A Refugee Saga Shapes a New Portland Shop's Compassionate Ethos
Project Object, a new boutique on NE Sandy, boasts enamel cat pins, “Girls Support Girls” tees, and banana-embellished bags, many by women-owned lines, artists of color, and LGBTQ designers. It also hides one helluva origin story.
Owner T Ngu credits her family’s history for the shop’s focus on people who are often underrepresented in the design community. Her mother, brother, and extended family left war-torn Vietnam on a boat of 2,000 people squished tightly together, a treacherous trip that included an attempted pirate invasion. After Ngu was conceived at a refugee camp in Hong Kong in 1979, her family was sponsored by an American couple, who flew them to Minnesota and helped them find a home and learn English. That act of kindness still sits with Ngu today.
“I really think there is no happiness unless you’re helping others. There’s no meaning to anything unless you are giving back,” she says. Opened in April, her shop donates 5 percent of its profits to domestic violence shelter Bradley Angle and another 5 percent to rotating projects, such as making feminine hygiene kits for women’s shelter Rose Haven. Through her seven-year-old jewelry line, Upper Metal Class, Ngu already has tight relationships with many of the designers to whom she’s eager to draw attention.
“I just want to encourage and support those who are putting themselves out there,” Ngu says. “Creating art, designing and making things takes a lot of courage to let it go into the world for everyone and anyone to see.”
Project Object Picks:
Hello Happy Plants casts this La Croix–inspired cement vase from a silicon mold before painting each fizzy water pop color by hand. $50
Austin, Texas, textile artist Vanessa Crook creates every pattern and embroidery from start to finish on her cute Realm pouches. $40
Celebrate those lady bits with jewelry like Upper Metal Class’s “The Girls” ring or the Little V ring by Oh Me. $52 and $42