DEARBORN — When 29-year-old Anissa Ajami noticed the need for a boutique in Dearborn that provided fine-quality clothing that was practical, in-vogue and catered to Dearborn’s dynamic woman, she decided to open her first clothing store, Desert Rose Co. in bustling downtown West Dearborn.
After about a year and a half of hard work and planning, the young Arab American businesswoman is one of the latest tenants in the Ford Motor Company-owned, mix-used “urban development” on Michigan Avenue. Spanning two blocks on either side of Monroe Street, the Wagner Place project aims to bring a mix of shopping, office and residential space to the downtown area, in line with the city’s decision to modernize and revitalize its downtown districts.
Opening Desert Rose Co. has been a challenge for the young mother of two who studied psychology at Wayne State University and has no prior experience running a brick-and-mortar shop. Previous to the new location, Ajami operated an online clothing boutique.
With a keen eye towards trends, Ajami is determined to be an independent retailer and bring something unique to the shopping area. The quality of the brands on display clearly sets Ajami’s clothes apart from the many homogenous, fast-fashion retail stores at nearby shopping centers, something she is proud of.
“I’ve always been interested in fashion, clothing in particular,” Ajami said. “Growing up, my favorite time of the year was August because it meant back-to-school shopping and a new wardrobe.”
As a teen, Ajami worked in retail, at Somerset Collection Mall in Troy, which is where she got to experience the operations and customer service side of the retail clothing business. Though she thought of going to school for fashion design, she thought the move was too risky and knew that that fashion wasn’t exactly a booming business in the midwest.
She gained more confidence over time and opened an online clothing business at age 24. Ajami put her business plans momentarily on hold after the birth of her first child, but over time began to think of and formulate her approach to the retail clothing business.
“I started to think more about a physical store and started developing a brand,” she said. “I began thinking of who I wanted to sell to, how I wanted to market my brand and the kind of person I wanted to appeal to.
This process of research and development would take three years. Last year, she attended a seminar in Detroit for entrepreneurial women, where she was inspired by a talk from a boutique owner, Laura Horwath of Ferne Boutique. Ajami began to realize the possibility of owning a physical boutique.
“The clothes available in nearby malls aren’t always accommodating to myself and many people I know,” Ajami said. “I know a lot of women that have to drive to buy things; and though online shopping is growing in every aspect, when it comes to clothing, we have to consider that people’s bodies change as they get older and it becomes harder to buy, try and return clothes online.
“I really wanted to bring a nice boutique to the Dearborn area because we haven’t had that in some time. I wanted to bring that experience (of good-quality clothing for women) to be in Dearborn and, aside from my business, I want to see Dearborn get back to where it was.”
Ajami found an investor and submitted an application to Ford Land, Ford’s retail arm, which operates Wagner Place. The boutique, which has been open since January, offers a soothing, comfortable shopping experience. Its cheerful interiors create an inviting vibe, reminiscent of a clothing store on a California strip.
I really wanted to bring a nice boutique to the Dearborn area because we haven’t had that in some time. I wanted to bring that experience (of good-quality clothing for women) to be in Dearborn and aside from my business, I want to see Dearborn get back to where it was. — Anissa Ajami
She traveled to trade shows and did extensive research to find the brands that fit the needs of her customer base: A young, sophisticated, modern woman living in the Dearborn area, but who has an eye towards broader trends. The inventory reflects this style, where Instagram-chic meets high-quality fabrics and craftsmanship, and includes modest fashion for her Muslim customers.
“I have an idea of who my customer is and who I want to appeal to, but since the store has only officially been open for such a short time, I would also like to get to know who’s actually coming in,” Ajami said.
Ajami has a realistic approach to the clothes she selects for her store, a sense of practicality that she thinks she shares with her customers. She wants to adapt fashion from Hollywood and New York and match it to realistic expectations of how many women dress in Dearborn.
“We offer personal style consultations as well,” she said. “If a customer is modest and more conservative, we can take today’s fashion and conform it to their style while keeping it classy.”
Desert Rose Co. is located at 22001 Michigan Avenue, Suite 150. The store’s social media pages routinely display new pieces and styling options.