MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — For this week’s Minnesotan to Meet, we take you an old dairy farm in Maplewood. Inside, they aren’t milking any cows, but instead manufacturing thousands of products.
It’s called HBI Textiles, and it’s where second generation owner, Peng Cha, is taking the company that makes him a Minnesotan to Meet.
Step inside this repurposed barn and you’ll find generations of Peng Cha’s family working inside.
“I started out just a simple as stacking and cutting threads,” Cha said.
Cha’s mother, Doua Lee, co-founded HBI Textiles in the 90s. Lee still lends a hand most days. She is now retired from St. Paul Schools where she worked in early childhood education and served as an interpreter.
Cha was born in Minnesota and said he respects his mother for the sacrifices she made.
“I know my mom had to struggle through back in Laos. There are a lot of things I know I have access to – in terms of education and opportunities — that I really try to take advantage of … it’s something that I’ve taken to heart to expand and continue on,” Cha said.
His mother immigrated to America as part of the first wave on Hmong refugees in 1976, first to Hawaii, the settled in MN. Two decades later she started her own company, specifically designed to meet the needs of others like her.
“We had created a system where we cater to the needs of the Hmong and Asian population,” said Cha.
HBI Textiles manufactures in all areas of textiles, but it’s their home sewing program that was seen as innovative in the early years of the company.
“Childcare, a lot of them had children at home and it was hard for them to leave home, and transportation also, we created the home sewer and satellite program,” said Cha.
Manufacturing numbers for 2016 were in the hundreds of thousands for big name brands as well as emerging local Minnesota Brands.
“What we usually do in a house is a lot of our leatherwork or preparation to go to the home sewers,” said Cha.
Leather is Cha’s favorite textile and it’s only fitting that he uses that for his first personal product launch.
“One of the big things that we wanted to focus on this year was to create something of our own, to have something with our name on it to have the pride to know that we have something that we made that carries our name,” said Cha.
Peng Cha’s name is front and center, literally.
“In Hmong, Peng means a strong foundation,” said Cha.
The 35-year-old is launching Peng Leather this year. Five products to start: passport and business card holders, a travel bag. It’s a line designed for the traveling executive.
The leather is sourced from S-B Foot Tanning in Red Wing, Minnesota.
It’s something Cha has dreamed of doing, but only now he finally feels is the right time. He knows once this product rolls out the workload will only ramp up, but luckily he learned from the best.