Tibetan refugee family landed in Vail and launched Blossom custom rug company
VAIL — Samten and Dechen Aungae look around their home, smile about their three beautiful children and recall briefly their childhood as Tibetan refugees.
Now they live in the Vail Valley and own Blossom Rug, where they make custom designed and hand-woven area rugs. Life is good; their children’s lives will be better.
Why Blossom blossoms
Samten and Dechen Aungae opened Blossom in the summer of 2009. Dechen’s family in Nepal has run a rug manufacturing company for 50 years.
Send them artwork, photographs or just about anything and they can make a high quality hand-woven rug from it.
“You can imagine the range of possibilities,” Samten Aungae said.
There’s one that depicts the aerial view of the Bahamas from Reed Design Group. Then there’s Up In the Air, based on a photo that local professional photographer Carla Aparicio took through her airplane window. A German customer threw a glass of water into the air, photographed it and ordered a rug based on that picture. It’s titled “Splash!” There’s “Folding The Sky,” for which a customer took a picture of the sky, folded it tightly and sent it to them to create a rug.
They take whatever the customer wants and send it to Nepal. Before long, a rug returns, hand-woven from silk, wool, cashmere … anything you want, even the occasional metal. Leftover yarn is used to make what they call Eco Rugs. Dechen Aungae’s sister in Nepal is a dye master and can create 1,200 colors.
They can do any rug, any size no matter how big, Samten Aungae said. Depending on the size, four or five people work on one rug, sometimes in two shifts. Music is playing, food and drink keeps coming and the conversation is lively as they work, Dechen Aungae says. It’s a cross between a job and a family reunion.
Because people in Colorado’s resort region, the U.S. and Europe keep buying these rugs, hundreds of people in Nepal have pretty good jobs. Samten and Dechen Aungae’s family facility employs 250 people. Other facilities around Nepal employ similar numbers.
Along with rugs, Blossom carries handmade jewelry, arts and crafts from Nepal, India and Tibet.
“We feel confident working directly with designers,” Samten Aungae said. “That creates direct communication. No middleman. Because we are a direct source, that also keeps our pricing competitive.”
Because they’re a family-owned business they also control the quality of the materials they use, Samten Aungae said.
From refugees to Americans
Samten and Dechen Aungae did not know each other growing up. Their families fled Tibet when the Chinese invaded in 1959, seeking refuge in Nepal. The Red Cross was one of the only agencies in Nepal at the time, and convinced refugee families to weave some rugs to sell to Europeans and Americans.
So they did.
“They lived for six months on the money they made from that rug,” Dechen Aungae said.
They taught some others to weave, and those people taught some others. Now it’s an international industry.
Dechen Aungae proudly says she was the first day care teacher in first child care centers her sister Dolma opened, teaching English.
Samten Aungae’s brother runs an orphanage, Phende Children’s Home in Nepal, home to 47 kids. For $35 a month, you can keep a kid safe, warm, fed and in school.
Buy a rug from them and help save some kids. Samten and Dechen Aungae are active supporters.
Samten and Dechen are the proud parents of three children, aged 11, 8 and 5.
Their 8-year old daughter did a slide presentation for her class’s Around The World Day, and trotted her parents out — sort of like smiling visual aids.
The Vail Mountain School is a far cry from the refugee schools Samten and Dechen Aungae attended for Tibetan refugee children. The goal was to educate kids and preserve Tibetan culture. The schools accomplished both. Along with Tibetan, students learned Hindi, English and Nepali.
Escape from Tibet
“So many sad stories,” Dechen said.
Escape means traversing rugged 17,000-foot mountain passes without the kind of gear they need to survive. Many don’t. When Dechen Aungae’s family escaped, two babies died.
Generally escapees make their run at night so Chinese soldiers won’t see them. The bodies of those who did not survive lie along the trails where they died. These days, improvements in surveillance technology make it easier for the Chinese to capture escapees, even at night.
Samten and Dechen Aungae have roots in Tibet, India, Nepal and the United States.
“Now we’re American citizens,” they said smiling.
They met in New York. Samten was living in Southern California and Dechen in Cape Cod. Dechen’s aunt knew him and told her that he’d be well advised to call her, so he did. They landed in Steamboat Springs together and soon migrated to Vail.
Every Sunday they drive their children to Boulder for Tibetan school, because it’s not only important to know where they are, but also where they’re from … and why so much in their lives is blossoming.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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