Culture, community, and collaboration inspired sisters Tahura Holly, Jahura Hobby, and Humayra Bobby to open their own small businesses to fill different needs they saw in Metro Detroit.
The family moved to the United States in 1995 from Bangladesh to Hamtramck. Their father, Rezaul Karim, left behind business ventures and had to begin all over again. Due to his degrees not transferring over, he took community college courses in computer science while working the night shift at Dunkin' Donuts. He got back from his shift just in time to drop the girls off at school.
But he longed to be his own boss. In the early 2000s, he began selling things on eBay, such as the infant formula Similac wholesale to local groceries. This led him to eventually quit his job as a computer scientist and open stores at multiple locations. He is now at one location, Everyday Super Discount in Hamtramck.
Now his daughters are following in his entrepreneur footsteps.
The freedom of being an entrepreneur
Hobby is a makeup artist and the first of the sisters to launch a business a decade ago. Like many Asian families, she was expected to pursue a career with financial security. A dental hygienist by profession, she says doing makeup professionally almost happened by accident.
“I did makeup and it was sufficient for me until I had to focus on my dental hygiene,” she says.
She began experimenting with makeup on herself and her sisters. Then she did makeup for her friends’ proms, until people sought out her services. She opened JHobby Makeup Studio in 2017 in Pleasant Ridge. Hobby is known for her bridal makeup skills throughout Michigan’s South Asian communities for bridal and party makeup.
“I like the freedom of being an entrepreneur,” says Hobby of Hamtramck.
In 2019, she left her day job to pursue JHobby full time, just before the pandemic hit and small businesses were affected.
While her sister didn't set out specifically to start a business, Holly began Festive Essentials, a customized jewelry business while looking for her own bridal jewelry options. She realized there weren’t local shops that catered to her needs.
Festive Essentials offers customized jewelry for brides.“I was the eldest in the family getting married. We had to go all the way to Chicago or Toronto to shop for outfits and Indian jewelry. Back then it wasn't so accessible online,” she says.
Prior to selling jewelry, Holly was an early elementary teacher in Taylor. “I remember coming home and being absolutely exhausted,” she said. “It was taking a huge toll on me physically and mentally.”
Then she moved to India with her husband. She brought back jewelry as gifts or upon request from friends and family. That gave her the idea to start it as a business to sell customized and handpicked sets for people and brides.
Prior to the pandemic, she traveled to busy marketplaces and bazaars across India to find handcrafted jewelry for her collection. She also makes some of her own jewelry.
“I always like meticulous work things that are redundant things other people find annoying, I love stringing together beads for bracelets,” she says.
In 2019 Bobby, who lives in Northville with her husband, launched Boubi´ Skin, a Detroit-based vegan organic product line inspired by her own skincare journey. The brand aims to help people feel confident in their own skin.
Bobby says, “I think my love for skincare started a lot younger than I thought about.” She remembers gathering her sisters for at-home spa days and facials since they were kids, often jokingly paying each other for manicures and pedicures.
However, her real skincare issues started in college. “I was the first one to move away from home, which was really stressful for me ... and all that took a toll on my skin.”
After doing some research she came up with her own product, an apple cider vinegar toner, during her sophomore year while working at the University of Michigan research lab.
“My brand is mostly about science, skincare, and building confidence within yourself and just having the confidence to show your skin the way it is,” she says.
After testing her product for about six years, and sharing it with her family, she created a brand that melded science and skincare, while educating people along the way.
“Growing up in a desi (South Asian) family my mom didn't hone in on us like ‘do this skincare thing ... so a lot of things we had to kind of learn ourselves. I feel like that’s the same case for me and a lot of my friends.”
Now her products are featured at Detroit shops like Detroit is the New Black and Dose Collective at Twelve Oaks Mall.
Their youngest sister Shakira Khanam, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Michigan-Dearborn studying computer science, works with all of them. She says being in an Asian family, you don’t get asked, you are told to help out. Khanam has done it all: waking up and joining phone calls from Holly in India to prepare and ship orders in Michigan, filling in for models who’ve canceled for photography shots for Bobby, and even doing makeup for bridal parties with Hobby.
“I don’t actually see myself going into what they do — jewelry, skincare, or makeup. I’m more into fashion and trends and environmentally friendly upscaling,” she says.
Still, she says it’s nice to learn from her sisters and be “kind of being a jack of all trades.”
'Do your own thing'
The sisters say they didn’t always know they wanted to be businesswomen but would role play different skills since being kids.
“From a really young age we’ve seen our dad run multiple businesses,” says Holly.
Holly says he’d always tell them to, “Never make it so you have to work on someone else's terms. Do your own thing.”
The sisters said they didn’t realize what this meant until they started working for themselves. That came with initial challenges like not being taken seriously as women, figuring out how to build trust with the community, and being young entrepreneurs. Now Holly and Bobby also feature their products at their dad’s store in Hamtramck.
Before starting out, Hobby says she wasn't aware of many female business owners, especially in Detroit and Hamtramck.
“Granted we were younger so my circle wasn't anybody who is older than like in their 20s or early 30s,” says Hobby.
Before the age of social media, artists had to rely on word-of-mouth and doing a good job, she says. “Your work is the only thing that will stand out for you and do your talking.”
She says learning how to manage her business also has been a work in progress without having mentors. “[It was] just kind of figuring it out on your own very slowly, so I think that my process was a lot longer because of all those little things.”
Khanam says although the sisters took different paths, they are offering products and services they needed when growing up.
“I think it's just no matter how far you go you always come back home,” says Khanam. “We have those services and those products we wanted in our community ... and now the girls in our community [need it].”
Hobby says they put their hearts and souls into the businesses. “There is not a single waking moment that we are not thinking about either our clients or customers, how we can improve the business, how we can make it more efficient for our clients.”
Holly says the family bounces ideas off each other and inspires one another. “We have made our businesses a part of our lifestyles. It’s fun for us.”
Nargis Hakim Rahman interviewed Tahura Holly, Jahura Hobby, Humayra Bobby, and Shakira Khanam for the South Asian American Digital Archive as part of the Archival Creators Fellowship. Her project focuses on highlighting the stories of Bangladeshi women entrepreneurs in Metro Detroit. Learn more at saada.org.