First Generation Immigrant Brings Global Artisan Shop & Experience Destination to Metro Detroit
Written by Margarita Barry, Photography by David Lewinski
Growing up in Mumbai, India, Ojas Akolkar was influenced by the cosmopolitan multicultural design of India’s largest city at a very young age. Today she’s bringing her passion for international design to Metro Detroit with immersive international
shopping destination, Tribalfare.
The Troy-based entrepreneur who immigrated to the United States in the early 90s, explains how growing up in India has influenced her aesthetic.
“Each state in India is diverse in textiles, jewelry, food, customs and traditions. We grew up being fluent in multiple local languages, strong ties to traditional customs and practices along with a fair bit of Western influence.”
While the U.S. is their home base, Ojas and her family have temporarily lived in China and Mexico, introducing her to a whole new world of heritage artisans and expanding her aesthetic.
"We grew up being fluent in multiple local languages, strong ties to traditional customs and practices along with a fair bit of Western influence."
Now she’s bringing her global experiences to Michigan as she announces the launch of Tribalfare’s flagship retail gallery store at 288 West 14 Mile Road in Clawson,
Tribalfare is about celebrating cultures through handcrafted one-of-a-kind artisan treasures. Not only an homage to heritage craftsmanship across world cultures, but an homage to Ojas’ mother as well.
“My mother would often showcase artisan creations in our tiny apartment to support the weavers and makers of the diverse sarees and textiles she sourced.”
"So many craft processes...are practiced even today by the small groups or tribes where these crafts originated."
But the inspiration doesn’t stop there. Tribalfare plans to impart a sense of community, offering a monthly “Chai & Chat”, cultural arts and crafts workshops, pop up dinners, travel opportunities, and more.
“I was always fascinated with the concept of tribes,” Ojas explains. “The sense of belonging and community is essential to invention and discovery. Tribes brought different people together with a common goal. So many craft processes like natural dyeing, handloom weaving, backstrap loom weaving, block carving and printing are practiced even today by the small groups or tribes where these crafts originated.”
Also setting itself apart from other retailers, is Tribalfare’s “by-appointment” model. Ojas hopes that this approach further enhances the slow, mindful and immersive shopping experience already emphasized by its warm and cozy atmosphere that encourages guests to stop and discover cultures and crafts in every room.
It’s an atmosphere built by design as Tribalfare’s home, ‘The House of Tribalfare,’ is literally situated in a house; a two-story American Craftsman built in 1923 that has been restored to highlight the architectural vintage of the house while tastefully modernizing the décor.
When it came to finding its home, Ojas originally had her heart set on the city of Detroit. A Build Institute alumna and a TechTown Retail Boot Camp awardee, her network and customer base was in Detroit.
“My search for this space continued in Detroit and was proving really challenging,” she explained. “Until the day I drove past this unloved yet gorgeous brick home on 14 Mile in Clawson with a ‘For Sale’ sign. Clawson has so much character and charm. Why have I not looked at any spaces outside of Detroit?”
Striving to preserve and restore the three bedroom, two bath home’s architectural details was important to Ojas, with layout and design choices created in collaboration with Paul Karas at Ware Manufacturing. Other collaborators included Logan from Bourne Building who headed woodworking and overall project management and Matthew Fohey who contributed to the revival of the original hardwood floors.
This novel concept of a globally inspired store within the charm of a period home is sure to attract an eclectic crowd and provide a unique shopping experience for Metro Detroiters looking to experience the beauty of the world, right in their own backyard.
Tribalfare will celebrate its launch on November 17th at The House of Tribalfare at 288 W. 14 Mile in Clawson, Michigan. The ribbon-cutting ceremony, led by State Representative Padma Kuppa, will take place at 11:00 am.
You can RSVP to the launch event on eventbrite.
You can learn more about Tribalfare at https://tribalfare.net.
Margarita Barry is a social entrepreneur, designer, storyteller, and marketing expert with a passion for inspiring entrepreneurs, activating creative places and using art and digital media to empower communities.
I Am Mainstreet America promotes small business entrepreneurship as a means to combat unemployment and boost economic impact in cities. Through the platform, she shares the stories of America's small business entrepreneurs and mobilizes citizens everywhere to champion them through Mainstreet Mob, a combined loyalty app, cash mob community, and marketing platform.
She's the founder and executive director of Mainstreet Seed (www.mainstreetseed.com), an organization that raises seed funding for revenue-generating neighborhood retail startups founded by black and brown identifying founders.
Her work has garnered the attention of publications like The Huffington Post, The New York Times, Time, USA Today, PBS NewsHour, Crain’s Detroit, Fast Company, and Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
In addition to her own ventures, these days you can find her collaborating on a number of projects across Detroit and raising her six year old daughter. Her greatest hope is that the content, art, platforms, and experiences she creates positively affect peoples’ lives creatively, socially and economically.