Four women came to a Dearborn entrepreneurship program looking to expand their individual businesses, but later realized that together, they could do so much more.
Their first collaboration was huge.
Three of those four women hosted Dearborn’s first Arab American Wedding Fair earlier this year, which attracted over 500 people.
“We thought wedding shows targeting the Arab community” had not been “done before,” said Mirna Hamade, owner of Meero’s Rich Bite, a custom chocolate company. “Arabs have their own style and they have their own traditions that they incorporate into that celebration.”
Hamade worked with Farah Bazzi, founder and creative director of Maraseel Cards, and Sara Elmoussawi, founder and owner of Loujain Accessories, to make the event happen. Then they met Fatme Jaber, co-owner of Naturelle 961, who brought her business into the fair as a vendor.
Their connection formed as they sought resources from ACCESS, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, which is an economic social service agency headquartered in Dearborn that has had a focus on serving the Arab American community for 51 years. ACCESS has an entrepreneurship program that started 15 years ago, and while it experienced a brief pause during the pandemic, over the last year it has reemerged by offering workshops.
The entrepreneurship program is led by Ayesha Maxwell, manager of entrepreneurship programming, and Linda Chibli, a business development coach at ACCESS. The program aims to equip, empower and elevate business owners who are a part of underserved communities and, particularly, immigrant-owned businesses. The four women were recently a part of a seven-week spring training cohort that is aimed toward aspiring entrepreneurs, and is offered in both English and Arabic.
When interviewed together June 22 at Naturelle 961, the friendship between all six women was apparent as they often finished each other’s sentences and shared plenty of giggles.
“We have a very robust diverse group of people that seek our programming,” said Maxwell, 42, of Dearborn. “But ACCESS overall is an Arab American organization that was established to support the growth and development of Arab Americans as they landed here in Michigan.”
Chivli said, in the past. in Middle Eastern culture, it wasn’t very common for women to be business owners. But ACCESS and entrepreneurs are trying to change that narrative. Over 90% of the entrepreneurship program’s participants are women.
“Our first event was called ‘LeadHERship,’ ” said Chivli, 47, of Dearborn. She was born in Kuwait, and she and her parents moved to Dearborn in the 1990s. “It was all about opening your own door.”
The program led to Bazzi, Elmoussawi, Hamade and Jaber collaborating regularly. Jaber’s bath and body care storefront — which opened in January and is located at 4935 Schaefer Road in Dearborn — sells products that are imported from Lebanon. Bazzi’s greeting cards are sold in Jaber’s storefront, and sometimes, Hamade’s chocolate is available there, too. Elmoussawi, who is Lebanese American, also has her products located down the street inside of Racha Saab Beauty Esthetic Institute at 5452 Schaefer Road, Suite 5, in Dearborn.
“I feel like I’m bringing a piece of Lebanon to the U.S. and I’m able to share a piece of my homeland with everybody,” Jaber said.
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Collaborating to host large events
Bazzi, Elmoussawi and Hamade’s Arab American Wedding Fair featured wedding fashion shows and over 67 vendors. The Jan. 27 event brought vendors that offer photography, videography, DJs, flowers, dresses, makeup, catering and venues.
Staged weddings were demonstrated during the event. There also were businesses present that help with post-wedding necessities, such as mortgages, insurance and wedding bouquet preservation.
“We tried to present the vendors in a way where you’re walking as if you’re walking through the steps of planning to get to your wedding,” Hamade said.
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Bazzi said their first event had its fair share of struggles, which included being impacted by a snowstorm. Despite that, the fair still ended up being so successful that another is in the works for Oct. 1. There are plans to have 80 vendors at the fair, and there are already 20 applications. Jaber plans to bring her bath and body care products to the fair.
More details about the event will be announced later.
Entrepreneurship programming gets an update
Bazzi said the small business resources are lacking in Dearborn.
“Here, especially for Arab American women, for Arab women in business in general, or sometimes refugee women, you have to go out and hunt them and find them,” Bazzi said about finding grants and training for entrepreneurs. She is a Lebanese American, and her card business aims to tell the stories of underserved women.
Maxwell said the city’s entrepreneurs need programming and resources that are similar to what Detroit has to offer, which includes access to capital and visibility. The nonprofit’s program offers coaching that helps entrepreneurs with goal setting, business plans, growth strategy, financial statements, networking and marketing. The nonprofit also offers small business relief grants to some of its program’s participants.
When Bazzi joined the small business programming at ACCESS, she found what she was looking for — better guidance and assistance. Bazzi, Hamade, Elmoussawi and Jaber were some of the first to join the revitalized program and recently graduated from the organization’s spring cohort of business owners.
“It was not only very helpful, but also needed — incredibly needed and crucial for our community for ACCESS to do this for our community,” said Bazzi.