Chinese adoptee Zoe Sponseller has always loved learning about her culture of birth, and she wanted to make it easier for others to do the same. So in 2022, Zoe launched her first company, Red Thread Unraveled, which offers activity boxes to help adoptees learn more about Chinese culture and adoptee identity!
As a young girl growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Chinese adoptee Zoe Sponseller loved learning more about her culture of birth through reading. But she wished that she could do more.
Zoe and her twin sister were both adopted at 13 months old from China and grew up in Spokane, Washington, which according to Zoe, does not have a large Chinese population (only 2.7 percent of Spokane’s population identifies as Asian alone according to 2021 data from the U.S. Census). As she got older, her parents did their best to create culture-centered experiences.
“For Chinese New Year, we would eat Chinese food or go to a Chinese restaurant. And family members, like my aunt or something, would give me a red envelope with some money in it,” she says. She enjoyed going to groups for families with adopted children from China — even meeting her lifelong best friend at one of the events. After these experiences, Zoe wanted to continue learning as much as she could.
“I always thought it was super interesting to learn about China and meet other adoptees. I just thought, ‘Oh, well it kind of makes me unique!’ I would go to the library, and it had a section on adoption, and I would always seek out the books from Chinese adoptees,” she remembers.
However, Zoe felt like she would get more out of her research if she had access to more than just books.
“A lot of the information out there about China, it’s just something you’re going to read, which isn’t very exciting. I’ve always thought it would be more fun to have that in a more tangible way — like the items that are used in Chinese culture like toys, food, anything like that,” she says.
Then, a project assigned in a club at her high school — the Distributive Education Clubs of America (DECA) club, an association of marketing students — sparked an idea.
“I have another friend who is adopted from China, and we worked on a business plan together that was just a resource that would help Chinese adoptees. But I wanted to expand the idea. So, the next year, I came up with my business Red Thread Unraveled,” she says.
The title concept for Red Thread Unraveled is based on a Chinese proverb — “An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.” A phrase often used about adoptive families, Zoe hopes to emphasize the idea that the bonds between a child and family can grow stronger alongside an adoptee’s ties to their birth country.
“An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”Chinese proverb
Red Thread Unraveled produces culture-themed boxes to help spark conversations about Chinese culture and provide bonding experiences for Chinese adoptees and their adoptive families. The first box, launched in July of 2022, contains activities, decorations, a toy, candy and a personal story from a Chinese adoptee.
Since the inception of Red Thread Unraveled, Zoe has placed as a finalist in the 2021 Washington DECA State Competition, placed second in the 2022 Washington DECA State Competition, was a 2022 DECA International Competition qualifier, and won the 2021 Washington State University business plan competition.
When asked how she would have felt opening a Red Thread Unraveled box as a child, Zoe says she would have loved it.
“I think it would have been such a fun thing to open! Especially as a younger child, opening it with my family and playing some of the games together with my family or my sister — just to actually have it in my hands would have been really exciting,” Zoe says.
Although her boxes are currently a one-time purchase, Zoe hopes to move to a subscription model and to make it more focused on the adoptee experience.
“I want it to be for Chinese adoptees, not just the broad audience of people who are interested in Chinese culture. They can buy it too, but this way, adoptees can connect with each other. So, they’re going to have this common thing between them: both having a Red Thread Unraveled box and both being adopted from China,” Zoe says.
In the future, Zoe hopes to continue expanding her business to other common countries of birth for international adoptees, such as Korea or Vietnam. She also hopes to get older adoptees more involved and build a community of adoptees, linked by experience — a symbolic red thread.
You can purchase the first box from Zoe and Red Thread Unraveled on her website.
Zoe is looking for input from adult adoptees, youth adoptees and adoptive families as she grows her business! If you are interested, please fill out the survey one and survey two on her website or email [email protected].