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Gureje: From Clothes to Community Center

Jimi Gureje, owner of clothing boutique Gureje, wants to build a community of artists and creators from his storefront.

Jimi Gureje never set out to build an empire in Prospect Heights, but with , The Village performance space and gallery, Nova Bar and a series of events and workshops at 886 Pacific Street, he may be doing just that.

Gureje was born in the town of Ilesa, Nigeria where he was a self-described “farm boy.”

“There was nothing there unless you grew it, unless you made it,” Gureje said, describing the town.

In his teenage years, Gureje moved to the city of Lagos, where he began to design, took art classes and did odd jobs like cut hair for extra money. He met an established designer, Jimi King, and at 18 years old, was taken on to apprentice and work for King. Gureje was in charge of the design and production shops in no time, working for a very small fee, just appreciative for the experience.

Gureje decided that after nine months of working for King, to branch out on his own, so he used his last paycheck (200 Nigerian naira, or about $2 US) to buy fabric and dye, and began to set up inventory at his mother and father’s house.

At 19, Gureje opened his first storefront in Nigeria, where he said he was “making stuff every day, whether or not things sold.”

Gureje was soon in contact with Renate Albertsen-Marton, the director of Goethe-Institut Nigeria, the German Cultural Centre in Lagos, and because of that relationship, began to have international art shows and was able to participate in events like the Symposium for Ethnological Studies in Hamburg, Germany (“My first time in the Western world,” he said.)

After years of work, Gureje decided to he wanted to come to the Unites States and begin to plant roots. Brooklyn was his first choice, after falling in love with Brooklyn-based singers and rappers. He came to New York on a two-year visa and immediately got a temporary job with Verizon.

He grew within the company and at his last position, was an executive handling regional accounts and taking home a hefty salary. But Gureje was not content with this life, and he wanted to return to designing and dyeing fabric, and creating art.

With his savings (much more considerable this time around), he found a run-down former mechanic shop at 886 Pacific Street, and purchased it, seeing a vision for the space that others may have overlooked. That was 10 years ago, and today, the business has been holding its own.

His boutique, also called Gureje, takes up the front space, where he sells brightly-dyed dresses, scarves and jackets, as well as beaded jewelry and hats. In the back is The Village, a performance space and gallery. Currently on display in the gallery, which is named for Albertsen-Marton, is “Sound of Light: The Music Photography of Petra Richterova.”

Attached to The Village is Gureje’s newest venture: Nova Bar, a small bar for locals to meet for a gallery reception, or for a drink after taking a workshop. There is a large outdoor space in the back with tables, too. When Patch met with Gureje, a shamanic yoga class had just finished up in the garden.

And Gureje likes that the building is always busy and full of people: “It makes the place seem like it runs 24-hours,” he said.

“When the store closes, the bar is open, and there may be a performance at the same time,” said Gureje.

This past Saturday marked the final day for the second annual Festival of Color, which Gureje had a large hand in forming. The three-week event in Prospect Heights was full of art exhibits, musical performances and workshops ranging from drawing to dance to fabric dyeing. The festival culminated with a big celebration at Nova Bar.

“It was a lot of work, but we are bringing the neighborhood to focus, to celebrate local art and creativity,” Gureje said.

Gureje; 886 Pacific Street, 718-857-2522.

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