Four years ago, Melin Kesmen printed "I love my prophet" on a T-shirt. With it, the Muslim wanted to make a peaceful statement about his religion. The T-shirt became an international German-Muslim fashion label. Proof that lifestyle and living Islam are not mutually exclusive.
Photo shoot with a prayer rug? A young Muslim woman wearing a headscarf poses with a bag made from a prayer rug. She beams at the camera, showing off the dark bag with the bright green embroidery. The shots Kesmen wants to use for his new campaign are to be taken in a backyard. An oriental rug is attached to a shoulder bag made of black truck tarpaulin with Velcro fasteners. How used oriental carpets are turned into "To Go" prayer rugs. They are unique pieces, suitable for praying, picnics or as a bag. Kesmen has already sold a few hundred bags, and the trend is upward.
In his thoroughly styled office in Witten, the graphic designer works on new ideas. Soft jazz music blares from the speakers. Kesmen wears the T-shirt that started it all a few years ago. "I love my prophet" – for him, it's an expression of living his religion. "If Islam claims to be timeless and universal, then part of that is that Muslims in the 21st century want to be. Kesmen wants to live out the 21st century through the channel of streetwear fashion."For him as a designer, fashion is the bridge between cultures and religions.
"Little room for violence and coercion"
The 35-year-old was living in London when the Mohammed cartoons were published in 2005. "Who needed them?", he asks today. But he also calls the reactions of Muslims "stupid, excessive and just as unnecessary". He defines himself through the love of the prophet, with little room for violence and coercion. This is what he wanted to wear on the street with the T-shirt. In the subway, in restaurants he was approached and developed further T-shirts with slogans such as "Headscarf – my right, my choice, my life". This was the birth of the family business "Styleislam". In the meantime, he has a few employees and sells all over the world via the Internet. The label has stores in Medina, the city of the Prophet Mohammed, and in Istanbul.
But what makes Muslim fashion so special? "The T-shirts are not meant to emphasize sexuality," says Kesmen. The clothing should be beautiful, but not so conspicuous that it attracts everyone's attention. Currently working with two Turkish designers. The idea is to create a streetwear collection for women, which many customers have asked for. The fashion is also aimed at non-Muslim women. "Not everyone wants to display their body in public," he says. Wide tunics with an Asian touch should be there, the designer does not want to reveal more.
"A mix of East and West"
The target group is young adults. Kesmen, who was born in Germany and describes himself as German with Turkish blood, knows from his own experience how important identity-shaping moments are for young people. His fashion could be a help. Meanwhile, the businessman himself is a sought-after ambassador. He gives lectures for foundations and associations to help young people in particular find their identity.
Already after the attacks on 11. September 2001, Kesmen sensed the general suspicion that Muslims were under. Neighbors' views changed. With his T-shirts, bags and accessories, he has freed himself from this impotence. Nevertheless, he receives threats that he wants to Islamize the country with his fashion. "Nonsense," says Kesmen. His success with customers speaks for itself. More than a quarter of his clients are non-Muslims, he said. For them, he says, slogans like "Terrorism has no religion" are appropriate. Kesmen texts the slogans in English, often combining them with Arabic symbols that Muslims know from the Koran. For Kesmen, his fashion is a mix of East and West: "The lifestyle is a reflection of the Muslim zeitgeist of the 21st century. Century."