The Covid-19 pandemic has forced a number of brick-and-mortar businesses to close, but two daring entrepreneurs are turning the downturn into an opportunity to launch the business of their dreams.
Tani and Emmanuel Boateng will open a store at the Mall of America on April 16 to further what they say is their mission to bring positive change through a brand that celebrates the diversity that exists in the state of Minnesota. Their brand, United People Apparel, uses design inspirations from various cultures to unite humanity, they said.
“It’s more than just a clothing brand,” Tani Boateng said. “It’s more like a lifestyle. It’s to raise awareness that humanity still exists.
The Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected brick-and-mortar businesses as government restrictions limited the number of customers allowed inside. As of September 2020, nearly 100,000 businesses had closed their doors for good, according to Yelp local economic impact report. But the Boatengs say they are convinced that the quality and the message of their brand will support their business.
The husband and wife, who live in Savage, Minnesota, first thought about the idea of United People Apparel in June 2020, during nationwide protests following the death of George Flyod, an Afro-man. unarmed American killed by Minneapolis policeman. The brand offers a variety of Minnesota-themed merchandise with a design that reflects the state’s urban cultural diversity.
Emmanuel Boateng is no stranger to entrepreneurship. He was introduced to business ownership as a child in Ghana, where he often accompanied his grandmother to the market to sell the vegetables she grew.
“It was something I loved,” Emmanuel said. “When I came to America, it was something I had in mind.”
The couple’s first dual entrepreneurial venture started in 2016 when they launched Ahenfo, a brand that features unique Ghanaian designs. Their new business builds on this past experience, which also allowed them to quickly create and launch their latest brand.
The couple started United People Apparel by designing clothing models and showcasing their products to friends and family. They then spread to their communities and began to advertise and sell at local fairs. After receiving a lot of positive feedback, the Boatengs decided to set up a booth at the Twin Cities Marathon, where they were able to reach a wide range of customers.
In October of last year, when Emmanuel Boateng was sharing details of United People Apparel with a colleague, his colleague suggested the possibility of selling their products at the Mall of America.
“At first we wanted these carts that you see in the middle,” said Emmanuel Boateng.
However, after showing their inventory to the rental agents, they were encouraged to open a store instead.
“I remember the leasing agency saying, ‘If you choose a cart, you just limit yourself,'” Tani Boateng said.
They got a space on the third floor in the western part of the building, right between Goldy’s locker room, which sells clothes from the University of Minnesota, and a small wig store. They signed the lease in January and are preparing the space for the opening.
“It’s like a dream come true,” said Emmanuel Boateng.
United People Apparel merchandise is largely printed in Minnesota to ensure quality and inventory turnover. The brand also has partnerships with manufacturers in India, China and Ghana.
For the Boatengs, United People Apparel is a full-time business. The couple worked around the clock to make sure the store was ready for opening day. Tani Boateng, who was born in Jamaica, quit her job at an accounting firm to work in the store full time. She said they plan to comply with Covid-19 restrictions and offer online shopping options through United People Apparel’s website.
Beyond unity, the Boateng see their entrepreneurial business as a way to give back to their communities through employment.
“Someone gave me a chance, so I would also like to give someone else a chance,” said Emmanuel Boateng.
The couple’s desire for unity is a message they intend to share with the whole country.
“With unity we can go far,” Emmanuel said. “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go with someone.”