As she braided Alice Umulisa’s hair, Nana Batumike talked about running her new business.
“I wanted to start because I wanted to feel at home and make my living,” Batumike said. “It was my dream since I was little.”
She is the owner of NanuSka Style, where she braids hair and sells cosmetics and African clothing. Batumike is also one of the first tenants of Fikiria, a cluster of spaces for entrepreneurs inside Catholic Charities of Maine’s Threads of Hope thrift store at 1041 Brighton Avenue in Portland, Maine. (Fikiria is Swahili for “imagine.”)
With two of 12 spaces rented, Tae Chong, Catholic Charities Maine’s social enterprise and workforce development manager, said the hope extends beyond an opportunity to develop new businesses into an economic ecosystem allowing entrepreneurs to join together. It is recruiting young people, seniors, refugees and immigrants, among others.
“How do I help the single mom, the entrepreneur, the student without resources?” Chong asked while standing next door to NanuSka Style, in Anaam Jabbir’s Chiffon Alterations.
Jabbir was visiting family in her native Iraq, but in a phone call said collaborative efforts to start her business also made her dream a reality.
“This is a good opportunity for me and for all community,” she said. “It would be hard for me to start alone.”
Chong, formerly with Coastal Enterprises Inc., has long worked to help immigrants utilize their skills and prosper in the state economy. He said Fikiria takes a wider approach.
Spaces are rented below market value, starting at $325 per month, and Chong is among those who provide free business counseling, guidance with marketing and customer service, and display and point of sale areas within the store.
Also supporting Fikiria are cPort Credit Union, Maine Technology Institute, Bill and Joan Alfond Foundation, Rocking Moon Foundation and Lee International. Individual donations included sewing machines from Dory Waxman of American Roots, where Jabbir is head forewoman.
Jabbir will be able to tap into American Roots, based in the Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook, for part-time help as needed. As Fikiria takes hold, Chong already sees potential collaborations where Batumike uses her love for design and Jabbir adds her sewing skills, perhaps even using clothing already for sale at the thrift shop.
Chong became Jabbir’s first customer when she altered some slacks for him.“From the beginning, I knew alterations should be an anchor for Fikiria,” he said.
Items and services at Fikiria should not provide direct competition to thrift store items and will remain inexpensive. At the same time, the spaces should be viewed as a steppingstone to allow the entrepreneurs to earn enough to move up on their own.
Fikiria was originally intended to open last fall on St. John Street. When the location did not work out, Threads of Hope was available, with the added advantage that store manager Amanda Fisher used to work for retailer Neiman Marcus.
“She knows how to do the high-end stuff,” Chong said.
The day-to-day work still requires some coaching, but Chong wants owners to be able to focus on what they like as they grow.
For Batumike, a mother of six children, the balance of home and work is in progress.
“It is challenging, but when you love what you are doing, you usually find a way,” she said.
- From David Harry, Staff Writer of The Forecaster https://www.pressherald.com/2019/02/13/business-cluster-offers-hope-to-budding-entrepreneurs/