For entrepreneurs with Asian heritage, May, which is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, can be a time to forge personal connections with customers and build community with fellow AAPI merchants.
“There’s no greater way to celebrate my heritage than to connect with people through flavor,” says Jing Gao, founder and CEO of Fly By Jing, a company specializing in Sichuan goods, like its ultra-popular chili crisp, hot pot kits, and frozen dumpling line.
In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, Fly By Jing was one of 11 AAPI-owned culinary-focused businesses that came together for a delicious collaborative giveaway on Instagram. “We’re a really tight-knit community and love activating with each other’s audiences regularly,” Jing says. The grand prize, which was awarded on May 16 and worth $1,000, included:
- Spicy and savory Sichuan sauces from Fly By Jing
- Single-origin spices from Diaspora Co., sourced from India and Sri Lanka
- Omsom flavor packs for cooking Vietnamese, Thai, and Filipino dishes
- Elegant cookware from Material
Ahead, learn more from Jing about how the collab came together and the importance of building community as an entrepreneur.
Shopify: Tell me about how Fly by Jing is an expression and celebration of your own background and identity.
Jing: I originally started Fly By Jing as an underground supper club while I was still living in Shanghai, but I had the idea to launch my all-natural Sichuan chili crisp as a packaged sauce when I saw the way people would react to it at my dinners. It was a base for a lot of the dishes I’d cook.
Initially, I wanted to give people a taste of the incredible flavors of my hometown of Chengdu by sourcing really special local ingredients—but Fly By Jing has become so much more than that. Through our expanding product line, we’re trying to ensure that Asian flavors have a spot on every supermarket shelf and on every table, instead of being relegated to the so-called “ethnic aisle.”
Shopify: How did the giveaway with fellow AAPI merchants come about?
Jing: This particular giveaway was organized by the spice company Diaspora Co., but we do a ton of cross-promotion with other AAPI brands. We even recently did an April Fool’s joke with the AAPI-founded sparkling water brand Sanzo, so there’s a lot of opportunity to get creative and have fun with each other.
Shopify: People might assume merchants are all in competition with each other, but there’s strength in community. Why is it important to support each other?
Jing: There’s strength in numbers, so when one of us succeeds, we all succeed—especially when we’re all in this together to elevate the perception and value of Asian flavors in the West.
And what I love about all of these brands is that they’re highly personal, as is Fly By Jing. So even though we may be in a similar category, we’re all doing our own thing and doing it in the way that feels best for us.
Shopify: How else have you worked with fellow entrepreneurs to build a community and support network?
Jing: I always tell entrepreneurs who are starting out to find good mentors, because no matter what the product is, there’s someone that has definitely faced the same challenges and roadblocks as you.
Learning from others who’ve gone before is invaluable. So I try to do the same for other entrepreneurs: My door is always open for a quick chat, or to offer advice, or to help problem-solve.
Shopify: How can entrepreneurs show up for AAPI merchants all year?
Jing:I think it’s about discovering what’s most important to you and supporting brands that align with your values, whether it’s making a commitment to buy more AAPI-founded brands, or environmentally friendly brands, or whatever the case may be. And when you find a brand you love, go to bat for them by doing more than just buying their products.
Simple actions like telling your friends about a product you love, or liking/sharing on social media, can help to make a difference, especially for up-and-coming brands.
Feature image provided by Fly By Jing