She lives in New York City, runs a million-dollar fashion business and has been the subject of several breathless inspirational stories. And it’s not hard to see why; Monica Phromsavanh’s story is like a Hollywood film.

From a refugee camp in a rural town in northern Argentina to midtown Manhattan, hers is an irresistible rags-to-riches tale. Born and raised in a camp in a small community of Lao refugees, Phromsavanh knew poverty and struggle from a young age. Her parents had fled Laos during the Revolutionary War, and chose to settle in the town of Misiones, where they were farmers. After her parents divorced, she dropped out of school at 14, worked in a factory and eventually made her way to the US. There, she began working in fashion retail, steadily making her way through the industry until, in her late 20s, she became an entrepreneur, starting her own online style service.

Her company, Modabox, delivers fully coordinated outfits curated by stylists to customers who have provided their fashion preferences via the company’s own algorithm. Today, it’s a business worth millions, with a retail space in fashionable Chelsea. Phromsavanh is adamant that her mission is not yet accomplished, that she will never take her success for granted. She also knows that she got to where she is mainly through the grit and determinations she developed growing up a refugee in Argentina.

But there was a time when Phromsavanh felt ashamed of where she had come from, and confused about her own identity.

She is dining with friends at a trendy speakeasy in Gramercy Park, New York City, when she steps out to take my call. It’s around 10pm, and as she stands on the pavement, the night crowds swirling audibly around her, she’s about as far away as possible from her childhood. But she has no trouble remembering her confusion when she was growing up, not quite Lao, not quite Latina.

“In my early days, when I was teenager, I had an identity crisis and I was embarrassed,” she says.

“I was embarrassed that my parents were poor, that I was Lao, that I had been in a refugee camp. But I think as I grew older, and as I became more aware of who I am, I used that as a reminder that my circumstances have helped me to be where I am today, because if I didn’t have that, I think that I wouldn’t be so resilient.”

She remembers one of her first big media interviews with NBC news, when she brought up her childhood for the first time.

“I didn’t know how far that story would come,” she says.

“And that story started spreading out, and others were interested and I started to get invited to different conferences and share more of the story. But I would certainly say that now I’m extremely proud of my parents’ circumstances. I’ve realised that I became a much bigger person because of them.”

She says it wasn’t until three years ago, already in her 30s, that she finally visited Laos for the first time, tracking down her father’s remaining family in Vientiane. Seeing where her family came from was, she says, a revelation.

“The dirt, the air, the motorbikes, the mango plants, the papaya plants – I just had this flashback where I was in Argentina and the town where I was actually born,” she says.

“[I realised that] my dad chose Argentina as one of the countries to go because he wanted to be a farmer, and where I was born, everything looked like Vientiane.”

She also had the chance to meet one of her cousins, the daughter of her father’s sister who died not long after the end of the war. The children were adopted out, and this cousin had ended up working in domestic service. For the first time, Phromsavanh says, she realised that while she had always thought her life had been hard growing up, it hadn’t been as difficult as many others who had stayed in the country after the war.

“She had a very different destiny, and I connected with her,” she says.

“It was sad and nostalgic, but at the same time I’m very proud of what she had accomplished.”

Phromsavanh grew up speaking Spanish at school and Lao at home, in a small community of around 100 families, and didn’t learn English until she moved to America. But after that, through luck and hard work, opportunities opened up to her, in a way they wouldn’t have if she had stayed in Laos.

“In Laos, if you don’t have the last name or don’t belong to certain societies, it’s quite difficult, so I think that’s what my cousin’s going through because my family happened to be farmers,” she says.

“For me, growing up in Argentina, born in the local hospital, taken to a refugee camp and dropping out of school at 14 and having this destiny was very difficult, but I made something out of my life.”

Today, Phromsavanh is focused on her high-octane, high-powered New York life, where the work never stops and the possibilities are endless. Although it is hard sometimes to forge an identity in the fashion world – is she Asian? Is she Latin-American? – she now focuses more on the business and technology side of her work.

“I’ve been doing this for long enough that I don’t mind anymore. Fashion is glamorous and all that, but I don’t look at fashion the way, I just look at it from the business perspective,” she says.

“I focus on the consumer, and our clients, more than what is the happening thing to do right now.”

“I do try to sometimes recognise all the work I have done so far, but at the same time I always say this is just a scratch on the surface,” she says.

This evening, as she stands on the pavement in Gramercy Park, her life probably does resemble a movie. But she’s adamant that not all nights are like this.

“I work harder than I play, and I’m grateful for having the life that I have now, but that didn’t come from overnight success and that didn’t come for free,” she says.

“I’m only 35, and I just discovered my potential very recently, so I think there’s a lot of work to be done.”



ເມື່ອທ່ານໄດ້ອ່ານເລື່ອງລາວຂອງໂມນິກາ ພຣົມສະຫວັນ, ທ່ານຈະມີຄວາມຮູ້ສຶກວ່າເລື່ອງຂອງລາວຄ້າຍຄືກັນກັບໜັງຮໍລິວູດເລື່ອງໜຶ່ງເລີຍກໍວ່າໄດ້. ຈາກເດັກນ້ອຍຄົນລາວໃນຄ້າຍອົບພະຍົບໜ້ອຍໆທີ່ເມືອງອາເຈັນຕີນາ ໄດ້ພະຍາຍາຝັນຝ່າອຸປະສັກຕ່າງໆຈົນກາຍມາເປັນເຈົ້າຂອງກິດຈະການຫຼາຍລ້ານໂດລາໃນມະຫານະຄອນນິວຢອກ.

ໃນສະໄໝສົງຄາມຕໍ່ສູ້ປົດປ່ອຍ, ພໍ່ແມ່ຂອງໂມນິກາ ໄດ້ອົບພະຍົບຈາກລາວມາອາເຈັນຕິນາ, ແລະ ເລືອກທີ່ຈະລົງຫຼັກປັກຖານຢູ່ທີ່ລັດມິຊິໂອເນສ, ເຊິ່ງຄອບຄົວຂອງລາວຫາລ້ຽງຊີບດ້ວຍການເປັນຊາວນາ. ໂມນິກາເກີດ, ເຕີບໃຫຍ່ຢູ່ທີ່ຄ້າຍອົບພະຍົບ ແລະ ອາໄສຢູ່ໃນຊຸມຊົນຄົນລາວໃນຄ້າຍ. ລາວຕ້ອງ​ປະ​ເຊີນໜ້າກັບ​ຄວາມທຸກ​ຍາກ ​ແລະ ຮູ້​ລົດ​ຊາດ​ຂອງ​ການ​ດິ້ນຮົນ​ຕັ້ງ​ແຕ່​ອາຍຸຍັງ​ນ້ອຍ. ​ ຫຼັງຈາກພໍ່ແມ່ຂອງລາວຫຍ່າຮ້າງກັນ, ລາວໄດ້ອອກຈາກໂຮງຮຽນ ຕອນອາຍຸ 14 ປີ ແລ້ວໄປເຮັດວຽກໃນໂຮງງານ ແລະ ທ້າຍທີ່ສຸດລາວກໍໄດ້ເດີນທາງໄປອາເມາລິກາ. ລາວໄດ້ເຮັດອາຊີບຂາຍເຄື່ອງແຟຊັ່ນລາຍຍ່ອຍ ເຊິ່ງເປັນຈຸດເລີ່ມຕົ້ນໃນການພາລາວເຂົ້າມາໃນວົງການແຟຊັນ, ຈົນເມື່ອລາວອາຍຸໄດ້ 20 ປາຍປີ ລາວຈຶ່ງໄດ້ເປີດການບໍລິການທາງອອນລາຍຕາມຮູບແບບແນວຄິດຂອງລາວ, ກາຍເປັນຜູ້ປະກອບການດ້ານແຟຊັນຢ່າງເຕັມຕົວ.

ບໍລິສັດຂອງລາວ, ໂມດາບ໋ອກ, ໃຫ້ບໍລິການໃນການແນະນໍາເສື້ອຜ້າ ແລະ ເປັນຕົວແທນໃນການຊື້ເຄື່ອງອອນລາຍໃຫ້ລູກຄ້າ ໂດຍທີມງານນັກອອກແບບເສື້ອຜ້າມືອາຊີບ. ເລີ່ມຕົ້ນ, ລູກຄ້າຈະໄດ້ຕອບແບບສອບຖາມຄວາມມັກສ່ວນຕົວຂອງລູກຄ້າທາງດ້ານການແຕ່ງຕົວ, ມັກແຕ່ງຕົວແບບຄລາດສິກ ຫຼື ຕາມສະໄໝນິຍົມ, ແລະ ຖາມກ່ຽວກັບຂໍ້ມູນກ່ຽວກັບສັດສ່ວນຂອງລູກຄ້າເຊັ່ນ ສ່ວນສູງ, ນໍ້າໜັກ ແລະ ອື່ນໆ ເພື່ອນໍາມາວິເຄາະຮູບແບບການແຕ່ງຕົວທີ່ເໝາະກັບລູກຄ້າທີ່ສຸດ.

ປະຈຸບັນ, ມັນໄດ້ການເປັນທຸລະກິດທີ່ມີມູນຄ່າຫຼາຍລ້ານໂດລາ ແລະ ລາວກໍໄດ້ເປີດສາຂາຢູ່ເມືອງເຊວຊີ, ເມືອງແຫ່ງແຟຊັນແຫ່ງອາເມລິກາອີກດ້ວຍ. ໂມ​ນິກາຄິດວ່າທຸລະ​ກິດ​ຂອງ​ລາວ​ຕອນນີ້ຍັງຕ້ອງພັດທະນາຕື່ມອີກ ​ແລະ ລາວກໍຍັງບໍ່ຢຸດທີ່ຈະພັດທະນາຕໍ່ໄປເລື້ອຍໆ. ລາວຮູ້ດີວ່າກວ່າລາວຈະມາເຖິງຈຸດນີ້ໄດ້ ລາວຕ້ອງຜ່ານຜ່າ ແລະ ອົດທົນກັບອຸປະສັກຫຼາຍໆຢ່າງທີ່ເຂົ້າມາ ຕັ້ງແຕ່ນ້ອຍຮອດໃຫຍ່ຢູ່ໃນຄ້າຍ.

ລາວເຄີຍຮູ້ສຶກອາຍກັບການເປັນຜູ້ອົບພະຍົບລີ້ໄພ, ກັບບ່ອນທີ່ລາວເຕີບໃຫຍ່ມາ ແລະ ສັບສົນກ່ຽວກັບຕົວຕົນຂອງລາວ. ລາວຮູ້ສຶກສັບສົນວ່າລາວແມ່ນຄົນຊາດໃດກັນແທ້, ຄົນລາວກໍບໍ່ຄື, ຄົນລາຕິນກະບໍ່ແມ່ນ.

“ຕອນຂ້ອຍເປັນໄວລຸ້ນ, ຂ້ອຍເຄີຍອາຍກັບຊາດກຳເນີດຂອງຂ້ອຍ. ຂ້ອຍອາຍທີ່ພໍ່ແມ່ຂ້ອຍເປັນຄົນທຸກ, ຂ້ອຍອາຍທີ່ຂ້ອຍເປັນຄົນລາວ ທີ່ຕ້ອງເກີດ ແລະ ໃຫຍ່ຢູ່ໃນຄ້າຍອົບພະຍົບ. ແຕ່ເມື່ອຂ້ອຍໃຫຍ່ຂຶ້ນ, ເມື່ອຂ້ອຍເລີ່ມຫາຕົວຕົນຂອງຕົນເອງພົບ ຂ້ອຍໄດ້ໃຊ້ອະດີດເຫຼົ່ານັ້ນຊ່ວຍເຕືອນ​ຄວາມ​ຊົງ​ຈໍາ​ສະ​ເໝີວ່າ ​ຂ້ອຍ​ມາ​ຢູ່​ໃນ​ບ່ອນ​ທີ່​ຂ້ອຍ​ຢູ່​​ໃນທຸກ​ມື້​ນີ້​ໄດ້ແນວໃດ, ​ເພາະວ່າຖ້າບໍ່​ມີ​ວັນຄືນແຫ່ງຄວາມລໍາບາກໃນມື້ນັ້ນ, ຂ້ອບຄິດ​ວ່າ​ຂ້ອຍ​ຄື​ຊິ​ບໍ່ແຂງແກ່ງພໍ ແລະ ​ມີ​ມື້ນີ້ໄດ້.”

ລາວຍັງຈື່ໄດ້ເຖິງຄັ້ງທຳອິດທີ່ລາວໄດ້ໃຫ້ສຳພາດກັບສື່ຂ່າວຍັກໃຫຍ່, ສຳນັກຂ່າວ NBC, ເຊິ່ງເປັນຄັ້ງທຳອິດທີ່ລາວເວົ້າເຖິງຊີວິດໄວເດັກຂອງລາວ.

“ຂ້ອຍບໍ່ເຄີຍຄິດເລີຍວ່າການໃຫ້ສຳພາດຄັ້ງນັ້ນ ຈະເຮັດໃຫ້ຄົນສົນໃຈເລື່ອງລາວຂອງຂ້ອຍຫຼາຍຂະໜາດນີ້. ຫຼັງຈາກເລື່ອງລາວຂອງຂ້ອຍໄດ້ອອກອາກາດໄປ, ຂ້ອຍເລີ່ມຖືກເຊີນໄປແລກປ່ຽນເລື່ອງລາວຂອງຂ້ອຍໃນງານສຳມະນາຕ່າງໆ. ແຕ່ຂ້ອຍຈະເວົ້າສະເໝີວ່າຕອນນີ້ຂ້ອຍມີຄວາມພູມໃຈຫຼາຍກັບພໍ່ແມ່ຂອງຂ້ອຍ ແລະ ເລື່ອງລາວທີ່ຜ່ານມາ. ຂ້ອຍໄດ້ຮູ້ວ່າຂ້ອຍການເປັນຄົນທີ່ດີຂຶ້ນກວ່າເກົ່າ ແລະ ມາເຖິງຈຸດນີ້ໄດ້ຍ້ອນພໍ່ແມ່ຂອງຂ້ອຍ.”

ແລະ ເມື່ອສາມປີກ່ອນ, ໂມນິກາໄດ້ມາຢ້ຽມຢາມເມືອງລາວເປັນຄັ້ງທຳອິດ. ລາວໄດ້ໄປຫາຄອບຄົວທາງພໍ່ຂອງລາວທີ່ຢູ່ວຽງຈັນ, ໄດ້ມາເຫັນບ່ອນທີ່ຄອບຄົວຂອງລາວຈາກມາ.

“ຂີ້ຝຸ່ນ, ອາກາດ, ລົດຈັກ, ຕົ້ນໝາກມ່ວງ, ຕົ້ນໝາກຫຸ່ງ ລ້ວນ​ແລ້ວ​ແຕ່​ເຮັດ​ໃຫ້​ຂ້ອຍ​ຄິດ​ເຖິງ​ພາບ​ຄວາມຫຼັງຕອນ​ທີ່​ຂ້ອຍ​ຢູ່ອາ​ເຈັນ​ຕິ​ນາ ເຊິ່ງເປັນບ່ອນ​ທີ່ຂ້ອຍເກີດ.”

“[ຂ້ອຍໄດ້ຮູ້ວ່າ] ພໍ່​ເລືອກ ​ອາ​ເຈັນ​ຕິ​ນາ, ​​ເປັນໜຶ່ງ​ໃນ​ບັນດາ​ປະ​ເທດ​ທີ່​ຈະ​ໄປຢູ່, ເນື່ອງ​ຈາກ​ວ່າ ພໍ່​ຢາກ​ເປັນ​ຊາວ​ໄຮ່​ຊາວສວນ, ​ແລະ ບ່ອນ​ຂ້ອຍ​ເກີດ​ນັ້ນ ທຸກ​ຢ່າງ​ຄ້າຍ​ຄືກັນກັບວຽງຈັນໝົດ.”

ລາວໄດ້ມີໂອກາດໄດ້ພົບກັບລູກຂອງນ້ອງສາວພໍ່ຂອງລາວ ເຊິ່ງເສຍຊີວິດຫຼັງຈາກສົງຄາມສິ້ນສຸດບໍ່ດົນ. ລູກໆຂອງອາແມ່ນຖືກຮັບໄປລ້ຽງ ແລະ ລູກອ້າຍລູກນ້ອງຂອງລາວຄົນນີ້ແມ່ນເຮັດວຽກເປັນແມ່ບ້ານຢູ່. ນີ້ເປັນຄັ້ງທຳອິດທີ່ເຮັດໃຫ້ໂມນິກາຄິດໄດ້ວ່າ ຊີວິດຂອງລາວທີ່ລາວຄິດວ່າລໍາບາກແລ້ວ ຍັງບໍ່ລໍາບາກເທົ່າກັບຫຼາຍໆຄົນທີ່ຍັງຢູ່ລາວຫຼັງຈາກສິ້ນສຸດສົງຄາມ.

“ຂ້ອຍແລະລາວມີຊະຕາຊີວິດທີ່ແຕກຕ່າງກັນຫຼາຍ​ ແຕ່ຂ້ອຍກັບລາວກໍສື່ເຖິງກັນໄດ້.”

“ມັນ​ເປັນ​ເລື່ອງ​ທີ່ໜ້າ​ເສົ້າ ​ແລະ ​ເຮັດ​ໃຫ້​ຂ້ອຍ​ຄິດ​ຮອດ​ບ້ານ, ​ແຕ່​ໃນ​ຂະນະ​ດຽວກັນ ຂ້ອຍ​ພູມ​ໃຈ​ກັບ​ສິ່ງ​ທີ່​ລາວ​​ໄດ້ຜ່ານ​ຜ່າ​ມາ.”

ໂມນິກາໃຫຍ່ມາໂດຍການເວົ້າສອງພາສາ, ພາສາແອດສະປາຍຢູ່ໂຮງຮຽນ ແລະ ພາສາລາວຢູ່ເຮືອນ, ໃນຊຸມຊົນນ້ອຍໆທີ່ມີພຽງ 100 ກວ່າຄອບຄົວ ແລະ ບໍ່ເຄີຍຮຽນພາສາອັງກິດເລີຍ ຈົນຕອນທີ່ລາວຍ້າຍມາອາເມລິກາ. ແຕ່ຫຼັງຈາກ​ນັ້ນ, ​​ດ້ວຍ​ຄວາມ​ໂຊກ​ດີ ​ແລະ ຄວາມດຸໝັ່ນຂະຫຍັນ​ພຽນ, ລາວຈຶ່ງໄດ້ຮັບໂອກາດໜຶ່ງມາ ເຊິ່ງລາວຄິດວ່າລາວຈະບໍ່ໄດ້ຮັບໂອກາດດີໆແບບນີ້ ຖ້າລາວອາໄສຢູ່ລາວ.

ລາວກ່າວວ່າ: “ຢູ່ເມືອງລາວ, ຖ້າບໍ່ມີນາມສະກຸນ ຫຼື ບໍ່ໄດ້ມາຈາກສັງຄົມໃດໜຶ່ງທີ່ເປັນທີ່ຮູ້ຈັກ, ມັນກໍຄ່ອນຂ້າງຍາກໃນການໄດ້ມາເຊິ່ງໂອກາດ, ສະ​ນັ້ນ ຂ້ອຍ​ຈຶ່ງ​ຄິດ​ວ່າ​ສິ່ງ​ເຫຼົ່ານັ້ນ​ແຫຼະ​ແມ່ນ​ສິ່ງ​ທີ່​ພີ່ນ້ອງ​ຂອງ​ຂ້ອຍ​ໄດ້ປະ​ເຊີນ​ ​ເພາະ​ຄອບຄົວ​ຂອງ​ຂ້ອຍແມ່ນ​ຄອບ​ຄົວຊາວນາທີ່ຫາເຊົ້າກິນຄໍ່າເທົ່ານັ້ນ”

“ສໍາລັບ​ຂ້ອຍ​ແລ້ວ, ການ​ທີ່​ໃຫຍ່​ມາ​ໃນອາ​ເຈັນຕິ​ນາ, ​ເກີດ​ໃນ​ໂຮງໝໍທ້ອງ​ຖິ່ນ, ອາໄສໃນ​ຄ້າຍ​ອົບ​ພະຍົບ ​ແລະ ອອກ​ຈາກ​ໂຮງຮຽນຕອນ 14 ປີ ​ແລະ ມີ​​ຊີວິດ​ທີ່​ທຸກ​ຍາກ​ລໍາບາກ​ຫຼາຍ, ​ແຕ່​ຂ້ອຍ​ໄດ້ເລືອກ​ເຮັດ​ໃນ​ສິ່ງ​ທີ່​ແຕກ​ຕ່າງ ​ເຊິ່ງມັນ​ໄດ້​ປ່ຽນຊີວິດ​ຂ້ອຍ​ຢ່າງ​ສິ້ນ​ເຊີງ.”

ທຸກມື້ນີ້,​ ໂມນິກາມຸ່ງໝັ້ນໃນການໃຊ້ຊິວິດຂອງລາວໃຫ້ຄຸ້ມຄ່າໃນມະຫານະຄອນນິວຢອກແຫ່ງນີ້, ບ່ອນທີ່ວຽກງານ ຄວາມຄິດຕ່າງໆບໍ່ເຄີຍຢຸດໝຸນ ແລະ ຄວາມເປັນໄປໄດ້ທີ່ບໍ່ມີຂີດຈໍາກັດ. ເຖິງແມ່ນວ່າ ບາງຄັ້ງມັນຈະຍາກໃນການທີ່ຈະທຳມາຫາກິນໃຫ້ທັນກັບໂລກແຟຊັນ – ລາວເປັນຄົນອາຊີຫຼືບໍ່? ເປັນຄົນອາເມລິກາ-ລາຕິນຫຼືບໍ່? ມັນບໍ່ສຳຄັນອີກຕໍ່ໄປແລ້ວ ເພາະຕອນນີ້ລາວມຸ່ງໝັ້ນພຽງແຕ່ກັບທຸລະກິດ ແລະ ເຕັກໂນໂລຢີທີ່ຈະຊ່ວຍສົ່ງເສີມທຸລະກິດຂອງລາວເທົ່ານັ້ນ.

“ຂ້ອຍ​ໄດ້​​ເຮັດ​ວຽກນີ້ມາ​ດົນ​ຈົນ​ຂ້ອຍ​ບໍ່​ສົນ​ໃຈ​ຫຍັງ​ແລ້ວ. ​ແຟຊັ່ນ ​ເປັນ​ສິ່ງ​ທີ່​ສວຍ​ງາມ ​ແລະ ​ເປັນທຸກ​ຢ່າງ​ໃນ​ຕົວ​ມັນ​ເອງ, ​ແຕ່​ຂ້ອຍ​ບໍ່​ໄດ້​ເບິ່ງ​ມັນ​ໃນທາງນັ້ນ, ຂ້ອຍ​ເບິ່ງ​ມັນ​ໃນ​ແງ່​ທຸລະ​ກິດຫຼາຍກວ່າ.” ກ່າວໂດຍ ໂມນິກາ.

“ຂ້ອຍເຮັດວຽກຫຼາຍກວ່າອອກໄປທ່ຽວ ແລະ ຂ້ອຍຮູ້ສຶກພູມໃຈກັບຊີວິດຂອງຂ້ອຍໃນຕອນນີ້ ເຊິ່ງບໍ່ແມ່ນຄວາມສຳເລັດທີ່ໄດ້ມາພຽງຂ້າມຄືນ

“ຂ້ອຍ​ອາຍຸພຽງ 35 ປີ, ​ແລະ ​ຫາ​ກໍ່​ຄົ້ນ​ພົບສັກກະຍາພາບຂອງຕົນເອງ​ວ່າງ​ບໍ່​ດົນ​ມາ​ນີ້, ສະ​ນັ້ນ ຂ້ອຍ​ຄິດ​ວ່າ ຍັງມີອີກຫຼາຍສິ່ງຫຼາຍຢ່າງທີ່ຂ້ອຍຕ້ອງເຮັດ.”

ແປ ແລະ ຮຽບຮຽງໂດຍ: ວາທິດາ ພອນແກ້ວ



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