Mohamed Malim, founder of fashion label and ex-refugee, believes that the discarded jackets are a symbol for perseverance.
Mohamed Malim, a former Somali refugee, is looking to get conversations started with his fashion label.
His Minnesota-based startup EpimoniaLifejackets taken from Lesbos, Greece, that were worn by refugees crossing the Mediterranean, are transformed into bracelets, jackets, beanie caps, and other clothing items. The label’s seamsters are refugees too.
“People see you wearing orange, ask about it, and then you can talk about the company and about refugees,” says Malim (main picture).
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, 82.4 million people were forced from their homes in 2020 by persecution, violence, or other human rights violations. In February, Ukraine was home to more than 3 million people.
Epimonia (the word means ‘perseverance’ in Greek) is all about telling a more realistic, balanced story about refugees, as well as supporting them practically.
“I chose that word because refugees go through many challenges, and persevere throughout the whole journey,” Malim says. He points out that many refugees don’t wear life vests.
Malim started Epimonia in 2018 while studying marketing at university. He was frustrated by the antirefugeee sentiment he was hearing from politicians such as former president Donald Trump as well as parts of media and the general public. “My goal was to combat that, by sharing refugee success stories,” he notes simply.
Malim started by asking refugees to share some information about themselves. He then published profiles and portraits about them online. He realized that fashion could be a powerful tool to make an impact and he teamed up with Omar Munie (a Dutch-Somali fashion designer) to create his first designs. Epimonia’s first accessory, the Embracelet was its signature accessory.
“It’s a very small team,” says Malim. “I have about four employees and six refugee seamstresses working right now.”
My goal was to fight [anti-refugee rhetoric]By sharing refugee success stories
Despite its small size the label has already achieved significant success. Over $45,000 (£33,000) has been donated towards costs like college scholarships and citizen application fees for refugees. Epimonia has worked with artists, refugee organizations, and sports teams to recycle more than 500 lifejackets. Refugee 4 Refugees, a Greek NGO.
“We provide symbolic support, too,” Malim explains.“Because when you wear an Epimonia garment, you’re wearing something very powerful. It’s solidarity – you’re standing with refugees around the world.”
Mukhtar Dhir fled Somalia when he was only one and moved to the USA. Dahir met Malim and was impressed by his work in 2019. “I was kind of shocked,” Dahir says. “I had never met someone who was getting lifejackets and turning them into apparel. I found it very intriguing and interesting.”
Both are former refugees and have experienced prejudice. In Toronto, Dahir – now Epimonia’s operations and logistics manager – was aware of stereotypes: that refugees rely
They are lazy and a burden to the system by relying on government handouts. “When you’re in a minority, you notice things people say, like: ‘Oh, you talk eloquently for a person who’s moved here’,” he says. “Those things can get to you, they can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”
Epimonia tells a different story – and they’re just getting started. The pair have big plans in the coming year, including a project that will help Afghan refugees. This involves Minnesota state authorities. Collaborations with models and refugee designers are also in the works.
We want to encourage empathy and help as many refugees we can.
Malim also plans to create apparel from tents left in Greece. “It’s another interesting way to raise awareness – using the tent strap to make bracelets and beanies,” he says.
“We want to keep growing and make our impact large,” Malim adds. “We want to encourage people to be more empathetic, and help as many refugees as we can.”
Donated to refugees so far
Lifejackets have been made into bracelets or clothing using the lifejackets
So far, the enterprise has employed refugees
Main image: Mohamed Malim. Credit: Paul Akama
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