, we’ve got just the one: a coordinate tattoo. A quick scroll through Instagram will tell you that coordinates are the tattoo trend your best friend, aunt, and college roommate’s ex all want — or already have. Why? It checks all the boxes: It’s trendy, it’s delicate, and it tugs at your heart strings

While the coordinates can represent a number of different things, most people get the longitude and latitude of their happy place (like hometowns and colleges) or specific coordinates to commemorate a life-changing trip. It’s sentimental without being too cheesy, it’s minimal without being basic, and it’s a customized tattoo no matter which artist you go to.

Since the coordinates are unique to you and your place of choice, you don’t need to take in as much photo inspiration as you would for your zodiac rising tattoo. With one quick Google search, you should be able to find the exact coordinates you’re looking for. Still, there are a few things to consider — like the font, size, and placement — which you can find the answers to, ahead.

After spending all winter covering up your legs with wool socks and flannel-lined leggings, why not show off your skin with the rad addition of an ankle tattoo?

There’s no wrong place to get a coordinate tattoo, but according to Instagram, the most popular spot is the upper arm.

The space above the elbow has just the right amount of surface area to fit the tiny letters and numbers.

It also makes for a coy Instagram opp.

If you’re up for the extra pain, you should consider getting a coordinate ditch tattoo.

Sure, it may sting a little more than the back of your arm, but the healed results are so worth it.

Inner-arm tattoos are a forever favorite among the minimalists of the world. It’s the perfect place to get a delicate design, and no one will see it unless you want ’em to.

Matching sister tattoos are even cuter when they’re of your hometown coordinates.

Or, make it a family affair and invite your parents to the tattoo parlor.

Afraid of getting a couple tattoo you’ll have to remove in the future? Make it a coordinate tattoo. It’ll look good whether you’re dating the same person in five years, or you dumped them a day after your tattoo appointment.

Skip getting each other’s names tattooed on your bodies forever. Instead, consider getting the coordinates of where you first met or where you got married.

We’re calling it now: Knee tattoos are going to be a trend by 2020 — even Ariana Grande’s tattoo collection includes one.

Is there anything more gratifying than showing off your new coordinate tattoo at the beach location that inspired the design?

Coordinate tattoos are inherently unique, so you never have to worry about someone else copying your design exactly.

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How Much Cash Should You Give For A Wedding Gift?

Posted by Anabel Pasarow on

It’s officially summer, which means most of us probably have a wedding or two coming up before Labor Day.

You can go the gift registry route, the honeymoon registry route, or the good ole cash in an envelope route. The latter is increasingly popular, but is there an agreed upon right amount to give? (Generous enough so that you’re not cheaping out, but reasonable enough so you can still pay off your credit card at the end of the month, ideally?)

Though it certainly varies person to person, according to this NerdWallet study, millennials in 2018 set aside an average budget of $151 for a good friend’s wedding gift. And of those polled, most said they’d shell out more than their budget for a very close friend. When we asked our readers, most of them shared this credo.

But what if you’re in the wedding party? Or what if the bride gave you less for your wedding last year? Ahead, read what 15 millennial women had to say when we asked: What’s the appropriate amount of cash to give for a wedding gift?

Name: Laura
Age: 26

“$50-$75. After recently getting married and combining apartments, I know how expensive a wedding and moving can be, and how much cash is appreciated. $50-$75 gives the newlyweds flexibility to determine how best to spend the cash and the amount feels like it will make a small impact within their budget. It was great to set aside some cash for completing our registry, saving for our honeymoon, and taking a few date nights right after the wedding to relax.

“For good friends or immediate family I may increase the amount or buy them a personalized gift I know they would enjoy. For couples I haven’t seen in a while or have attended a lot of pre-wedding events for, I would dip below $50.”

Name: Kristyn
Age: 28

“$50. This is roughly the amount I would spend on a traditional gift from a registry.

“If it was a sibling I might give more. I have two brothers and a sister, and all three make significantly less money than I do, so I feel like I would want to step it up to the $100-$200 range. Another exception would be for a destination wedding. In that case I would give less or none.”

Name: Hannah
Age: 30

“$100 per guest (i.e. my husband and I would make a gift of $200). I try to give what I think it costs per head to have us attend the wedding. I think giving money is a totally reasonable and acceptable thing to do. My husband and I asked for (and received!) cash as gifts for our wedding and it was SO helpful.

“If we had to travel to attend the wedding (i.e if it’s overseas or far away from our home) then I would probably reconsider giving a cash gift, as we have already paid a significant amount just to be there. Or if it’s the wedding of someone I am very close to (brother, best friend, etc.), I would want to give them a more meaningful gift that they could keep forever.”

Name: Caitlin
Age: 30

“$150 for a traditional evening wedding that includes a meal. That should cover my plate plus some for the happy couple. For close family members or friends, I can go a bit overboard — up to $200, but I do tend to give less if it’s a less expensive (day time, barn-style) or destination wedding where I have to pay for a hotel and/or airfare.”

Name: Courtney
Age: 28

“$50-$100, depending on how close I am to the bride/groom. With a few exceptions: 1. If I’m in the wedding party, I give $0. *My presence is a present.* 2. If I have to travel for the wedding, you may get less. 3. I also design/print paper goods. If I choose to give that as gift, you’ll also get $0.”

Name: Jess
Age: 27

“$200-$250. But in certain cases, depending how long I’ve know the person and how many other weddings or big events I have that season, I will give more. I usually give on the higher end if it’s at a really swanky place, but in most cases the parents are helping out, so I don’t feel as bad about not covering plates for me and my fiancé.”

Name: Amy
Age: 29

“$100 per person, so usually $200. For our wedding we got $75 from one couple, so I gave them $75 back for their wedding. I’ve also gotten $400 from one close friend and will definitely give at least $400 when it’s her time.”

Name: Jenn
Age: 45

“$200-$300. Usually $200 for just me, but $300 if it’s me and a guest. I have no explanation for why I don’t go up to $400 when I have a guest. I think it’s because $400 should just go up to $500, and usually I’m unwilling to go that high.

“I’ll make an exception for very close family. I’ve given $1,000 to cousins who are more like siblings, but for my own sister’s wedding, I didn’t gift her $$! I gave her frequent flier miles so she and her husband could fly first class on their honeymoon. (I contributed to her wedding through blood, sweat, tears… and money!)”

Name: May-Ling
Age: 39

“$50, in a crisp bill, if possible. I’m part Taiwanese and Japanese, so this would be given in a red envelope. I much prefer giving cash over gifts, especially since the couple could use it to buy less desirable things they need. We didn’t accept any physical gifts for our wedding. With so many households already combined, registering feels like an old school approach. For extended family, I might give $100-$200, and even more for immediate family.”

Name: Miki
Age: 34

“Having planned a wedding and helped a lot of friends with their weddings, I know the costs associated with getting married. I think you should give at least $100 per person attending. If you bring a guest or significant other, you should give at least $200. But I’ve given up to $500 for really close friends.”

Name: Cristina
Age: 28

“$50-$100, depending on how well I know the couple. I ALWAYS think it’s okay to give money as a gift. I’m 28 and my partner is 35. When we get married, the LAST thing we need is more stuff, as we have both been living independently for at least 10 years.

“A lot of our friends are in the same boat. Most of the time, the money is used for a honeymoon or the like. It feels good to know I’m helping pay for an experience and not a thing that may eventually break or get replaced. Paying for a wedding is also very expensive, and more and more people are self-funding their weddings. I’ve also given gift cards for restaurants that I know the couple likes.”

Name: CK
Age: 32

“$250 per person. I pay enough to at least cover my meal. Having organized my own wedding, I now have a good idea about how much it costs. But if it’s a Chinese wedding or a good friend’s wedding, I will generally pay more, around the $888 range as a couple. 8s and 9s are generally lucky numbers, so the more the better. 4s are bad.”

Name: Rachel
Age: 29

“$20-$40. It should be what I think a wedding costs per plate (more if I have a plus one with me). I’ll give more only if I know them really well — like from childhood. I went from a broke college student to a broke adult, and I don’t have a lot of extra $$.”

Name: Lauren
Age: 29

“$100. I use the ‘how much would a nice dinner and drinks cost me?’ rule of the thumb, so I gave less ($50) when I was younger and single. I also gave more to my best friend who doesn’t have a ton of money ($250).”

Name: Tori
Age: 29

“$200-$250 usually. (I would give $250, but my wife says $200, so it depends who goes to the bank!) This is our standard wedding gift. I would give more if it were a very close family member (mainly a sibling). I would never give less!”

Name: Kate
Age: 33

“$250-$500. The amount should be at least enough to cover the cost of our attendance at the wedding. Amount goes up from $250 depending on how close we are with the couple. Money is the best gift ;).”

Name: Meg
Age: 31

“$50-$75 per person, depending on how fancy the place is. I’ve kept cards from my own wedding and wrote how much we were given from each guest. Normally whatever we were given by that couple, we match.”

Name: Rose
Age: 29

“$50. I always get a new crisp $50 bill from the bank and put it in a NICE card (those $8 Papyrus cards always get me). Classy, direct, can be used on anything, and no one will ever think: “Oh man, I wish they had given us more.” I think anything less than $50 looks skimpy, and more than $100 looks too generous most of the time for a “friend to friend” gift. If the bride or groom is a family member, I will still give $50 but offer help with planning or day-of tasks. I hate buying weird household items off the registry, but don’t care if my gift of cash is put towards something the couple wants.

“Once I bought something from a local artist that was perfect for the bride and groom and gave that as a gift instead of cash. I hope to one day be the generous older relative who can drop $$$ on a wedding gift. For now, I’m just happy I’m in a place where I can afford to attend weddings (showers, bachelorette parties, travel, accommodations, clothing, whew!) and give a gift without ruining my budget.”

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Sophie Turner Says Goodbye To Sansa Stark With Brand-New Bangs

Posted by Samantha Sasso on

Ever since we were first introduced to Sophie Turner a decade ago as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, the actress has only ever experimented with her hair color — never the style. Now, it looks like she’s not only moving on to her next project post- GoT, but moving on with her beauty look as well: While doing press in London for her upcoming X-Men movie Dark Phoenix , Turner tossed out her signature long, low-maintenance hair for a new set of bangs. Because what better way to say goodbye to a character you’ve played for nearly half your life than getting bangs?

Turner debuted the wispy fringe earlier this afternoon on hairstylist Christian Wood ‘s Instagram. The only question is, are they real? We’re betting not; after all, the only thing celebrities love more than getting matching tattoos is wearing clip-in bangs (like Charlize Theron’s fake baby bangs, for example).

Then again, bangs are sweeping Hollywood in a big way right now — extensions not included. Just last month, Miley Cyrus recruited hairstylist Sally Hershberger to give her a Hannah Montana makeover, and then trimmed them again into micro bangs before the Met Gala. Even if Turner didn’t pull inspiration from Cyrus, then maybe she did from her Dark Phoenix co-star, Jessica Chastain, who just added wispy bangs to her long bob.

We may never know whether Turner’s bangs are real or not (only time and Instagram will tell), but we do know that she just convinced everyone that, for once, getting bangs was definitely a good idea.

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