By NOOR ADWAN
Tuesday July 12, 2022
Mohamed Malim founded the apparel company, Epimonia, to help refugees in crisis. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal
Mohamed Malim, a 26-year-old former refugee, advocates and
empowers other refugees through a unique medium: fashion.
“I’m a fashion guy,” he said. “What you wear is what you
Malim was born in a refugee camp in Kenya after his parents
fled the civil war in Somalia in the 1990s. He came to the United States when
he was four years old, and currently lives in south Minneapolis.
He founded his clothing line, Epimonia, in 2018, with the
goal of making all refugees feel as supported as he and his family did when
they arrived in the United States 20 years ago. The materials he uses are as
unique as his vision–Epimonia clothing uses repurposed life jackets worn by
refugees crossing the Mediterranean.
Their casualwear–sweatshirts, jackets, beanies, and
bracelets–is sold both online at their website and in various boutiques in Minnesota
and neighboring states. A striking orange patch–made from lifejacket
material–serves as a signature on most of their apparel.
Epimonia, which means “perseverance” in Greek, has six
employees, including Malim. All are refugees. For Malim, fashion with a cause
is his full-time job.
On top of being a symbolic show of support for the refugee
community, Malim’s brand also provides material benefits to refugees. Half of
Epimonia’s profits are donated to refugee organizations across the country,
which allows them to fund citizenship applications and scholarships for
refugees. Malim also provides employment opportunities for refugees in
“I want to do more than storytelling,” he said. “I want to
Malim has facilitated plenty of storytelling. Dream Refugee,
a project he directed prior to founding Epimonia, collected scores of unique
stories from refugees, which can be viewed on Epimonia’s blog. This was one of
many ways that Malim–sparked to action by the rampant xenophobia of President
Donald Trump’s era–hoped to shift the narrative around the refugee crisis–by
combating negative stereotypes and humanizing refugees.
“These people are just like us, you know. They’re regular
human beings,” Malim said. “Learning the stories of these individuals was so
Malim’s road here wasn’t without its challenges. He was one
of the few Somali and Muslim students at Edina High School, an experience that
he said made him feel isolated. He graduated from the University of St. Thomas
in 2018 as a first-generation college graduate.
On top of navigating higher education, Malim also needed to
learn how to run a business. Learning the logistics of starting a business was
tricky, Malim said. Taxes and marketing were just a few things he needed to
“As a business owner,
you need to wear all hats,” he said.
Luckily, he had some help. Malim was able to cultivate a
relationship with a handful of people who helped him navigate the world of
One of these mentors was Kurt Lieberman, a now-retired
businessman with experience guiding several startups. Lieberman and Malim would
meet for coffee every few months for several years.
“He would ask me
questions, and I would give him advice,” Lieberman said.
But Lieberman didn’t want to take any credit for Malim’s success.
“Our company is all about empowering and providing a
platform for refugee designers, artists, athletes. There’s so much talent out
there in the refugee community, but it’s not recognized due to a lack of
resources.” MOHAMED MALIM, FOUNDER OF FASHION BRAND EPIMONIA.
“He’s a very charming, wonderful person who has an amazing
story,” Lieberman said. “He has the sort of drive and warm heart and open
personality, where there are lots of things he can do.”
Since its conception four years ago, Epimonia has made some
big leaps. They created gear and uniforms for Star Youth Development of
Minnesota (SYDOM), a basketball team and mentorship program. They also
partnered with Minnesota United Football Club (MNUFC) to create a fashion
capsule benefiting the Karen Football Association, which is composed of
refugees from Burma and Thailand. Epimonia even made an appearance at New York
Fashion Week in 2021.
“Our company is all about empowering and providing a
platform for refugee designers, artists, athletes,” Malim said. “There’s so
much talent out there in the refugee community, but it’s not recognized due to
a lack of resources.”
Epimonia recently collaborated with another local artist,
Denimani, to bring an immersive pop-up experience to the Minneapolis Institute
of Art (MIA) for Refugee Awareness Month. From June 7 to June 12, the MIA had
pieces designed by the brands up for sale as part of an installation raising
awareness about the refugee crisis.
“He’s so authentic in his storytelling,” the MIA’s chief of
staff, Michelle Klein said of Malim.
The pop-up also provided tangible benefits to refugee
communities. The proceeds of both Epimonia and Denimani’s sales went to the
Karen Organization of Minnesota, an organization dedicated to improving the
lives of Burmese refugees living in Minnesota.
The MIA hopes to provide similar opportunities to artists in
“This is one hopefully in a sort of a long term effort to
provide that kind of space for storytelling in the community,” Klein said of
Malim hopes to continue to bring his work to museums around
the country, and to collaborate with other talented refugees to bring awareness
to the refugee crisis.
“I always wear my bracelet,” he said, referring to the colorful life-vest bracelets his brand sells. “It reminds me why I’m doing this.”