By Alexandria Clark
A small white building sits beside Hobby Town on Russellville Road. Inside, Emina Hotilovac sits in an elegant gray fringed chair. Her small boutique is filled with jewelry, clothing, and various pieces representing her Muslim culture. A large rack of clothing stands across from her small desk.
She opened a hijab style and fashion boutique in Bowling Green in June 2015.
“I wanted to provide Muslim women with clothing they could feel good in,” Emina says. She smiles as she fingers the lace details on a royal blue dress hanging from the rack.
Emina’s family moved to the United States from Bosnia in 1994. They were escaping the turmoil of the religious war. She was in the sixth grade. She has five siblings, four sisters and one brother. Her parents took the initiative to get all of their children involved in school immediately. They valued the importance of an education. They wanted to create a better life for their children.
“When my family moved here from Bosnia. I didn’t know English at all,” she says.
Emina spent most of her adolescent life learning English. She didn’t have many friends when she first moved to the U.S. She struggled understanding why her parents brought her family here. She didn’t understand that their intentions were best for her.
Emina has a close relationship with all of her siblings especially her sisters. Her youngest sister Medina was only a year old when they moved here. Her older sister Hanka is two years older than Emina. They grew up very closely. Religion is an important aspect of their lifestyle.
“We spent most of our time growing up in the mosque and helping our mom in the field at our home,” she says.
Although Emina’s parents have instilled a strong cultural heritage in all of their children Emina has been shaped by her American lifestyle over the years as well. She has experienced and learned ways to merge both lifestyles. She frequently mentions how more “Americanized” she and her younger sister Medina are in comparison to her older siblings.
“They’re very traditional,” she says. “My sister Hanka got married at an early age.”
She’s made a lot of American friends especially in high school. Her friend Vanessa Mack expresses excitement from a few of their teenage memories. They’ve been friends for 13 years. They met in Louisville while going on a trip.
“She’s one of my most trusted friends,” Vanessa says. “One of my favorite memories with Emina is a time we went on a road trip to Salt Lake City Utah for Zija convention because we sang songs and laughed the whole ride.”
Emina stresses the importance of staying grounded and remembering your roots. Her religion has helped her stay grounded. She surrounds herself with Bosnian friends who share her same culture throughout the community. Many of these friends she has met at her mosque in Bowling Green.
Her friend Muhamed Hasanovic met Emina four years ago at the mosque. They share a similar life journey. His parents moved their family to America from Bosnia as well.
“We both moved here from Bosnia around the same age,” he says. “We have to embrace our culture. Being free as an individual and being respected by others who don’t share my same cultural background is the true American Dream.”
Emina has had the opportunity to share many cultural values with people at her mosque. Her friend Sabina Husic said she spent time getting to know Emina through events they’ve been a part of that tie the Muslim, and specifically the Bosnian community, together.
“One thing I can say about Emina from time spent with her is she is a go-getter and she’s always looking for new ways to improve herself in every way, whether it’s her personal lifestyle, such as working out and eating healthy, or it’s new business ventures,” Sabina says. “She’s always figuring out what she can bring to the table. She’s always looking for new opportunities and taking advantage of them.”
Emina’s parents always instilled a strong value for hard work. She financed herself throughout college. She has been on her own since the age of 19.
“If I could describe Emina I’d say she’s a lady. She’s intelligent, kind, charming, and friendly. I think her only weakness is that she’s too independent,” says Muhamed.
Emina has displayed an interest in fashion for years. She worked at her local Dillard’s for five years. Some of her fashion interest stemmed from her retail experience.
“Emina was always into fashion and always expressed herself through fashion,” says Hanka.
Emina graduated from Western Kentucky University with a Fashion and Merchandising degree in 2007.
“I had a great experience at WKU,” Emina says. “I made a lot of great friends during my time there. I look forward to reconnecting with my friends during homecoming each year.”
Emina began helping her family run their trucking company Redline Trucking Inc. She says she greatly values the importance of being family oriented. She’s proud of her parents for pursuing a business even though they don’t speak much English. Her parent’s business venture has inspired her. She always wanted to start a business out of her passion.
“My parents are my biggest inspiration. They’ve shown me that any goal can be achieved if you set your mind to it,” she says.
She opened her boutique in June of 2015. Emina wanted to bring an element of creativity and diversity to Bowling Green that didn’t exist prior. Opening her store was a huge moment for her and the entire family. She is continuing the entrepreneurial legacy her parents started.
“Her boutique is a great idea and I think she has a good market in Bowling Green. It’s what she’s passionate about. When you mix passion and business great things happen,” says Muhamed.
Emina gets most of her clothing from Turkey. She designs a look and has it made from a lady in Turkey. Her goal is to be an aid to Muslim women who frequently struggle to find clothing that expresses their religion. A friend named Katie she met from her mosque values the convenience of the boutique. She converted to Muslim from Christianity in 2012. She initially wore clothing that had been given to me or passed down by other Muslim women
“ I didn’t know where to get clothing before she opened her store. The boutique gave me an opportunity to have my own and choose from a wide variety of options,” says Katie.
Emina runs her boutique part-time due to her morning commitment to her family’s trucking company. The hours her boutique is open On weekdays are 5 p.m -8 p.m. The weekends it’s open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. She discusses her hopes to incorporate more convenient hours for customers in the future.
“My busiest times of the year for my business fall during our Muslim Holiday. It takes place June 7 through July 7,” she says. “I plan to be more available to my customers throughout the summer.”
Her sister Hanka is one of her biggest supporters. She wears a hijab on a daily basis.
“I love how she’s chosen to embrace her culture through her boutique,” Hanka says. “I embrace mine through wearing my hijab. It makes me proud to know I can practice my religion in the United States. It makes me very strong.”
Emina doesn’t choose to wear a hijab every day. She mostly wears them when she visits her mosque. She doesn’t focus on the expectation people set for a Muslim woman that owns a hijab fashion store. She is independent, business driven, and finds the balance between embracing her culture and religion without letting it define her.
“Wearing a hijab is a preference,” she says. “It’s only a symbol of my religion. The choice to not wear a hijab doesn’t make me any less of a Muslim. It takes a lot of courage walking out in a hijab in this society because everyone thinks you’re a terrorist.”
Emina is proud of her sister for expressing this type of courage. She stands up and grabs a purple hijab under a wooden shelf in her boutique. She wraps it around her head and smiles. She tucks each strand of her brown hair under the hijab. Her large brown eyes become the center of attention.
“My goal is to provide a place where Muslim women who wear hijabs every day or those who wear them to their mosque can purchase one locally. I just want to make someone feel beautiful and empowered. It’s not about me,” she says.
Emina plans to do more work with students on the WKU campus. She wants to better advertise her business and market her brand. She’s looking forward to putting on an international fashion show in the future. Emina has received an overwhelming amount of support from friends and family members who love what she is doing for the community.
“I’m very proud of her success,” Hanka says. “She loves people. I definitely think she’s chosen the right path. I would like to help her as much as I can because she is new in this business.”