The sense of style seems to come naturally to Mohamed Malim. So he took that skill and used it to create something bigger than himself – a fashion business focused on raising awareness about the humanitarian refugee crisis.
While studying business at St. Thomas University, Malim, an alumnus of Edina High School, realized that he could combine his business skills and his passion for fashion into something that made sense to him and to the community as a whole. He created Epimonia, a clothing company that puts refugees at the forefront of its mission.
And Malim knows firsthand the experience of a refugee. In the late 1990s, his family fled Somalia due to war and violence in the region and settled in a refugee camp in Kenya, where he was born. He and his family moved to the United States in 1999, when Malim was 3 years old.
“I want to give back to my community,” said Malim. “I used my passion selling products, clothes and starting a conversation about what’s going on.”
In St. Thomas, Malim took part in the schools’ Fowler Business Concept Challenge in late 2017. For this, he created the idea for Epimonia and ended up making it into the top 10, Malim said. It was then that he decided to turn the concept into reality.
“(The competition) motivated and inspired me to pursue my dream and start the business,” said Malim, who graduated from EHS in 2014.
Her uncle, Omar Munie, who is a Netherlands-based fashion designer, provided advice on starting the business, Malim said. “My uncle inspired me to start my fashion business because luckily I had someone who was a fashion designer in the family,” he said.
Malim said part of the idea for his brand was driven by his feeling that pervasive negative attitudes towards refugees made them feel unwanted in society. The mission of Malim’s fashion brand is to fight negative rhetoric about refugees, he said. Epimonia’s clothing includes orange patches and pieces of life jackets worn by refugees from the Mediterranean Sea, collected later on their arrival in Greece. Clothing with patches includes crewnecks, t-shirts and bracelets.
“The idea behind this business was to fight the xenophobia that is rampant in the country,” said Malim.
He added: “The whole idea of using the life jackets is to raise awareness of what’s going on overseas and at the same time (to use) that as a symbolic gesture.”
According to the most recent data from the United Nations Refugee Agency, around 80 million people around the world were living in forced displacement as of mid-2020. Of this total, 26.3 million were designated as refugees.
Malim employs refugees to create the clothes at his studio in northeast Minneapolis, he said. Since 2018, the company has also donated $ 45,000 to the refugee cause, according to the Epimonia website.
Malim’s work received wide recognition. In addition to being featured in national publications, Epimonia was also featured at New York Fashion Week earlier this year.
This spring’s New York Fashion Week took place online with virtual shows, exclusive articles and discussions between fashion experts. Instead of the typical runway show, Fashion Week included pre-recorded designer videos that aired at certain times throughout the event, February 14-18.
Epimonia made her metaphorical New York Fashion Week stage debut on the last day of the event at 2:30 p.m. Malim said he organized a little party with friends for the event.
The video showed Malim and models dressed in Epimonia, posing for a camera with a stack of life jackets behind them.
“(It was) an incredible platform to give visibility to the refugee crisis,” he said. “Having this opportunity was huge for our team and me.”
But in the recent past, this kind of projector has not always been easily accessible for Malim. During the presidential election season last fall, Facebook announced a ban on certain political ads to prevent the spread of disinformation. Epimonia’s ads on the social media platform were taken down, causing sales to drop dramatically, Malim said.
“It’s very frustrating for me (…) to be listed among the groups using bogus advertising for political reasons,” Malim told The New York Times. The announcements were reinstated earlier this year.
Since Epimonia’s business model is based on e-commerce, Malim said the pandemic hasn’t affected sales much. It has used up some of its stock of life jackets as fewer refugees have been able to come to Europe due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the company already had plenty of stock, he said.
Going forward, Malim plans to collaborate on a hat line with Minnesota United FC next month. The hats would include the fashion brand’s orange patches, Malim said. He considers this one of his greatest achievements, “especially having a sports team like Minnesota United on board to support the refugees,” he said.
Malim also hopes to work with even more outside entities, such as other fashion brands, influencers, artists and actors to raise awareness of the refugee cause. This month, Malim conducted an interview and editorial photoshoot with Kat Graham, known for her role in The Vampire Diaries.
These collaborations, and the company itself, aim to advance the brand’s mission of supporting refugees and raising awareness of the cause, Malim said.
“It’s a good start to the conversation,” he said. “There is a crisis going on and we need to draw attention to it.”
– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent
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