Sisters Aliyah, Taqwa, and Laila Mahdi were looking for an all women’s space to work during the pandemic. There weren’t any. They pooled their resources together to create The Social Loft, a co-working space in Hamtramck.
Aliyah Mahdi usually checks people in as they come to register for a membership or rent a room for a party, like their studio A room. She’s one of three owners of this building created for people’s personal and professional needs like office spaces a gym and a mom room.
“We kind of created the place in mind for like an all-in-one space for women to come to feel comfortable with and working together and networking (and) business,” says Mahdi.
Aliyah Mahdi is a mother of three. Before the pandemic, she was an office manager who took a break from work when her son was born. When she wanted to return to work the pandemic hit. She realized she had to do something else.
“I also currently have an online little girls boutique, Nuwayla & Co. I started that during the pandemic,” she says.
Supporting new business ventures
Laila Mahdi says during the pandemic she noticed a lot of people were opening new businesses like Aliyah, but many people did not have brick-and-mortar. Then in January 2021 an opportunity arose to purchase the building on Carpenter St. Aliyah Madhi says the sisters joined forces to purchase the building to create The Social Loft.
“We didn’t necessarily have the money, but we felt like this was a perfect opportunity. And we prayed on it. And things happen, you know, align… it happened the way it was supposed to happen,” says Mahdi.
They opened their doors to the public in April 2021.
Laila Mahdi is also a mother of three. She works at DTE as a customer advocate. She says people needed a quiet space outside of their homes to get their work done during the pandemic while maintaining social distancing.
“That was difficult on a lot of people, a lot of mothers, wives, friends, whatever to be stuck in the house all the time, mentally, even so, we just really wanted to still be able to create something during the pandemic where people felt like they had an outlet.”
Taqwa Mahdi knows all too well what that’s like. She’s a fashion designer and entrepreneur.
“I’m really passionate about business, community development, as well as uplifting people and being able to give back to the community,” says Mahdi.
Taqwa Mahdi says it’s important for minority women to have a space to gather and where they can network and support one another.
“I really believe that it’s one way that we can really start really building up our communities a little bit more, keeping our money inside of the community,” Mahdi says.
Social Loft creates a space for unique needs
Taqwa Mahdi says the sisters grew up organizing events at different locations over the years, but they always wanted their own space.
Aliyah Mahdi says part of the reason the sisters wanted to create this space was to give back to the community and honor their Islamic upbringing.
“We are Muslim. We grew up in an Islamic environment. We grew up in Islamic schooling, and it was always separate, men on one side, women on the other side,” Mahdi explains. “So we wanted to continue to create a space with all mothers and stuff like that, that we can all feel comfortable and coming to and just working together.”
An opportunity to come together
On a recent Saturday, Marzana Ali sets up a vendor table with perfumes and cosmetics during a Women’s Bazaar held at The Social Loft. There are about 75 women and kids at the event. Some are purchasing goods like cupcakes, jewelry and body scrubs.
Ali is the owner of glō of HAYA, a halal and vegan cosmetics company set up at the bazaar. She is selling turmeric serums, face washes and body scrubs. She says she came out to support other women.
“I’m actually here for the opportunity to meet all the different vendors, new and old, and this woman-owned [space],” says Ali.
She also appreciates the option to donate to a charity while participating in the bazaar.
Habiba Allen is the owner of Wasi Braiding. She’s braiding a woman’s hair in a small brightly lit room at the Social Loft where she rents office space.
“I was braiding out of my house. So with a lot of children, also with my husband, it became difficult sometimes to do new clients’ hair in my house. So when I heard about the Social Loft, it was just a no-brainer. It was the best fit for me.”
Allen says the Social Loft gives her a chance to provide a service to women, some of who wear hijab or a headscarf in public, who face barriers when going to traditional salons.
“It’s hard to find a place where Muslim sisters can go and get their hair done without feeling … so different where they had to be at the back room or a curtain drawn. Here at the Social Loft, the space is set up to accommodate us.”
Laila Mahdi hopes people continue to support businesses like The Social Loft, spaces she says, “that are created specifically for women because at some point we probably didn’t have those spaces.”
She hopes her kids look to her example as an entrepreneur and as an inspiration, and The Social Loft is something she can pass along to them.
Aliyah, Laila and Taqwa Mahdi went from organizing events at different locations to opening The Social Loft for women to exercise, network and rest.
They created their own space to build community.