A job at Skyway offers the chance of a lifetime for a clothing manufacturer | Popgen Tech


Updated: 1:30 p.m

As with other commercial areas, St. Paul Street has seen an increase in the number of closed businesses over the past two years.

Retail stores and restaurants are closed by the dozen, as the pandemic has kept customers out.

But for clothing manufacturer Rami Mohamed, the crisis led to the opportunity of a lifetime.

Rami Mohammed works on a sewing machine

Rami Mohammed works on a sewing machine at Ramadhan Designs on Friday in St. Paul.

Kerem Yujel | MPR news

“I was one of the lucky ones who settled in the wonderful city of St. Paul,” said Mohammed.

Rami Mohammed immigrated here from Oromia, a region in East Africa, in 1999. A Muslim-American graduate of the University of Minnesota, she quit her full-time job three years ago and started designing clothes in her basement.

Therefore, when she had the opportunity to sell her clothes in a store, she did not think twice. Ramadhan Designs has evolved from a URL to a true boutique. In the store, customers can buy everything from handmade sweaters to chic dresses.

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“I’ve always dreamed of a place like this, but it’s a small business, so I can’t afford a place like this, let alone a historic building like Wells Fargo,” Mohammed said.

Mohammed received help to realize her dream through a program created by the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance.

The program, called Grow Downtown, works with entrepreneurs like Mohammed. The idea is to fill vacant storefronts with businesses and find entrepreneurs with available vacant properties. They then negotiate rent-free for six months to help the entrepreneurs get their business off the ground and see if they can make it a success.

Joe Spencer is the president of the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance. He says 25 percent of the storefront and overhead businesses his organization tracks have closed permanently or temporarily during the pandemic.

“When you walk past job after job, it really has a big, dramatic impact on your impression of our downtown and your experience of downtown,” Spencer said.

Rami Mohammed works with a dress on a dummy model

Rami Mohammed is working with a dress on a dummy model for his next fashion show.

Kerem Yujel | MPR news

He says the matchmaking game between businesses and property owners has so far proved successful — even though the free portion of the program only lasts six months.

“We thought the property owners could be comfortable and the business owners could help them get back on their feet,” Spencer said.

Mohammed sews for hours in his shop. Books by Basquiat and Monet are on the table next to racks of unique handmade works. Mohammed’s designs are influenced by her culture and religion.

“I have to represent where I’m from, what I am and who I am,” Mohammed said. “I’m a black woman who’s also a proud Muslim.”

Mohamed’s designs are tailored with clarity and modesty, a loose-fitting long garment designed using bright colors and a variety of fabrics.

“I saw that there are women in the fashion industry in hijab. I was the first designer to show women in hijab at Minnesota Fashion Week,” she said.

Rami Mohammed poses for a portrait

Rami Mohammed poses for a portrait at Ramadhan Designs.

Kerem Yujel | MPR news

For Mohamed, it’s a chance to get out of her basement and talk to people who are more likely to buy her stuff after getting to know her. An all-glass showcase allows passers-by to peek into the process.

Mohammed would also like her store to be visible and accessible to young people.

“I’m reaching out to middle and high school students to get them to come see and fall in love with the art of making their own clothes,” she said.

Mohammed is the first entrepreneur in her family. She says it could change the trajectory of her life.

“I want to create a factory here in the Twin Cities that will clothe every woman and man in the world,” she said.

If all goes well, Mohammed says he may become a permanent tenant. But if not, she’ll go back to making clothes in her basement.

Correction (November 23, 2022): An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance. The story has been updated.


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