Friends came together to celebrate the ribbon cutting and grand opening of Ibtisam’s Tailor Shop in Lombard. As many small business openings there is a long story of the dreams, passion, and hard work that have lead up to and will; God willing, continue to sustain this business.
Ibtisam Younis came to the U.S. in 2008 with very limited English and after a difficult journey of fleeing her home country of Iraq with her husband. They both had to leave dear family and friends and kin networks as well as businesses they spent years building and flee to Jordon. Ibtisam had a tailor shop designing and sewing everything from elaborate gowns to home decor such as curtains and employed 6 people in her shop. In Jordan they were undocumented and life was very hard for them those 4 1/2 years as they lived under constant fear they would be sent back or killed.
They eventually were interviewed by the UN in Jordan as they realized they could not make a life there permanently and returning to Iraq safely was not possible either, "I just knew we cannot make the life here and we cannot go home." They began the long process of applying for refugee status. After months of waiting and hearing nothing they gathered outside the UN to await the posting of a list. They described thousands of people waiting and praying their name appeared on this list. They saw their names. At this point as they told their story they both paused, held hands, and teared up. This one moment held so much hope and at the same time anxiety for what this would mean for them.
They learned they were assigned to the United States and while they felt relief, they also held in that complicated emotions of panic about starting again in a new country where they did not speak the language or know the cultural norms. They arrived at O’hare in 2008 with 8 other families and with the help of World Relief resettled in this area. Ibtisam recalls that time, “Fortunately, we were resettled by World Relief DuPage and assisted by their wonderful staff. They provided emotional support, cultural orientation, English language classes, health care, accommodations and all the basic needs.”
Just as the many refugee clients that come to the U.S., their stories do not begin when they arrive here with their IOM bag in hand and they also do not end with arriving in their new country of resettlement. Just to be away from immediate danger is not the end. There is so much rebuilding, cultural and language learning, healing, and life to live yet. There is such much to be negotiated about embracing new and holding on to old.
Adjusting to life in the US was full of opportunities for growth and often felt lonely. Ibtisam joined the Re:new Project in 2014. Holly, the Sewing manager at Re:new was at the new shop’s opening celebrating with Ibtisam and remembered when she first joined and shocked everyone with her ability, “From her first day of training at Renew, we could tell that Ibtisam was an extremely talented seamstress. She quickly became one of our most accomplished artisans, not only sewing our products, but designing new products as well. Her Keeto bag design was one of our most popular designs. We are thrilled that Ibtisam has realized her dream of owning her own shop, and gladly send customers her way who would like custom work done.” Being around women with similar stories and losses seemed to really encourage Ibtisam and she thrived there from 2014 until 2016.
Ibtisam then realized she wanted to pursue a college degree in Fashion Design at a local community college since her training mostly has come from her mother in law back home in Iraq and her on the job experience. “When I was 10 years old, I started developing my talent in sewing, embroidery and knitting,” she said. “I loved designing, following the new fashions, creating complete looks with accessories, working with the wonderful fabrics and textures, and working with customers of all ages.” She studied in the fashion design program and was awarded Most Outstanding Freshman Designer of the year. “The instructors are generous with their time and talents. The collaboration with other students made all of us stronger. Even with my prior experience, I learned a number of new techniques, met industry leaders and shared my unique designs with the public through the annual fashion show.” Ibtisam graduated in May 2018 from College of Dupage and walked across the stage to screams from her friends from World Relief. I met Ibtisam when she was attending college and she invited me into her home.
In gratitude of World Relief DuPage, Ibtisam took part in a fundraiser and donated one of her custom designs. It helped raise $2,500 that benefitted other refugees. She has been running Ibtsiam Design with the support and help of her husband out of their apartment so branching out to having a physical location will allow her to focus on expanding her business and offering services and training to more people.
Ibtisam’s designs bring a modern Arabic flare to Western fashion, “I love to include Arabic influences with American styles to make something unique,” she said. Ibtisam’s Tailor shop offers custom design, alternations, drapery and home design, costume design, purse and bag design, and sewing classes all led by a woman who has tremendous courage and strength to pursue her dreams amidst so much challenge and change.