Eden Prairie Center’s newest store, Umi’s Boutique, exists at the intersection of hard work and good luck.
Friends and co-owners Fadumo Hassan and Habiba Hamza had been looking for a space to open a boutique for years when the Funky Town Boutique left its nook on the second floor of Eden Prairie Center. The space was only vacant for a few months before Umi’s opened on Sept. 1, according to the mall’s marketing manager Christa Kremer.
“We’re entrepreneurs, we’re always looking for opportunity,” said Hassan, 39. “This just fell into our hands.”
The pair are neighbors in Eden Prairie and have known each other for years. Hamza, 51, has helped Hassan, 39, look after her three children, and as they worked on making Umi’s Boutique a reality, Hassan combined her sharp fashion sense with Hazma’s business know-how from her time as a boutique owner in Nairobi.
“I consider her as a sister,” said Hamza, whose comments in Somali were interpreted by Hassan and Asad Aliweyd.
The clothing at Umi’s Boutique comes from all over the world: scarves from Turkey, light linen shirts from China, abayas from Afghanistan, caftans from Kenya. Hassan imagines their target customers in the suburban Somali-American community will be relieved to have options closer to home than Minneapolis, where most of the stores that sell similar styles are located. In the winter, the trip from Chanhassen or Shakopee to Minneapolis is a long one, she said, and already customers have thanked the owners for opening Umi’s closer to home.
“That’s the whole reason we opened in the mall,” Hassan explained.
Aliweyd, who is the executive director of the New American Development Center, speculated that Umi’s Boutique is the first Somali-American owned business in a mall in the state. Neither the mall, nor the city of Eden Prairie or Hennepin County could provide data to confirm that, but the business is one of the 8% of Hennepin County businesses owned by black or African American residents, and only a third of the county’s businesses are owned by women, according to the most recent business data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which is from 2012.
Kremer also sees opportunity in the boutique, which sells a wide range of clothing that appeals to the modest and stylish shopper.
“Any time a new offering can be provided, especially when it’s one people are looking for, it’s a great opportunity,” Kremer said.
Hamza and Hassan said their customers in the first week of business were from a variety of communities, not just Somali-Americans. They found themselves educating curious customers about various styles, some of which are already sold out. A black-and-white patterned scarf was a customer favorite, Hassan noted.
“Scarves are universal for all cultures,” Hassan said. “We have a lot of stuff that’s very comfortable.”
The pair traveled to Dubai before Umi’s Boutique opened to purchase their inventory, and they’re busy re-upping on popular items. In the future, they hope to visit China, Turkey and India to seek out more styles, Hassan said.
“When people walk in, they always learn something,” Hassan said. “We are very hopeful and optimistic that this will be around for a long time.”