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‘We want to show our identity as Somali Muslim women — but also, we want to look good’

By Ibrahim Hirsi, MinnPost

IbrahimHirsiIllo400Sofia Hersi broke out into a smile.

A pair of customers entered her small clothing store in the Karmel Square mall in Minneapolis last week, and Hersi rose from her stool to walk up to the two young Muslim women, who were shopping for the weekend Eid al-Fitr festival, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Hersi welcomed the shoppers as they caught glimpses of an abaya — a loose, robe-like dress — hanging from the wall without a price tag.

“Where did you buy this from,” one customer asked, “and how much is it?”

“Abu Dhabi,” Hersi replied, “and that one is $70.”

Hersi, 27, opened her shop, Modern Closet, in partnership with her friend Istar Mohamed in April. Their aim was to cater to young Muslim women who had a taste for the traditional  — and for stylish clothing.

The store sells various items, including traditional dresses, scarves, handbags, clutches, sunglasses, rings and necklaces — some of them imported from the Middle East and others from New York and Los Angeles.

Older women have tended to dominate the female clothing market in the Twin Cities Somali community, Hersi explained. But in recent years, the industry has seen an increase in a new generation of entrepreneurs, who have joined the field to bring new, more stylish design ideas to young Muslim women.

Prior to opening Modern Closet, Hersi was a regular customer at Karmel Square. But she often came and went without buying anything, unsatisfied with what was around. “When I tried to find clothes in these stores, it was tough because most businesses were owned by older women like your mom and grandma,” she explained. “They were having a hard time finding what young women wanted.”

“Modern Closet is here to fill that void,” she said. “We want to be fashionable, we want to represent our culture and we want to show our identity as Somali Muslim women — but also, we want to look good.”

Continue reading at MinnPost

Follow Ibrahim Hirsi on Twitter: @IHirsi.

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Kenyan refugee camp friendship rekindled in St. Cloud

By Ibrahim Hirsi, St. Cloud Times

IbrahimHirsiIllo400The recent stream of Somali immigrants and refugees who are making their mark in St. Cloud is partly the reason Hussein Mohamud and Feisal Ali decided to live in the city.

The childhood friends who grew up in the dusty and arid Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya also picked St. Cloud to be closer to their families here — and to Minneapolis, which has a vibrant Somali-American presence and serves as the capital city for Somalis in North America.

“It’s a small place,” Ali said of St. Cloud. “Anywhere you want to go in the city is just about 10 minutes away. People really like that.”

Mohamud added: “St. Cloud is really a nice city. It’s promising for young Somalis … many kids are graduating from colleges and high schools.”

Before their arrival in St. Cloud, Mohamud and Ali spent more than two decades in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world.

Both escaped the civil war in Somalia — which erupted in 1991 — and sought refuge in the camp, which has more than 400,000 people. They initially thought the war would end sooner and planned to return home in a matter of months.

That wasn’t the case, however.

The civil war in Somalia stretched into decades. For Ali and Mohamud, this meant living more than 20 years in dire conditions in the camp.

Continue reading at St. Cloud Times

Follow Ibrahim Hirsi on Twitter: @IHirsi.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you like this piece, share it on social media.  We invite you to join us in this project on our social media sites.  We welcome your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a commentary, podcast or photo story. (For more information, email engageminnesota@gmail.com.)