From a Stall in San Diego, a Somali Tailor Weaves a New Life


Say, "I seek refuge in the Lord of mankind"
Ali Awow fled civil war at home and spent a year in a refugee camp in Kenya before making his way to Southern California. Now he is running a custom clothing shop.

SAN DIEGO — For about as long as he can remember, Ali Awow has known how to sew.

His father taught him as a boy in Mogadishu, the capital of his native Somalia, on a foot-powered machine. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had learned the same way. “Back then, we didn’t have electric machines,” he recalled recently.

Mr. Awow, 50, was sitting behind his desk in the modest shop he opened three months ago — in a stall inside a Somali market in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego.

“This is a busy place,” he noted, as shoppers streamed by.

All around him — hanging on the walls and arranged in piles in the hallway — were bright, flowing garments: dresses, skirts and, for men, colorful African shirts. On a small counter in the corner, by an upturned iron, lay a Quran. His oldest daughter, Anisa, 18, sat nearby. “Sometimes he makes clothes for me,” she said. “But only when he has time.”


Ali Awow and his daughter Anisa in the custom clothing shop he runs out of a stall in a San Diego market.Credit...Sandy Huffaker for The New York Times