Refugee Investment Network’s Resilient 100 program hosted a special workshop for participants on “Growing a Refugee Lens Creative Brand,” led by Mohamed Malim, Founder and Creative Director of Epimonia.
Five entrepreneurs receiving support from Resilient 100 shared their own stories and businesses challenges: Generous Designs Africa, Inshirah Collective, Zahra Designs, Threads of Hope, and Bawa Hope.
Mohamed was born in a Kenya refugee camp after his parents fled Somalia due to the civil war of the early 1990s. His family experienced the devastation of war, having to flee and become refugees. After settling in Minnesota, Mohamed also learned first-hand about the challenges refugee families face while working to integrate into society and build new loves. His parents always talked about giving back, and he knew he wanted to dedicate his life to helping refugees. When Malim was just 21 years old, he launched Epimonia – a sustainable fashion brand with a central mission of supporting refugees.
Key Takeaways from Mohamed’s Presentation and Discussion with Resilient 100 entrepreneurs:
- Learn to tell your story. A compelling story of becoming an entrepreneur as a refugee and/or building a business that supports refugees is one of the success factors for a refugee-lens brand. The story inspires and draws customers, investors and other supporters to your company. Keep in mind sentiments towards refugees in your host community when selecting your audience and messaging for your story.
- Master media relations. The key to sharing your story with the world is to get it into the media, and with a lot of persistent effort, it is possible to get the media’s attention and pitch your story directly to journalists even without expensive PR consultants. The return in sales and brand awareness is worth the effort.
- Emphasize your impact – all of it! In addition to being a refugee-lens business, if you have environmentally sustainable products or other business practices with social and environmental impact, include those into your narrative.
- Learn to navigate international e-commerce and shipping. One of the common challenges expressed by the participants was high shipping costs, delays, and lack of e-commerce know-how, especially internationally. Refugee-lens design, fashion, and handmade/artisanal brands can have a great opportunity selling to impact conscious customers around the world, but need support with logistics. Platforms such as UNHCR’s Made51 can help.
- Balance tradition and trends. Successful businesses that create unique design and fashion products draw on the background, traditions, and skills of their refugee founders and artisans, but also keep in mind global consumer trends and tastes.
- Choose brand ambassadors carefully. It may be helpful to get help from influencers on social media or hire brand ambassadors, but make sure that your values are aligned well and that the cost justifies the returns.
- Join forces to compete for large contracts. Large corporate partnerships are great opportunities that can bring revenues and visibility to your brand, but they can pose challenges in meeting quantity and other requirements. Consider your network and work with other small businesses and social enterprises to qualify.