No matter what holiday you celebrate this year, winter is often a season of generosity and traditions that bring people together. For a couple of years, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City has carried the tradition of celebrating entrepreneurs in the community. Refugee and immigrant business owners come together to create holiday gift baskets filled with their handcrafted items. These proceeds go directly to the entrepreneurs so that they can continue growing in their passions. Learn more about a couple of the entrepreneurs who are contributing to the Holiday Gift Basket initiative this year:
Zubaidah started her business, Zubaidah SK, specifically for jewelry design, but recently, she’s been adding new handmade, crocheted products to her shop. Earlier this year, Zubaidah made face masks to donate in support of frontline responders and newly arrived refugee families. “I just want to show the people, ‘Hey we are the refugee girls, we can do beautiful things,’” she says.
Her influence arises from her love of Islamic and Babylonian culture, which imbues all of her designs. Since she knows that not everybody is accepting of Islamic culture or those from countries in the Middle East, her work centers on reimagining her culture through an American lens. “My culture, but in your way,” she explains, hoping that people will come to understand the culture she loves through her efforts.
“I’m really proud of myself,” she says. A number of people have told her that she is the first refugee that they’ve worked with. “That’s really exciting,” she says. “We’re a creative people.”
“I was really excited when Claire asked if I wanted to be a part of [the holiday gift basket]. I said, ‘yes of course! I’m so excited!’” Zubaidah recollects.
“I hope they like [the basket], I hope they really feel that it’s useful,” Zubaidah says about people who purchase the holiday gift basket. “I hope when they feel something handmade that it’s made with too much love. When my friend buys from me...When they wear it, I’m so proud of myself. I cannot tell you how much it means to me to see something I made. Part of my heart, they wear it. I feel like they’re my babies! I cannot explain that feeling, such a beautiful feeling. All my heart goes into this project.”
“My name is Koffi, I moved here from Togo, West Africa, I’ve lived here for 15 years,” Koffi shares. “I have a lot of business, I started it three years ago for African art and craft.”
Koffi’s business, Kofys Collection, is two-fold, it both supports artists who live in Africa and it spreads their brilliance. Koffi himself also works on the designs himself. “I design some of [the items], some are from family and friends. I do that to help them. But the number one reason is to help with their revenue and to showcase their talent.”
“My business is meaningful to me,” says Koffi, “because most of the revenue...I send to Africa to people in need. If I have the opportunity to come to the U.S., I can give opportunity to people back home to go to school and eat. To help them in a lot of things.”
“I design t-shirts with African design, and I design neckties and headbands. I have two different types of neckties, one of the best sellers." He makes matching sets, too, for families. His neckties and headbands are also featured in the holiday gift basket.
“African design, it speaks to people,” Koffi reflects “Some of them are colorful. It all depends on your beliefs. If you’re looking for something spiritual, I have good luck bracelets. I have a variety of things, whatever you looking for you’re always going to find. The important thing is sharing things from back home and hoping those things inspire people as well.”
“I hope they’ll feel, whatever they buy they don’t just think of as a gift,” Koffi wants people buying the gift baskets to see a bigger picture. “I want them thinking [they will] be using this money for people in need and that they’re changing people’s lives with their pleasures.”
One thing is clear about Daniel immediately, he has a serious passion for the art of beekeeping. During his final year of his degree in Nigeria, he learned about a beekeeping workshop at the University of Ibadan and quickly registered. “Since then, I was so passionate about bees because of numerous opportunities associated with keeping bees,” Daniel shares. He knew that finding jobs after college in Nigeria would be difficult, but he knew he wanted to create his own business. His intense studying of bee keeping led him to earn a master’s degree in entomology and later to travel to Germany to continue his studies in queen bees.
“My work greatly impacts my communities by creating awareness and educational training online and on social media as an eye-opener to the practice of beekeeping and the nutritional as well as medicinal values of beehive products,” Daniel shares.
“Living in Utah is the best decision I have ever made,” Daniel says. “Utah is so peaceful and a great place to raise a family and children.” He’s grateful for the IRC and the Utah MicroEnterprise Loan Fund for helping him start his beekeeping business. “They believed in me so I could do it. They assisted with training and seminars as well as great staff to support the business to succeed,” he says. He is currently finishing an illustrated textbook about beekeeping in addition to running his business which specializes in bee related products, including the chap stick found in the holiday gift basket.
You can see the beautiful, handcrafted items Zubaidah, Koffi and Daniel are contributing to this year’s Holiday Gift Baskets and reserve your own today. Learn more>