Which consumer do you target with Al Ghuraba?
The consumer is primarily (but not exclusively) Muslim born and/or brought up and living in the West. No exact age brackets as the brand aims to speak to experiences and cultural affiliations that spans two or three generations of Muslims in the West.
Where does Al Ghuraba stands for? Can you tell a bit more about how this brand came into existence?
The name Al Ghuraba is Arabic for “the strangers”. It is a reflection of an experience which I think many people like me face, when being a Muslim brought up in the West. At times we are seen as strangers in the countries we are born in, and when we go back to visit the country our parents come from we are again perceived as different.
In the quest of finding your own identity, you can’t help but feel a bit strange. Hence many start digging into what it means to be a Muslim, especially in a post 9/11 world, where it is constantly being questioned. This was the case for me as well.
During this journey I have found the concept of ‘stranger’ a couple of times mentioned in the ahadith (spoken reports) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Where he (pbuh) mentions that “Islam began as something strange and will go back to being strange, so glad tidings to the strangers.”
The glad tidings part really spoke to me, knowing that when going on this route to gain knowledge about who I am will make those around you question your identity. We find comfort to know that this estranged feeling and sometimes hostility is natural to the process. Moreover, the Prophet mentions in a similar narration “Blessed are the strangers”.
The personal experience along with the search for understanding what it means to be a Muslim has led me to choose this name which resonates me and I believe many who have embarked on the same path of finding oneself.
How did you make your selection of Islamic values you would like to represent? How did you choose the Islamic values you are representing with your brand?
I wouldn’t say I made a selection, because as Muslim you uphold all values at all times. At least that is what we aim to. What I did is making a selection of what I want to highlight, what I want people to reflect on, but visualized in a way that speaks to the targeted audience.
There are some pillars the designs are built upon. Such as core concepts that are known by all Muslims, as can be seen in the Words of Wisdom design that reads Sabr (Patience), Shukr (Gratefulness) and Dhikr (Remembrance).
To know who you are you need to know where you are from and who preceded you. Hence the idea of role models is what we feel strong about. This resulted in the pocket print design called The Most Beloved which has the name of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) written in Arabic calligraphy. Another manifestation was the Fantastic Four design which is a tribute to the first four caliphs (successors) following the death of the Prophet (pbuh).
The third pillar highlights the beauty of Islamic art. With Arabic calligraphy being at the core most designs. We have also used Islamic geometric art and Tezhip (illumination) more prominently in the Summer 2015 collection.
On your website you mention: ‘To strengthen our Islamic identity‘ - could you explain this a bit more?
When people buy clothing it is always a reflection of who they are, as it is probably the most visual form of self-representation and the first thing people notice. Similarly when someone buys an Al Ghuraba product, it is an individual who sees himself in the message of the product. When making that choice they recognize the Islamic heritage in the content of the design and are willing to purchase and thereby co-sign to that message. I translated that process as a strengthening of one’s identity.
Aren’t you afraid you might exclude people as well?
My aim is not to exclude anyone, but I do have a specific group who I focus on, and I don’t want to shy away from that. Having said that, I have received numerous positive feedback from non-Muslims who appreciate the aesthetics of some of the designs that are more abstract in meaning as it uses Tezhip and Islamic geometric art.
Why now and why do you did you choose to use fashion for it?
There is no exact reason why now, the time was just right for me to start bringing these products out. I have had this idea for quite some time and it has been refined throughout the last few years. Specifically the past year I have found the right people to produce the tees and crewnecks with great detail for quality and make it all a reality.
Is there for you a clear connection between fashion and religion?
I don’t think there is a clear connection, but religion does give guidelines on what is acceptable to wear. I’m using fashion as a means to profess ones values and as a reminder for others, so it is fulfilling a religious purpose in an artistic way.
You are presenting yourself as a worldwide brand and probably travel a lot: do you see differences in how people respond to the brand? One which (national) markets are you focusing right now?
What I have noted, as expected, is that different regions have their own specific preferences when it comes to clothes, especially when it comes to the fitting. Europeans like their tees more fitted, whereas in the US people prefer them baggier. But the appreciation to the message it conveys has been uniformly positive. I love hearing from the people what they want to see in the future so I can cater to everyone.
We don’t have a specific focus in terms of region, but as expected most of the sales and enquiries have come from the United States and United Kingdom. Followed by other countries in Europe like Germany, France, The Netherlands and Belgium.
The brand feels quite urban, especially the Hear and Obey sweatshirt and the Beanie. What is the reason you made this urban brand to represent the Islamic Identity in a different way? What was the inspiration for this?
I don’t honestly know what the word urban means nowadays as I haven’t heard it for some time. I would rather say it follows the trend of today’s Muslim youth. There are many brands doing this already, I felt there was still some space to be filled in a way that has not been done yet.
Although the content on the shirts is mostly in Arabic, you did choose to name the products in English as well: what is the thought behind this? Would you be happy to see non-Islamic consumers walking with the shirts as well?
The Arabic language is an important part of the identity, as the Qur’an is written in Arabic. The reason for choosing an English description is to make it easier for people to understand what is meant by the design.
I wouldn’t mind non-Islamic consumers wearing my/the t-shirts, but I would be interested in knowing what moved them to purchase it.
Where would you like to be within 5 years from now with Al Ghuraba?
From an artistic perspective I hope to keep pushing boundaries with each collection we release. I hope that the first tees are just as relevant and in demand in 5 years’ time as they are now.
I look forward to expanding the product range, with prints being released in the near future.
Even though it has only been a year since we have been running, there have been a lot of requests for stocking our products in shops, so God willing, that will happen as well. Time will tell. But till that time we are just working hard.