I Want That Arabic T-Shirt

A few days ago I attended the TEDxKRP 2011 conference hosted here at the National University of Singapore. The conference was heavily geared towards social entrepreneurship and featured some really interesting talks by well respected speakers from all over the world.

Needless to say, all the talks were very beneficial and enlightening. However, there was one particular talk that caught my attention. Before I dig into that though, let me first give a brief prelude so that you would understand why I became interested in that particular talk.

If there's one thing you should know about me, then it would probably be my obsession with the Arabic language. I immensely enjoy reading Arabic poetry and literature and I am compelled to admire Arabic's beauty and descriptive power. The way the characters are designed and how they are conjoined leaves a lot of room for very artistic works of calligraphy.

Descriptive power and calligraphy are not the main reasons of my obsession with Arabic, however. The main reason is the strong connection binding Arabic, the language, to Arabs, the people. As fractured and divided the Arab world is today be it on the political, economical or racial level, Arabic is one of the very few common denominators that are left.

If Arabic is one of the very few denominators that portray an Arab's identity, then why is it the case that Arabs try to run away from it? Walk into any classy mall in the Arab world and you will find that hardly any of the shops have an Arabic transliteration of their name, let alone having an Arabic name! Walk down the rich neighbourhoods of Cairo in Egypt and look at people's clothes. You will see the Nike, the Adidas, the FCUK, the Ralph Lauren and so on. Hardly ever do you see someone wearing clothes (say a t-shirt) that has Arabic writing on it. In fact, I don't even remember the last time I ever saw someone wearing a t-shirt with Arabic writing on it.

The way Arabs currently seem to exclude Arabic from the notion of being classy is a deeply-rooted issue and is not a topic I am intending to discuss at the moment. I think it's fair to say though that one reason could be the fact that, in the modern age, Arabs have very little accomplishments to be proud of and, in turn, they choose to seek pride by attempting to embrace other cultures.

But, in the light of all the radical changes happening throughout the Arab world today, we're now in a totally different situation. In the past three months alone Arabs have accomplished so much that they can well be proud of. This then begs the question: can the Arabic language, as one of the common denominators among Arabs, be used as a mean to bring Arabs closer together in the long run and help them regain their pride in their culture and identity? I think the answer is a solid yes.

How so, you might ask? This is where the TEDx talk comes in 🙂

The talk was by Shariffudin Mohamed Raffi who was introducing his new social business "TeeDaily". He made a really cool video (see below) to illustrate his idea. Have a look.


That got me thinking: would a similar concept work in the Arab world? In other words, a concept that works like this:

  1. Have people design a t-shirt that has elements of Arabic calligraphy or culture.
  2. People vote for their favourite design.
  3. The winning design is available for sale for a limited time.
  4. Profits from sales are then used to fund charities in the Arab world.
  5. Go back to step 1.

The reason this idea appeals to me is because of its various advantages:

  • People can use it to not just show their pride in their Arabic culture and in their own identity, but also in learning more about their culture and identity.
  • T-shirts can be designed to express solidarity with a particular idea or cause.
  • If the t-shirts are manufactured locally, then it will help boost the textile industry, creating jobs and diminishing the unnecessary need to import clothes from other places.
  • Profits can provide sustainable funding to many charity causes throughout the Arab world (be it cutting down illiteracy, supporting poor families, etc...)

I wish TeeDaily all the success. I believe it has a lot of potential and I would certainly be buying their t-shirts. But, would I ever get the chance to buy an Arabic t-shirt?

12 thoughts on “I Want That Arabic T-Shirt”

  1. I use to have a navy blue hooded sweater that read ‘one life’ in English and ‘hayat kamel’ in arabic calligraphy right under the English. I remember walking down the street in Mississauga/ Toronto and having many people, male and female, ask me where I purchased the sweater from. I even had some people offer me money for my sweater on several occasions.

    1. @Ahmed
      Maybe you could sell me that sweater? 😀

      Yeah I imagine there would be a lot of people looking for something like this. I am surprised no one has really acted on that on a large scale yet.

  2. Sounds like you might want to be the one to start something like this. I think you could get a site up and running in just a few weeks. You can send the orders for the t-shirts to an external manufacturer at first (there are lots who do this, you just send them the design and the order). For the e-commerce backend you can just use something like Shopify. Then you just need to build a site that lets people register, submit designs, and vote on them.

    1. @Denis

      I am seriously considering that actually. The technical part is the least challenging, I think. The more challenging part would be getting enough people (whether people who can design or customers) interested in the idea. Also, what makes it slightly more challenging is that buying stuff online is not mainstream in the Arab world (let alone buying clothes online) and delivering is also not as straightforward as it is in the West. These issues are gradually fading away though as the number of internet users continue to increase so there’s definitely an opportunity here.

  3. Hey guys,
    Salam and thanks Islam for your coverage on TEDx and extending a special coverage specifically on TeeDaily. There was definitely a string of great speakers there with insightful and inspiring stories for take away. I’m glad that in the midst of it all TeeDaily caught your attention and left a somewhat lasting effect 🙂

    I must say it’s an interesting observation done on your part to see how a concept like TeeDaily can indeed transcend cultural and social boundaries and that is our sentiment exactly here at TD. We do believe that a blank t-shirt, just like a blank canvas is to an artist, a medium to paint and express oneself – whether its just a notion, a thought, culture, belief, views – in a vivid or abstract manner, limited only by one’s imagination. To add to that, we also believe strongly that any profit seeking business organization should be giving as much as they are taking from the community they operate in. And they should do this not later on, or at the end of the Financial Year where they decide where the excess profits should go to, but rather right from the beginning by incorporating a model of giving or CSR right into the fabric of the business from day one. Make it a point to give from the start. Every product should have a calculated contribution, however nominal, to be channeled back to the society via social causes and charity orgs that are already trying to make a difference on a micro level. Make giving a standard part of the business model from the on-start, rather than later after you’ve make your millions, that’s what we’re trying to urge other businesses, no matter how big or small they are – behemoth MNCs or a bootstrapping start-up like us – we can incorporate the spirit of giving right from the start into our business down to the very first product that ships out of our stores. It’s not rocket science really, and we’ve seen numerous corporations and brands adopt this model of contributing a portion of their revenue from product sales to a good cause. Product (RED) for one contributes a portion of participating brand revenue to fight AIDS in Africa. But what we’re saying is that you don’t have to wait till your product becomes (RED) or you after you’ve made your gazillions. You can do this this on your own accord and immediately. Simply put aside a portion, no matter how small, from the sale of each product or service rendered and aggregate it. You’d be surprise how much a little can add up and go a long way after a while. In that aspect, you can look at TeeDaily as an interesting social experiment where we’re trying to prove that this model is workable and hopefully other businesses will learn the benefits of this social giving exercise and eventually build it into their existing business model as well. Not only will they enjoy some positive PR (which is always a plus), but also witness how their contributions will have a direct impact on the community they operate in and beyond. More importantly they will in turn be extra conscious about the social and environment impact their product or service may have around us every time they put out a new product to the streets. This alone, I feel, will have a substantial long tail socio-enviro impact in addition to providing more funds to support charity organizations tackle real problems immediately.

    But coming back to Arabic inspired designs though, I have to say personally I’m a fan of it as well, and when done right, Arabic script or architecture inspired designs can really have a profound effect on enhancing a design element on a product. A couple of summers ago I was in Cordoba & Granada in south of Spain where I witnessed first hand some of the amazing architectural marvels which are still very much alive. Aside from Alhambra, the Arabic architectural and cultural influence is still omnipresent there today from the food, shesha, to even the clothing. I got me self a neat take away which is this plain dark blue tshirt with a cool Arabic inscription inspired design of the words Cordoba and along with other Arabic intricate calligraphy infused to it on a off-white imprint which mimics the marble-like finish of the Grand Mosque walls and pillars. Just splendid. I’ll try to dig it out from my closet and put up a pic of it later. So yea, I definitely see that as a possibility. Infact, over time, as a global curator of fresh new designs from all corners of the world on a daily basis, there’s more than enough opportunity to showcase not just Arabic inspired design, but also other cultural inspired designs from different parts of the world.

    We’re working hard to get TeeDaily up and running and hopefully see some of these amazing cross cultural stuff happen within the community of users and tshirt lovers alike. Can’t wait to see this become a reality.

    Anyhow, thanks again for your best wishes and kind words. I’ll certainly look into curating an Arabic inspired tshirt on TeeDaily someday. And when we do that here, I’ll make sure to get one in your hands as well 🙂

    1. Thanks a lot Shariff for sharing your thoughts. I couldn’t agree more that businesses should integrate social philanthropy into the core of their business model.

      I personally can’t wait to see TeeDaily up and running offering cross cultural designs from all over the world, and I would certainly like to get my hands on Arabic inspired tshirts 🙂

  4. Marhaba guys

    I saw this thread and have the solution for all of your Arabic t shirts. My name is ramzey a student at depaul studying entrepreneurship. We have created an Arab American t shirt company called HabibTees, for the exact reasons you stated. There is nothing to cater to the over 3.2 million arabs in America, needless to say we are growing rapidly throughout the u.s. I would love if you visited our website and supported the cause. http://Www.HabibTees.com. We are currently are re creating our website for a more interactive feel and so that people like you can share the rich Arabic culture! Follow us on facebook, twitter, and YouTube!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Nashwa. I had a slightly different theme in mind, where it was more focused on traditional Arabic and calligraphy. But yes, great work on the comic t-shirts and exposing and a nice Egyptian culture touch on them 🙂

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