Naim’s Unique Designs
By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen
Amidst the hustle and bustle of university students quickly getting from one class to another, slowing down only to grab a sack of fast food or cram for an upcoming examination, sits a tiny oasis of calm and serenity.
Curiously located on the first floor of the Wayne State Student Center, Naim’s Unique Designs offers the young scholars a serving of African culture. Khalil Naim has been selling his designs along with traditional African wares since vendors have been allowed to sell merchandise in the student center.
“Wayne State allowed outside entrepreneurs to come down and rent a table,” Naim said. “They’ve been doing that since the early 80’s. I’m probably the person that’s been going down there the longest.”
Naim soon opened and maintained a successful boutique in Eastland Mall. But three years ago, as a result of his long relationship with the administrators of the student center, he got the opportunity to move his operation to a more permanent space there. Wayne State had consolidated a department and this left a room open and available.
“They asked me if I would like to open up a store in the room and I jumped on it.”
Although most of the students who frequent the student center are not there to shop, Naim’s has survived through a combination of walk-in business and established repeat customers.
“When I was at the mall, people came to the mall to shop,” said Naim. “People come through the student center for many other reasons.”
Naim’s Unique Designs is a wonderful collection of hand crafted jewelry, wood artifacts, clothing, tapestries, imported oils, wicker baskets, rugs and artwork—all reflective of African society and African way of life.
Naim’s also has an impressive collection of old movies, memorabilia and books rooted in African American culture. Much of the merchandise in the store is imported directly from the motherland itself.
Going back to 1972 Naim, who earned his masters from Michigan State, and a number of friends from school opened a boutique on Livernois and Six Mile Road. A large part of the store revolved around improvisation, both in design and business.
“None of us really knew what we were doing. We started making jewelry, we started making furniture out of plexiglass.”
While his friends continued on with careers in other areas, Naim was hooked and left his path as a vocational counselor. He moved to Ghana for a year in 1975 and came back to the states ready to make and sell African jewelry full time.
A large part of Naim’s Unique Designs is devoted to accessories, including rings and garments that display the Greek letters of fraternities and sororities. The Greek t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets hats and other paraphernalia can be custom made in great detail. The service is useful to the large Greek population which inhabits a major university campus.
With the student center slated for major rehabilitation within the next year or two, Naim may have to relocate yet again. For now he runs things with his cousin Ike Ayler, who seems to serve as the spiritual overseer and eternal optimist of the store. He spoke to the Michigan Citizen while standing near the store’s flagship display piece – an African unity statue with interlocking sections, but carved from one piece of lumber.
“When we first came here I would tell students when they came in here, that this is a warming center”, Ike said. “You’re out there, you’re facing all sorts of issues with your classes and your grades and your study habits. In between classes, a lot of times there’s a void, a difficulty in trying to make the transition from the last class to the next one. You come in here – we used to have tea, we’d give tea away – and kind of ease them into the transition to the next class.”
To ease the transition into your next venture, visit Naim’s Unique Designs on the 1st floor of the Wayne State Student Center, 5221 Gullen Mall, Room 135. Hours are 9a-7p Monday thru Friday, Saturday by appointment only. Call 313-671-4934.