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Following the city's 2013 bankruptcy, many women in Detroit chose entrepreneurship as a path forward to grow with the revitalization of their city. The proof is in the numbers: According to Sharon Buttry of the Hamtramck Community Initiative, around 62 to 64% of small businesses in the Detroit area are headed by women.
In the third and last episode of Connecting Thread, a series from Unleashed featuring female artisans around the world, we’re invited to a dinner table where we meet women turning a perceived dead city into a hub of success and growth through the world of food.
Molly Mitchell worked her entrepreneurial engine in the Motor City and opened her restaurant Rose's Fine Food in 2013. She and her fellow business owners work to change the way we view the gender gap in the food world. “Having worked in male dominated kitchens, it’s great to see other faces and genders in that role,” Mitchell told Refinery29 in a phone interview. “It's important to show the whole picture of who is actually doing the work."
For many entrepreneurs, they're both heading the business and making the food. Alleah Webb, a graduate of Central Michigan University with an entrepreneurial degree and a minor in leadership, is the owner and manager of Drifter Coffee — a fun truck and and soon-to-be coffee shop. While she built the business from the ground up, she still gets grilled for her credentials, with customers questioning everything from her coffee choice to her ability to hitch her trailer to her truck.
"When I’m able to speak up and call people out for it and protect myself, I feel empowered instead of disempowered," Webb said. “Something I realized about being a woman in the world is people really want things from you and they take, take, take: 'I want this from you. I want you to bring your coffee here, and I want to buy this instead.' That was taking up a lot of energy. I realized saying no and checking in with yourself is extremely powerful. And you realize your time is valuable."
Luckily, Detroit has turned out to be a hub for female entrepreneurs who are there to support and learn from each other. “It’s more community oriented,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know why the vibe is different in Detroit, but people have this attitude of figuring out things themselves and helping other people, as well. It’s really exciting.”
Adwity Borna, who works at Bon Bon Bon Chocolate (a Forbes award-winning female-owned pastry shop), sees the city as a land of opportunity for women. Borna moved to Detroit with her teenage daughter in 2015 from Bangladesh to find a better, safer life. "It was a miracle for me [to come here]," she said.
She lives with Buttry who introduced her to the group and showed her that Detroit is a place where women can really be successful. “Seeing other businesswomen makes me so inspired," Borna said in a phone interview. "Maybe I can start a business, too... and I want women to be even more helpful to each other. Men can also help women to move forward."
As far as the future for women in Detroit, it’s all about continued collaboration.
“People ask, 'Is Detroit coming back?' and I think this story focuses on entrepreneurial spirit,” Buttry said. “There’s a lot of other spirit in Detroit such as philanthropy, cooperation, encouragement collaboration, and when we put all those spirits together then you have a growing and thriving community. And that's my vision for Detroit. Everyone having a chance and seeing a new day."
Watch the entire film above.