In honor of Arab American Heritage Month, we are highlighting TechTown Retail Boot Camp alum Jeehan Nasir and her hijab brand Modestia Collection.
If you ask Jeehan Nasir about her experience participating in TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp, she’ll tell you, “It was the best thing I ever did.” The 39-year-old lifelong Detroiter and founder of Modestia Collection, a hijab brand, says participating in the program’s fall 2020 cohort helped her grow her business, introduced her to a network of entrepreneurs and professionals, and even motivated her to work on a new business venture.
Launched in 2018, Modestia Collection offers headscarves to wear as hijabs, as well as turbans, cold-weather accessories and more. Customers can find head coverings in an assortment of colors and bold prints, and made with fabrics like cotton, jersey, chiffon and suede.
Nasir was inspired, in part, by her childhood in Southwest Detroit to start her brand. Nasir, who is a first-generation Yemeni American, says she was surrounded by people at school and in her neighborhood who were proud to express their diverse cultures and religions through their clothing, particularly their headwear. “It was like a spiritual awakening for me,” Nasir says. “I think I was 15 when I decided to put it on; it was actually the first day of Ramadan that year, the holy month of fasting.”
During the next two decades prior to launching Modestia, Nasir designed collections of hijabs made in bright prints and colors with decorative elements. She immersed herself in the history and functionality of textiles by visiting shops and speaking with the owners, which she did both in metro Detroit and during the two years she lived in Yemen.
Stepping out of her comfort zone
After hosting various pop-up shops for Modestia around Detroit, Nasir was ready to take her business to the next level. She decided to apply for, and was accepted into, the fall 2020 cohort of TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp. This hands-on program prepares entrepreneurs for opening a physical storefront in Detroit, Hamtramck or Highland Park. Participants learn about developing quality retail operations; serving customers both in-person and virtually; identifying startup costs and funding sources; navigating brick-and-mortar regulations with legal guidance; and much more.
All Retail Boot Camp graduates receive coaching from TechTown’s network of professionals for six months after completing the program. Of the 15 entrepreneurs that graduated from the fall 2020 cohort — which was the nonprofit’s first virtual one due to the pandemic — six of them have since opened in permanent or long-term pop-up spaces, including K. Walker Collective, Trap Vegan, Inkcourage, J&T’s Kitchen and Estella’s Vegan Cuisine & Desserts.
“I had to step out of my comfort zone because I knew if I wanted to grow my business and connect with more people … that’s what I had to do,” Nasir says. “It was the best thing I ever did; it really opened up so many other opportunities.”
Some of the key takeaways Nasir says she learned during Retail Boot Camp was how to pitch her business properly and the importance of networking and creating authentic connections. On the operations side, she gained an understanding of contracts and leasing, as well as setting realistic goals for profit margins and anticipated revenue. During those six months of post-graduate coaching from TechTown, Nasir worked with Juan Carlos Dueweke-Pérez, founder of marketing agency Featherstone, who photographed lifestyle shots of Modestia products for the brand’s e-commerce site. Nasir also connected with Amanda Sancren, founder of ARC Design Studios and a member of TechTown’s Ask an Expert program, about elevating her pop-up experience through visual merchandising.
The future is bright
“Another thing that all three of them — Faris, Carrie and Christina — brought up was, ‘Is this a hobby or a business?’” Nasir says, referring to Faris Alami, the lead program facilitator for Retail Boot Camp, and TechTown’s Retail Strategists Carrie Vestrand and Christina Devlin, who also provide coaching during the program. “And if it’s a business, you’ve got to be real with yourself and make sure you’re doing what you need to in order to create a successful one.”
Pivoting from your original business plan was another major lesson Nasir says she learned during the program. To that end, Nasir is working on a new venture that she looks forward to sharing more about in the coming months. She credits Retail Boot Camp for giving her the confidence to expand her brand.
“[Retail Boot Camp was] better than I had envisioned. I still to this day message Christina or Faris out of the blue like, ‘I just want to say thank you for everything,’” Nasir says.
Are you a small business owner interested in opening a brick-and-mortar? We can help you make that a reality. Learn more about TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp program.