“I know I have to work really hard for everything. Vietnamese people are survivors. I have that on my side. I’m going to survive no matter what-and I’m going to look fly doing it.”
Empowerment, drive, and natural elegance are three characteristics that comprise the unique being who is Thai Hien Nguyen. As the child of parents who gained asylum in the U.S. after the Vietnam War, she found herself in a new space culturally, linguistically and economically, where any previous privilege was now void. “My parents are not from here. They weren’t aware of all the opportunities available and even if they had been, they probably wouldn’t have known how to access them. Similarly, Rainier Scholars helped me realize that I could do things that I didn’t know I could do.”
Thai Hien states her reality rather simply, but those things she realized she could do were miles beyond her limited beginnings. After graduating from University Prep, she earned a Gates Millennium Scholarship that paid her college tuition in full. She then received her B.A. in economics from Chapman University in Orange, California and studied abroad at the London College of Fashion, where she continued to develop her interest in and understanding of the luxury apparel business. During her summers, she interned at Boeing, where she developed her analytical capacities and business etiquette while adapting to a work environment with a variety of people and perspectives. These skills proved to be invaluable to her career trajectory and her current work as an allocation analyst at Lucky Brand Headquarters in Los Angeles. One of the things she most enjoys in this role is the sense of agency it provides her as a young woman of color in an exclusionary system. “…it blows my mind that what I decide impacts the company…I have a voice.”
Contrasting her work in a luxury industry, another layer of Thai Hien’s multifaceted identity is her immense propensity to give. When not in the office, she tutors homeless children on Skid Row, one of the most depressed areas of Los Angeles. Through this work, she models the values instilled in her by Rainier Scholars; that education can lead to a life beyond the barriers and dangers of poverty. She encourages her students by sharing the wisdom of her lived realities: “You have no idea, but this is your key to getting out. The key to getting out of the life you have now and it will open the door to all these other things. You can’t get anywhere without education.” Relating her family’s background to that of the people she serves, Thai Hien elucidates further: “We’re not even immigrants; we’re refugees. Ignorance is not always your fault. You could be from a different country or you could be from Skid Row. You’re in these situations because you don’t know anything different because you weren’t given opportunities.”
If you have ever met Thai Hien, you can easily see and understand why she works in fashion, but below her beautiful surface lies an equally beautiful spirit that aligns with her namesake, which in Vietnamese means great kindness. Thai Hien is confident in the prospects of her future: “I have a really clear career path at this point. I want to be a Vice President as soon as possible.” There is no doubt that this dream will be a reality before long.
Thai Hien is a balance of benevolence and business with a unique generosity and compassion that permeates each of her endeavors. She embodies the vision of Rainier Scholars Executive Director, Sarah Smith that the access generated by the program will “…ensure a ‘generational transfer of opportunity’ which ripples with an impact well beyond the individual scholars with whom we work.”