"I wanted to change the narrative about refugees," Mohamed Malim says. "We don't hear a lot of positive stories about refugees, or stories about our positive contributions."
So the 23-year old entrepreneur founded Epimonia, a social fashion lifestyle brand. The company uses recycled life jackets worn by refugees in Europe to create bracelets, beanies, baseball caps, tote bags, and cell phone accessories. Fifty percent of its profits are then donated to organizations that support refugees.
Malim is a refugee himself. His family fled Somalia in 1990 during the Civil War, and he was born in a refugee camp in Kenya. "We came to the U.S. due to a lottery," he says. "Half of my family was split. My dad's side went to the U.S. and my mom's side went to Europe."
Malim spent a year in Texas before eventually landing in Minnesota. "There were a lot of Lutheran churches back then who were actively sponsoring refugee families," he says.
For college, Malim attended the University of St. Thomas, where he majored in marketing and entrepreneurship. During his senior year, he came up with the idea to create a clothing line that would bring awareness to the refugee crisis. The flagship product would be called an “embracelet,” made out of recycled life jackets that refugees have worn on their journey to safety.
The pieces are made by refugees in the U.S. and with the help of refugees around the world. Epimonia partners with Refugees4Refugees, which hires refugees in Greece to collect used life jackets on beaches for recycling. In Minnesota, Epimonia employs Hmong refugees, and has partnered with Peng Cha, who is also a refugee, and is the founder of HBI Textiles, a textile and contract sewing company.
Epimonia is an LLC rather than a nonprofit, but it is a certified B Corporation, which means philanthropy is part of its mission. The company donates to organizations including the Dream Refugee Mentorship Program, International Institute of Minnesota, USA for UNHCR, and Refugees4Refugees.
"I want to create an impact," he says, "and provide opportunities to newcomers for advancement in Minnesota."
Items are currently sold online through the website, epimonia.com. Malim says his goal in the next three to four years is to sell products in small boutique shops as well.