Hearts brought them together.

North Minneapolis entrepreneur Dave Wanpue, 26, calls his startup apparel brand 4 The Love—a nod to its mission of bringing people from diverse backgrounds together and enriching lives though art, education and social impact. He jumped at the opportunity to showcase his branded hoodies at Mall of America as part of Community Commons, a rent-free space that the mall made available last fall to BIPOC business owners.

Wanpue’s 4 The Love logo sweatshirts and track jackets—with a heart in place of the “o”—instantly caught the eye of Megan Tamte, co-founder and co-CEO of Evereve, the national women’s lifestyle chain. A fellow MOA retailer, she stopped by to see Community Commons. “We love hearts at Evereve,” Tamte says. “With heart” is one of Tamte’s favorite taglines—to the point that it’s become “an expression of our culture,” at Evereve, she says. Wanpue didn’t know that the blonde woman admiring his apparel was the head of a $150 million retail company with nearly 100 stores nationwide, but the two hit it off, bonding over the concept of running a business “with heart.”

“We are two entrepreneurs who believe we advance humanity by listening to each other, learning from each other, creating with each other, and championing each other,” Wanpue says.

He and Tamte started meeting regularly to talk business and entrepreneurship. Buoyed by the popularity of sweats during the pandemic, Wanpue pitched the idea of a collaboration. A 4 The Love x Evereve hoodie launches in Evereve stores nationwide and online this week. The limited-edition white hoodie features a mashup of the two brands’ logos—a gold and black heart surrounded by the words “Living. Overcoming. Valuing. Everyone.” Priced at $88, the hoodie is Evereve’s first foray into unisex apparel.

“Dave has modeled warmth and generosity to me,” Tamte says. “I feel so grateful that he has been open to a friendship and collaboration with a middle-aged mom like me!”

For Wanpue, it’s just one example of how Community Commons opened his small business to a world of opportunity. 4 The Love is one of six brands that graduated from the free temporary space to a store of its own at Mall of America. On Saturday, shelves were half empty after a busy opening week. Wanpue will feature the 4 The Love x Evereve hoodie in his store as well.

Fellow Community Commons alum Martena Jones also signed a 1-year lease at Mall of America. She opened her Fabulous Diva plus-size clothing boutique (second floor, south side) over the weekend to brisk traffic. She, too, has become friends with Tamte. At monthly coffees, the two business owners talk shop and try to keep each other motivated.

“Divine connections, that’s what I call it,” Jones says. “It’s been so inspiring, being around other entrepreneurs every day and meeting other retailers like Megan. We’ve all been helping each other out.”

The learning goes both ways, Tamte says. She encouraged Wanpue and Jones to set daily sales goals. And Tamte says Jones is educating her on the nuances of TikTok. “Martena taught me that TikTok has become an important tool for selling clothes. And the inspirational quotes and thoughts she posts on Instagram have motivated me—they help me to keep going and stay strong in the midst of a difficult year.”

Other Community Commons brands, F. Sherrod Gallery & Studio, Herbal Alchemy, Llakta, and Urban 29 also signed leases for their own Mall of America storefronts. The program started as a way to support small businesses damaged during the violence that followed the death of George Floyd or hard hit by the pandemic. But it’s become a way to help “local, minority-owned businesses build their brand and forge their future,” says Dan Jasper, Mall of America’s vice president of communications.

Community Commons reset its sales floor (second level, south side) this month with a dozen new brands selling everything from coffee and balloons to beauty products and apparel. Each will receive three months of rent free and the opportunity to remain an additional three months with percentage rent. After six months, Community Commons brands will be invited to join 4 the Love and Fabulous Diva with storefronts of their own.

Of course, even a discounted space at Mall of America is pricier than many neighborhood storefronts. But as Jones points out, she no longer needs to run Facebook ads or spend as much on marketing—Mall of America is her billboard. “You’ve got to be ready to go big,” Jones says. “I was.”

Allison Kaplan

Allison Kaplan is the former Shopping & Style editor for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. She is currently the Editor in Chief for Twin Cities Business magazine, and also a contributing editor for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

Read more by Allison Kaplan

April 14, 2021

12:00 AM