Small Business, Big Hearts

May 28, 2020

Article by Robert Carroll


In this month's feature, read how two brothers from Afghanistan are using their tailor shop to make affordable masks for their neighborhood so that even those with little money or resource can stay protected during COVID-19. Click here for COVID-19 resources in over 20 languages, or click here to learn what items you can donate to help families in need during this time.


“The people are very scared of what’s going on,” says Mohammad Mohammadali. “They are really scared of the virus.”

Mohammad is of course speaking of the COVID-19 virus and the fear the pandemic has caused in the north side immigrant populations of Chicago.

He should know. Mohammad and his brother, Abdollah, are refugees themselves. Seven years ago, they fled a war-ton Afghanistan to seek safety in the United States, where they hoped to start a new life.

World Relief resettled the brothers and their families, helping them find a place to live, a place to work, and classes to learn English. The brothers worked hard to make a living for themselves in their adopted country, but they always knew their dream would be to one day open a tailor shop together.

That dream became a reality this year, when just five short months ago, the brothers opened their very own tailor shop in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. The shop provides dry cleaning services, alterations, and custom pieces like shirts and suits.

But just as their dream was starting to get off the ground, their business was met with the same major obstacle facing so many other businesses across the world: COVID-19.

The Illinois stay-at-home order made work scarce for the brothers, and they wondered if the business would be able to survive.

But then locals started appearing at their shop, many of whom were immigrants, in desperate search for masks. The Mohammadali brothers quickly learned that many of their neighbors were having a hard time finding a place to purchase affordable masks. Most places were sold out or backordered, and many places online were charging more than $10 for a single mask, which many of the locals couldn’t afford. And to compound the problem, many of the customers that were searching for masks didn’t speak English, and so they were scrambling to find someone to help them understand.

Abdollah and Mohammad understood. And they knew they needed to help.

“The mask business is very expensive,” says Mohammad. “Plus it takes two weeks, three weeks [for many online orders] to get the mask and they pay shipping cost.”

And that’s when their new business was born.

“We have lots of fabric, so we make masks,” he says.

And from that point on, the Mohammadali brothers have been working 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week, during which they make 1,000 masks for their customers. But while they could have taken the opportunity to charge competitive prices more in line with their competitors so as to make more money, they chose instead to price their masks at a very affordable $5.00 per. Mohammad acknowledges that while he and his brother are grateful to make a living by making masks, they mostly just want to help. And they get great joy out of making people feel happy and safe.

“We put a really nice table in front of our door with some hand sanitizer to make people comfortable,” Mohammad explains. “And only one person can come into the store at a time. People tell us we are a life saver. Most places charging over $10 for a mask, but not us.”

Masks made by the brothers have become so popular that they are now shipping their product all across the country.

“We ship all over,” says Mohammad. “To New York. To California. Everyone tells us they are very happy with the quality and the comfort.”

Meanwhile, the Uptown community keeps coming back for more masks.

“We make them all day long,” says Mohammad. He laughs. “Even at night, we dream about the masks and the customers.”

But even with the long hours, Mohammad says it’s all worth it to fulfill their three simple goals.

“Help our people. Make people more safe. Do our best to make our products the best.”

 

To purchase a handmade mask from the Mohammadali brothers, visit their shop at 1038 W. Argyle Road in Chicago, or call (773) 766-5358. Their store is open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day.


Author

This article was written by Robert Carroll, Communications Manager for World Relief.
To contact the author, email him at rcarroll@wr.org.