Ramadhan "Rammy" Mohamed remembers when GQ magazine named her city of St. Paul one of the worst-dressed in America.
"That was a gut punch," says the fashion designer. "I want to fight and compete and bring some respect back."
Making the Twin Cities the next fashion capital of the world is perhaps an unlikely dream for a self-described "five-foot nothing" immigrant from East Africa. She was 11 when her family arrived in the United States, where her parents wanted her to study law or medicine. To appease them, she earned a business degree from the University of Minnesota, but she knew in her heart that accounting wasn't a fit. Ultimately she went against their expectations, entering and winning fashion competitions and launching her studio, Ramadhan Designs.
Mohamed combines her heritage and Minnesota upbringing to produce custom bridal gowns, luxury wear and haute couture.
She showed at last year's Fashion Week Minnesota, mixing contemporary Western cuts with colors inspired by the spice market she visited when she was young. The work created buzz, putting her on local fashion's "to watch" lists.
Like many small-business owners, her plans were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, including a show for her spring collection. While that was a blow — "I had fabulous fabrics," she says — she jumped in to help respond to the pandemic.
Mohamed was one of the first to release DIY mask designs and tutorials via her Instagram (@ramadhan_designs), and she made and donated around 1,000 masks to local hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Her focus shifted again following the death of George Floyd. She marched with peaceful protesters and proudly supports the Black Lives Matter movement. "I am already a walking political statement," she says. "I walk into a room and I am identified immediately by my hijab and my skin color."
Mohamed's current work is inspired by victims of social injustice. One dress incorporates Breonna Taylor's name; another has the names of hundreds of Black people killed by police.
Silvers and grays dominate her current palette, with neon highlights indicating optimism. All of it plays into her goal to make the Twin Cities the next big thing in fashion. "We lost Prince, and the Vikings and Twins aren't doing very well, so maybe it's the right time for us fashion designers to put the Twin Cities on the map."