Monica Phromsavanh: from refugee to a successful entrepreneur

Monica Phromsavanh sitting at her work desk Monica Phromsavanh fled Laos with her family to seek asylum in Argentina. Since then, she has built her own mega-successful fashion business. 

An entrepreneur is someone who starts a new business. Entrepreneurs are often risk-takers because starting a business involve serious financial commitments and risks. Monica Phromsavanh, the founder of ModaBox, is a true entrepreneur. Monica has worked hard over the years to build her brand, come up with effective marketing strategies, and study consumer behavior and trends. In fact, her current fashion business isn’t the first venture she’s started. Before ModaBox, she was the founder and director of a women’s clothing retailer called ModaListas.

Although Monica’s talent as style influencer and fashion queen shine through with ModaBox, she started from very humble beginnings. 

Monica has more than 16 years of experience in the fashion industry, mostly in retail and business management. She’s worked in the heart of New York City’s fashion scene while growing her brand presence. For four years, she was a managing director and head buyer of men’s clothing. She has worked with the luxury fashion house Burberry and with fashion brands such as Express. Her glamorous jobs and collaborations with top minds in the fashion world are a far cry from where she began her life.

Monica was raised in an Argentinian refugee camp. She has publicly recalled her early life of poverty, often going to bed hungry and not having access to food or even water.  

As a child, just attending school often meant struggling with the national language, Spanish, and being mocked for her refugee status. When she was just 15, she dropped out of school to work 60 hours a week for her family. Her first few jobs in the USA were mostly illegal jobs. She moved to Connecticut, speaking just a few words of English, but her customer service and language skills were enough to start working with a fashion brand called Express. Unfortunately, the work often meant she was exploited and poorly treated. However, Express was the beginning of better things. 

She moved to New York City with less than $300 and started to work at Club Monaco. For a risk taker like Monica, taking this huge chance was worth it. Monica thrived and a few months later, Burberry called her and asked her to join their team. After accepting their offer and working with them for some time, she felt that sacrificing her time and hard work for someone else’s dream would only take her so far. 

Monica wanted to accomplish her own American dream.

She knew what it was like not to have enough to eat so she was confident that she could handle whatever failure would bring. She started ModaListas, her first business. ModaListas was an in-store business where women could try out custom clothes and receive tailored fashion advice, but Monica had a bigger vision. She knew that if women all over the country could have the same outfit in their hands and the same fashion advice, they would buy more items.

Monica’s next business started in her living room with co-founder Leona Vasserman by her side. Over 8 months, they created the website that is now Modabox. The mission of Modabox is the same as Monica’s first company. She wants everyone who wears the clothes to look and feel amazing. She wants all women to feel amazing, regardless of age or body type.

Monica kept pushing forward, even though she was frightened of failure.

It’s not easy to start a business, a fact that is echoed by all entrepreneurs. Instead of feeling content with her success, Monica is always reflecting on her challenging life and seeing where she can improve. Her journey was not always easy but it has been successful. To help anyone trying to make it as an entrepreneur, Monica often shares her findings and past mistakes. In a recent interview with Mediumshe said:

“I was … working long hours and I was burning myself out. So, I took a step back and looked at the big picture. I realized that you’re not always going to be passionate about your business, and that’s OK.”

She went on to say that she finds strength and energy in her thoughts about her purpose in life. In addition to her current venture, Monica has another dream. This dream isn’t fashion related, but it’s very close to her heart as a successful entrepreneur and former refugee. She wants to become a mentor to young women facing hurdles that prevent them from chasing their dreams. 

As a girl from a village, living in a refugee camp, she felt no one believed in her. She wants to reach the younger generations and show them how they can succeed too. 

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About Lana_R
Lana Radosavljevic is the US Programs Director of the Refugee Center Online and a former refugee from Bosnia and Hercegovina.