Grantee Spotlight: SuSu Studio combines on-trend fashion with timeless modesty
Born in the south of Somalia but raised, since the age of six, in Saint Paul, SuSu Mohamud considers Minnesota home. As a young, observant Muslim, however, she struggled to find clothes that expressed both these sides of her identity. Clothing that followed Islamic guidelines for modesty was often imported from companies that designed for other markets and regions; it had little overlap with the contemporary fashion trends enjoyed by her peers, and it wasn’t seasonally appropriate for the harsh Minnesotan winters.
Faced with the dearth of choices, it seemed only logical, then, for SuSu to start her own line. “I always had a passion for fashion,” SuSu says, “and I felt that my community was missing something. I wanted to take on the challenge.”
The result was SuSu Studio, a line of womenswear that blends modesty with the latest trends: floral prints, lace cutouts, statement necklaces, and, of course, the ever-classic leopard print. The line has just released its second collection, which includes fall items such as dresses, kimonos, and cardigans, in time for Eid al-Fitr, a major Muslim holiday often celebrated with, among other traditions, shopping and gift-giving.
SuSu, as CEO and head designer, works closely with Mohamed Hassan, the studio’s CFO and information systems manager. Mohamed, an entrepreneur who has owned various businesses before—among them, a grocery store, gas station, and car dealership—quickly recognized SuSu’s drive and design sensibility, and joined the studio on the business and production end. After a six-month planning and research period, the business was officially incorporated in 2014.
To get the startup off the ground, it had the support of the African Development Center, a nonprofit organization that helps African immigrants and refugees in Minnesota achieve economic empowerment. In addition to providing workshops on financial literacy, business development, and home ownership, ADC is also a leader in nonprofit micro-lending. In 2015, after completing ADC’s business development course, SuSu and Mohamed applied for a loan of $5,000 (which, in turn, was partially funded by a grant from the Vilcek Foundation).
“It’s always a struggle to start a new business, and ADC has helped us tremendously, telling us that we can make this dream come true, to not give up,” Mohamed says. “Without them, I don’t think we could have done as much as we did.”
The loan, along with SuSu’s and Mohamed’s personal investments, helped pay off their deposit for the production of their latest collection, as well as to expand their offerings. In the beginning of the year, SuSu traveled to China for two months, where she met with factory owners to investigate ways to streamline the production process while maintaining a high level of quality for future collections.
Although the company has strong roots in the Twin Cities area, the pair has dreams to expand one day. For now, their designs are available only at their Saint Paul boutique, but SuSu and Mohamed have plans to start selling online. And, one day, they hope to have their line sold at on-trend retailers like Forever 21 and H&M. “I don’t want to just be local,” SuSu says. “I want the company to stand for something big.”
A Message from Jan and Marica Vilcek
Our founders arrived as penniless refugees over fifty years ago, but with the kindness and opportunity they received in the United States, they went on to accomplish great things in biomedical science and art history. Read their statement on the recent executive order imposing a travel ban.