Nawal Denard felt she had a calling in life. “I didn’t know exactly what it was, but some part of me felt that it began with starting my own business,” she says. “I found, as I was trying to order good fabric at a good price and high quality, that there was a gap, especially in Detroit. Everything available in the city is outsourced to factories instead of artists, low quality, and expensive. At the same time, many people would comment on the outfits I was wearing, asking where I got them. When I explained that my family made it in Africa and sent it over, they would always ask if there was a way they could purchase something from them.”
“So, I started doing some research. I was nervous at first because I often heard people starting businesses and getting in trouble with the IRS. Because of that, I looked into classes and enrolled in business classes at Schoolcraft. While I was there, I met this woman who asked what I wanted to do. I told her I had a product and didn’t know how to sell it. She told me to make a website, and I did! From there, I enrolled in Build classes. I got in, and that was my first venture into business, and I mean first. When people talked about vending, I assumed they were talking about vending machines! Imagine how much I learned.”
Nawal created House of African Prints and hosted her first pop-up shop. “On the first day, I sold three items, and I was so excited!” exclaims Nawal. “I knew I was on the right track. And I met other vendors who pushed me towards other pop-ups, and eventually, I applied at Eastern Market. When I say applied, I mean I banged on the door for them to let me in,” she laughs. “They let me pop-up at the Sunday makers market for that first year and helped me find other events. The more I did, the more information I got.”
Through the entrepreneurial ecosystem, Nawal heard about ProsperUs’ training program through a girlfriend she met at Build. “I didn’t know what I was doing, and Mrs. Delphia of Build encouraged me to learn all about my business and how to plan for as much as I could. She also joked that she thought I already had a business, but I explained I was just doing and learning along the way! When I moved to ProsperUs’ training program, Mr. Yates helped me hone in on my business plan and learn about my customers, which allowed me to see a huge increase in business in my second official year!”
“Every year after, my business has seen growth. When it comes to African prints, they’re high quality and striking. I’ve had so many new customers come to see me, I refer to them as my African-print-virgins, and they’re blown away. It’s my favorite to introduce people to African prints, and I’m grateful every day to have the opportunity to do so.”
As her business grows, Nawal says she’s “learning more every day. I knew nothing about marketing initially, and now I’m on social media. I hate it, but I know I have to do it, and every day I’m seeking to learn. With knowledge, you get better, and you do better. And to continue learning, I sought out more programs. After ProsperUs’ training, I did TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp. That was intense but good. All of the programs in the city pushed me and my business forward, and for that, I am so grateful. But with more success also comes more media attention, and I remember the first time I did something for the Auto Show on channel 7. I was so nervous and had no idea what to say, but everyone was excited, and I saw even more customers! Everyone that stops by my pop-ups always asks where my store is and if I’m working towards a retail location, and I am. I’m hoping that can be revealed soon because the sky isn’t the limit for me and my business – we’re going to the stratosphere!”
Nawal’s advice for anyone looking to start a business in Detroit is to “be open-minded to learning. Be a student every day, no matter what. Even a little kid can give you advice. Listen to your customers, since they’re buying, and find out what they like. From there, you’ll find out what can sell for your business. Customers will speak real loud. And then, don’t argue with them. Try to find a good resolution. Solving a problem, serving, and learning is the key to this business.”
Nawal Denard is the owner of House of African Prints. House of African Prints began with the vision to make African clothing and accessories more accessible to everyone worldwide.
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