When Fardusee Jaigirdar, Tahira Lasker and Farjana Dalia joined Global Detroit’s Common Bond program, they were hoping to connect with other women and claim some time for themselves outside their busy families. They did these things, but they also did something they never anticipated: they started a business.
Global Detroit launched our Common Bond program in 2018, in response to a widespread community planning project in Banglatown where we learned immigrant women in the neighborhood were feeling isolated. Common Bond’s approach is different than most community development projects. There is no set agenda. Instead, we gather immigrant and non-immigrant women around textile arts, provide a safe space for them to talk about their hopes and dreams, then support them on a path toward building skills and gaining economic empowerment. The project was conceived of and is led by Global Detroit’s Gracie Xavier, who brings her experiences as a Haitian immigrant and an artist, among many other things, to this work.
Fardusee, the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants to Detroit, joined the project in 2020, after it moved to Zoom during Covid. As a busy mother of two young children, Fardusee hadn’t had time to attend when we were holding workshops in the community, despite the urging of Tahira, her sister-in-law. From her first workshop, where the group was screenprinting, she was hooked. “Our social circles had gotten really small,” Fardusee explains. “We couldn’t visit friends. It was family only, basically. We were able to find people within our community to spend time with and do something creative and wonderful with and create these new relationships, these lasting relationships.”
Tahira, also a mother of two, came to the U.S. from Bangladesh 15 years ago. She joined Common Bond when it launched in 2018. “At that time, I was depressed and so was my mom because we lost my dad that year,” she shares. “I took my mom over to Common Bond and she liked it because it’s a totally different environment, different people, we like to connect with them. We really enjoy this place and we feel relaxed, we feel less stressed. I really love it.” (As does her mom, who never misses a workshop.)
Their friend Farjana came to the U.S. from Bangladesh 16 years ago with her husband. They now have a son and a daughter, and she also takes care of her parents. Her reason for joining was simple: “I needed to do something of my own.”
None of the women had any inkling about starting a business. But as they spoke more with Gracie and other women in the workshops and heard from visiting speakers like Margo Dalal of the Detroit Community Wealth Fund, they began to reveal their shared interest in planning and decorating for events in their community.
“We three started talking about our skills. We all do that type of decor, we have the skills, but we never think about it. But when they talked about skills and co-ops, then we said, ‘Why not?’” Tahira explains.
Adds Fardusee: “To us it was just something we enjoyed and we were doing. It never occurred to us to turn it into something we can have financial gains off of. We were doing it for fun. And then Gracie said, ‘These are skills, these are actual skill sets you guys have,’ and after she did that, you know that light bulb? The switch just goes off. We realized, ‘That’s right. That is a skill set. This is something we can use.’”
The Detroit Community Wealth Fund supports the creation and growth of worker-owned cooperatives, and they run an incubator for emerging co-op businesses. Gracie supported the women, who named their company Aynaa Events and Decor, in applying (Aynaa means “mirror” in Bangla). Not only were they accepted, they won $1000 at the culminating pitch competition. As part of the incubator, they conducted market research, and concluded there is a need in for more Muslim women event planners in Metro Detroit.
“Especially the Muslim community wants women,” Farjana explains. “When the wedding comes, they need women. They need women photographers, women makeup artists. For lots of things they need women, especially in our community.”
“Our focus is really trying to help the cultural communities, to really get an understanding of their needs and their specific requests, because we’ve all had personal experience when it came to planning our own events and certain things that occurred when someone told us they understood our specific requests but they did not and it caused issues,” adds Fardusee.
Over the past several months, Aynaa Events and Decor has planned an engagement party and a Mehendi (henna party), and they’ve elaborately decorated a bride and groom’s first night bed, as is Muslim tradition. Their biggest job came earlier this month, when they sponsored and handled all decor for the Michigan Ramadan Market, featuring 25 vendors and more than 300 guests. Now, Aynaa is focusing on their marketing and on learning more about Yemeni, Puerto Rican and other Muslim communities in the area. Their goal is to grow their collaborative to encompass other women with complementary skills, including those who may not have as much support from their families to work outside the home as they do.
Fardusee describes her trajectory from curious-about-screenprinting to business owner as a personal growth journey.” With Covid and having a family, all of that took priority,” she reflects.”I had lost a part of myself. You end up putting yourself second place to everyone else and I got lost in it. With Common Bond, I was starting to have more fun, and then I started to gain that confidence in myself that I had lost. And then this business came about from that.”
But the impact has been far greater than the business. “It changed our lives,” Fardusee says as the others nod in agreement “This past year our lives completely changed because of this encouragement and the confidence we were given. We were told, ‘Believe in yourself, you can do it, you can get there.’ It made all the difference in the world.”
To learn more about Aynaa Events and Decor, visit aynaaevents.com
Thank you to our Common Bond funders: The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Immigrant and Refugee Funders Collaborative of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, the Michigan Council for Arts and Culture, and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation.