German designer makes edgy urban fashion for young Muslims | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 16.04.2009
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German designer makes edgy urban fashion for young Muslims

It all started with a T-shirt bearing the slogan "I Love My Prophet." That's when a designer in Germany discovered a booming market for modern, urban clothes and accessories with a Muslim message.

Styleislam founder Melih Kesmen

Fashion label founder Melih Kesmen was looking for a way to express his faith

People from many different cultures are likely to agree: slippers are rather uncool. But in Styleislam's fashion design office, everyone walks around in them. Here, in the small German town of Witten in the middle of the industrial Ruhr region, chic clothes and accessories are designed for fashion-conscious but devout young Muslims.

Styleislam was the brainchild of Melih Kesmen, a stocky man with a ponytail and goatee.

"Here are a few examples of our designs, like one about the hijab - the headscarf," he said, pulling a black handbag out of a cupboard in the company's small stockroom.

"Hijab, My Right, My Choice, My Life," is written on the bag in big white letters.

"If a woman wants to wear a headscarf, then she should be allowed to," said Kesmen.

Models display the creation by Malaysian designers during the sneak preview of Islamic fashion showcase of Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week 2006 (KLFW) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

If women want to wear headscarves, they should, says Kesmen

The motto on the bag could provoke hours of discussion, and so could plenty of other motifs on the entrepreneur's shelves, such as baby bibs printed with the word "Minimuslim" or a call to prayer: "Salah, Always Get Connected."

A different kind of response

The project began three years ago, as the scandal raged over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad printed in a Danish newspaper. At the time, Kesmen was living in London with his wife Yeliz.

"The publication of the drawings bothered me, but I was also really annoyed by the reaction from our side, the Muslim side," said Kesmen. In many Muslim countries around the world, violent demonstrations were held and Danish flags were burned.

"So I thought, there must be a way to respond creatively and productively, in a peaceful way," added Kesmen. And he found one: He had a T-shirt printed with the slogan "I Love My Prophet."

So many people literally wanted to buy the shirt off of his back that Kesmen, who is trained as a graphic designer, recognized the untapped market for trendy clothes with a Muslim message.

Welcome to the Ummah

After moving back to his hometown, Witten, he took action and the young company's product line and profit have been growing ever since.

Protests in Jalalabad over the reproduction of the Mohammed caricatures in March, 2008

The Muhammad cartoons, which were republished in 2008, caused a stir in the Muslim world

"The label pays for itself now," said Kesmen, who advertizes that one euro per shirt sold is donated to an orphanage in Africa.

Kesmen doesn't just encourage religious faithfulness among his customers, but also in the workplace. When hiring women, he prefers those who wear a headscarf. And regular prayer breaks are taken in the office - which is why everyone wears slippers instead of shoes.

Germany's most well-known Muslim rapper, Ammar 114, advertizes for Styleislam, which has boosted the labels popularity among young believers.

One of them is Salman Sagir of Berlin, whose parents are from Pakistan. His shirt, with the slogan "Ummah - Be Part of It," was tight across his muscular shoulders. He didn't seem bothered that curious passersby examined his chest bearing the invitation to join the Ummah, the Muslim community.

"Hopefully Styleislam will come out with more sizes soon," said Sagir.

T-shirts to get people talking

Though many of Styleislam's slogans are designed to show positive sides to Islam, they aren't necessarily accessible to non-Muslims, as some of the phrases include Islamic concepts or are written in Turkish.

Styleislam t-shirt reading 'I love my prophet'

Styleislam's slogans are meant to spark conversation

"If someone doesn't understand, maybe it'll make them curious and it will spark a conversation about the phrase," said Kesmen. The company also has an explanation for each slogan on its website,

Sometimes explanations are necessary - Styleislam's slogans can be ironic, cheeky or even downright provocative.

Kesmen got threatening phone calls over the slogan "Jesus Was a Muslim." He defends it, saying: "Jesus was one of the greatest prophets in Islam and his message wasn't actually any different than the Prophet Muhammad's."

While opinions may differ on the matter, Kesmen's aim is to give young Muslims a way to combine fashion with their faith and be confident about who they are.

"We're part of the German society," he said. "We belong to it as German Muslims."

Author: Heiner Kiesel / Kate Bowen

Editor: Nancy Isenson

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