David & Soko, Co-Founders of Camusa Apparel: A Family Business with a Mission to Support their Big Brother in Cambodia
Location: Mesa, AZ
Service: Cambodian-American themed apparel and products
Through Instagram, we connected with David and learned about his family business, Camusa Apparel (pronounced Ca-musa), to support his brother, Shawn, who was deported from the United States to Cambodia in 2018. In this interview, Mellissa and I had the opportunity to talk with David and his sister, Sandea (Soko) about the meaning behind their brand and mission.
Our Roles at Camusa Apparel
Soko: David is the brains of the operation - he is the promoter, designer, and social media manager. I am not so good with social media, so it’s great that he can take that role on. I am always here for him to offer my advice or if he needs to run anything by me! We also have a group chat with our older brother, Shawn, to throw out any new ideas with each other. We're all the same and work well together. No one is above one another. We get our whole family involved, too, like my daughter, who helps us fulfill the orders and package the products.
David: Shawn came up with the name, "Camusa," and shared it with us siblings. Immediately, we knew it was the right name for our business. The meaning behind "Camusa" represents our parents immigrating from Cambodia to America which influenced how we were raised. We are proud to be Cambodian Americans.
The Significance Behind Our Logo
David: We have a family friend whose girlfriend. Anita, creates artworks and portraits. Anita has designed most of our products. Only the Cambodia Skyline design was purchased from a stock gallery, but all other designs have had a personal touch of being hand-drawn by a local artist.
When our family visited Shawn in Cambodia, all of our siblings decided to get a matching tattoo in Phnom Penh. This tattoo is very meaningful to us. After this trip, we thought, "What if we just use this design for our apparel?" Today, you will see this original logo of the lotus flower and Angkor Wat on some of our products.
Our Brother's Story
David & Soko: Coming from Srok Khmer (Country of Cambodia) to Long Beach, CA, Shawn got into trouble during his teen years but turned his life around in 1999 after being released from jail because the system broke him. People who know him are surprised to learn about him ever committing a crime because he is so well respected. Shawn always tries to look at the positives in every situation. For twenty years, he has kept a clean slate and checked in with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) annually to confirm his employment and that he was in good standing with the law.
With ICE detaining refugees increasingly over the years, Shawn had a strange feeling that he might be impacted, so he told David what to do if something were to ever happen to him. We didn’t think anything would happen though. Shawn always did his taxes and supported causes like running for breast cancer awareness and the Pat Tillman Foundation. He didn’t even have a traffic ticket.
Soko: I am a single mom, and I remember a time when I was short on rent. Shawn gave me money and told me not to worry about paying him back. He has always been a big role model to us and a provider for our parents. One day in 2018, Shawn was doing a regular check-in with immigration and they detained him right away. We tried to fight for him to stay.
As I was driving to work, I declined a call from a number with all zeros but then answered the next call. It was Shawn with his probation officer. My mind was spinning when I picked up his car and didn't see or hear from him for the next 2-3 weeks. We could only track him on a website under his case number. Shawn was held at a detention center for 6 months and then relocated to Texas, where he was unfortunately deported to Cambodia with 40 other Cambodian immigrants.
Our parents fought to escape the Khmer Rouge and have a better life in America, only to have their son go back. We are not the only ones experiencing this pain and heartache with this deportation issue that is separating so many families. Our family had hopes of bringing him home by saving up money, writing to lawyers, opening a case, and doing everything that we could possibly do. We were devastated to break the news to our parents.
David: I’m the closest to Shawn. Our time together is a distant memory. His energy is now different from what it used to be. Reserved, cautious, careful, and scared. You do not want to stand out in Srok Khmer, and he doesn't feel Khmer enough being in Cambodia. Since Shawn is homesick, we do our best to FaceTime whenever we have family events. He is getting by and surviving. There are days when he sits alone in his apartment, and we feel his pain. We've seen stories where people have been pardoned for their crimes. However, his crime was committed in Massachusetts, not in Arizona, which makes it a very complicated and costly process to even attempt to bring him back. We've hit all of the dead-ends.
Everything happens for a reason - my brother is a believer in that. Two years ago, when we visited Cambodia, everything came back in full circle when our dad reunited with his sister. During their escape of the Khmer Rouge Regime, they separated from each other with our dad headed toward Thailand while our aunt headed in the opposite direction toward Cambodia. A positive part of this situation is that Shawn has gotten a chance to connect with our family members who we had never met before.
After Shawn got deported, it was our first time traveling together as a family to visit him. He left with only the clothes on his back, so we brought whatever we could with us. Things that you don’t normally think about until your life is ripped away from you. There were many tears when we reunited.
Our Family Business
David & Soko: The ability to bring him back is slim to none. When Shawn got settled in Cambodia, he took classes to teach English. Our family put together ideas and resources to provide him with the money he needed to survive. During this COVID-19 pandemic, schools closed down as he started to make money as a teacher. Since Shawn is our older brother, he is always frugal and does not like asking for help, even when he needs it. The funds from Camusa Apparel are to support his needs right now (e.g. rent, food). Anything helps.
David: Whether people know our mission or not, they are helping our older brother. We strive to make products that people will love and share our Cambodian American culture with the world. You do not have to be Khmer to buy our products! All different races and cultures are welcome.
Our favorite part of our family business has been seeing people across our nation (Washington, California, Texas, Minnesota) - friends, family, and even complete strangers - wear our brand. One challenge is that we also have full-time jobs. I'm a manager and need to balance my time working on this business and taking care of my wife who is pregnant with our 1st child.
Soko: We produce quality products with light and breathable material. We don't skimp on materials by going with what is cheapest. Our biggest goal is to produce items that feel soft and comfortable for our customers.
David: We want to continue building a brand that has a personal touch and is different from other clothing brands. I am active on our Instagram. If you message us, I will message you back; if you follow us, I will follow you back. We give our love back through likes, shares, and comments. If you ask us a question, we'll be transparent. I even responded to someone before on how much we pay for our shirts. I wanted to start a clothing brand a long time ago but never did. Shawn is the main reason behind Camusa Apparel and our family wants to help him however we can.
David: Shout-out to Rep Cambodia Apparel. Before this pandemic, I wore and loved their clothing line. The Rep Cambodia team messaged and congratulated us as soon as we launched our business. It was all love and support from our Khmer community. Also, another shout-out to Hella Chluy (Phanit Duong), who has his own brand now! We used to hangout in New York together.
David & Soko: We want people to know that we would appreciate anyone interested in supporting our mission to purchase our products. It deeply hurts our Ma and Ba when Shawn left. In the Khmer culture, the oldest sibling in the house usually sticks around to help out financially. We were not sure how successful this business would be but the word has got out much faster than what we initially thought. This has truly been a blessing.
This emotional and powerful interview with David & Soko was eye-opening into the issues of deportation and how it is impacting and separating immigrant families. We were inspired to hear more about their mission and get an in-depth look into the creation of their business. We learned about their big brother’s story and hope to invite them altogether as special guests on our podcast in the near future to learn more about their family’s journey. We had an amazing time getting to meet David & Soko; they are incredibly positive, selfless individuals. Please support their business if you felt moved by their words.