Forward Facing

A creative marketplace in Portland provides retail space and guidance for women entrepreneurs.

In Portland’s Threads of Hope thrift store, jewel-toned garments adorned with metallic accents hang in a back room and on an adjacent clothing rack. Nearby, bold, bright fabrics have been sewn into eye-catching shirts, sweatshirts, handbags, and more. These hand-made garments are not your average thrift-store find; they are part of a bigger story: They are part of Fikiria, an enterprise space for women to start and grow their own business ventures.

Fikiria, which means “imagine” in Swahili, started in February 2019 as a low-barrier retail space helping women entrepreneurs become business owners. Through Catholic Charities of Maine and in collaboration with a number of community partners, Fikiria also provides business counseling and helps with marketing, business loans, insurance, merchandising, inventory, display, and almost any other aspect of opening and maintaining a business. While Fikiria is open to all women, it has largely facilitated business development for immigrant women. “To get one immigrant refugee woman to start a business is like finding a unicorn,” says Tae Chong, manager of social enterprise and workforce at Catholic Charities, who founded Fikiria. “It’s really hard to do.” Chong has worked closely with immigrant populations for 25 years and estimates that only 12 of the roughly 80 immigrant-owned businesses in Portland are women-owned.

A handful of businesses currently operate through Fikiria, including NanuSka Style, which sells bright, handmade garments in part of the retail space. When owner Nana Batumike moved to Maine from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2012, she wanted to bring some of her culture to Portland. She started with a women’s clothing line and is now working to expand her line to offer African-style clothing for men and children. Whenever possible, businesses at Fikiria use upcycled materials to produce clothing sustainably. Fikiria is a support system for female entrepreneurs, and Catholic Charities of Maine sees itself as helping to forge a new path for generations to come. “It’s just a natural force that we kind of help along,” says Chong.

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