After careers in nonprofits and education, Tsuzuki and Luethi started Kei and Molly Textiles, a company in Albuquerque’s International District aimed at creating jobs for immigrant and refugee women.
“We feel that immigrants are a part of our community — both Molly and I identify as immigrants. I was born in Japan, grew up in Canada, and came to the U.S. when I got married,” says Tsuzuki, who worked in women’s economic development after completing a certificate in women’s studies at Princeton.
While she didn’t work with textiles before founding the company, Tsuzuki knew how to screen print. She’s found success teaching the skill to immigrants and refugees, who often have significant handwork experience.
Unlike many larger companies, Kei and Molly Textiles encourages workers to interact with each other and learn more about professional life in America. While the approach helps immigrants and refugees grow more comfortable in their new community, it can be more difficult than working in a larger store.
“In some ways it’s harder than just a regular job. If you were to work for a big-box company and clock in/clock out, you don’t really have to talk to anyone or communicate with anyone,” Tsuzuki explains.
By creating a supportive culture for women and families — the company offers time off for doctors’ appointments and parent-teacher conferences, for example — Kei and Molly Textiles has helped immigrant women thrive. One former employee, a dentist in Cuba before coming to Albuquerque, went on to complete a dental degree at Rutgers University and practice in the United States.
Since the 2016 election, the company’s work has shifted as fewer refugees have entered the United States. Resettlement agencies often help refugees move to Albuquerque, but resettlements have dropped off drastically in recent years.
“What it has given us an opportunity to do,” Tsuzuki says, “is really support the refugees who are already here.”
National politics aside, Kei and Molly Textiles has enjoyed strong support from the local community. In 2018, the company created a mural with textiles representing their employees’ countries of origin.
“When we did the mural, we heard nothing but great comments,” Tsuzuki says. “It’s been positive, and I think that one of the values that our company tries to put forward is this idea of respect and kindness towards everyone, and that really has resonated with our community.”
Beyond their substantial social impact, Kei and Molly are proud of the business’ success. Their hand-printed towels, bags, and other textiles are found in some 300 stores nationwide, with over 40 sales representatives helping to sell their products.
“I think that stores and our end customers really resonate with our message of supporting our community,” Tsuzuki says. “To have a business that started really within the recession and still standing 10 years later, that’s a pretty good sign that we’re doing something right.”