Leicester student’s clothing business spreads positive messages about Islam around the world
Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Communities and also in Education
One of the t-shirts produced by Design Molvi.
University of Leicester student Umair Khan’s Design Molvi website reaches global audience
A University of Leicester student’s t-shirt business which challenges stereotypes about Muslims has sparked interest around the world.
Design Molvi, a Leicester-based business set up by undergraduate medicine student Umair Khan, specialises in t-shirts which convey positive messages about Islam.
The business aims to counter negative images about the religion which it believes are perpetuated in the media.
T-shirt slogans include “Terrorism Hijacked My Religion”, “I’m a Tourist, Not a Terrorist”, and “Save Your Neighbourhood - Say No to Rioting”.
Other t-shirts include “Islam: 0% APR” in reference to the interest-free ideology of Islamic banking, “Keep Calm and Avoid Haraam” and “Islam: Over 1.5 billion people like this” in homage to Facebook’s “Like” counter.
The name Molvi refers to religious instructors and teachers in many Muslim countries.
The project was helped off the ground with a bursary from the Enterprise Inc project. The University of Leicester is one of six of the region’s University delivery partners and Enterprise Inc is being part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.
The project entitles students or recent graduates looking to start a business in the East Midlands to £2,500 in funding and business start-up training and support.
Since then, the business has clocked up more than 190,000 likes on Facebook and more than 125,000 unique visitors to its website in just over a year.
Customers have placed orders from Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, the United States of America, Australia, Canada and elsewhere in Europe.
The demand has been such that the business – which started as a four person team in the UK – has started a second centre in Pakistan and recruited extra help to deal with orders in Asia.
Umair’s brother Ammar Khan, one of the co-founders, went to Pakistan to set up operations and appeared on Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) to introduce the brand.
Their cousin Ibrahim Khan took things forward by marketing the product in media outlets, including an appearance on the popular TV channel Geo TV in Pakistan.
Enthusiastic volunteers have also been brought on board to help with social media and design.
The team has recently launched a line of baby products. Over the next year, Umair would like to expand the number of products further, including mobile phone covers and accessories.
Umair, 23, was born in Pakistan and moved with his family to Singapore, after which he returned to Pakistan before coming to the UK 11 years ago. He lived in Leeds before coming to Leicester for his degree.
As well as handling all of the initial design and website work, he founded the business itself with brother Ammar, 25, who works for business and technology consultants Accenture, cousin Ibrahim, 21, currently studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics at the University of Oxford, and Chemical Engineer Ibrahim Gulbarge, who is 25 years old.
Although Umair plans to pursue a career in medicine once he finishes his degree, he is keen to keep going with Design Molvi in his own time.
Umair said: “People have a lot of misconceptions about Islam. News channels frequently feature negative stories about Muslims – which don’t reflect the true picture of the Muslim community at large. This is a way of doing something about it.
“The shirts are helping us have conversations with people. We get messages from our customers who tell us about the conversations they have had with people who have seen their Design Molvi t-shirts. A non-Muslim may ask them about what their shirt means, and they have had the chance to explain the message.
“Other members of the team have seen people in the street wearing Design Molvi t-shirts. It hasn’t happened to me yet, but I hope it does - it would be a good way to go up to them and talk to them.
“The Enterprise Inc project was definitely a help and I would recommend that any finalist and graduates apply to the project. It was really helpful to get the funding and motivation from the business workshops and coaching.”
Rajinder Bhuhi, Enterprise Inc Programme Manager, University of Leicester Career Development Service, said: “The Enterprise Inc project is a great way for our finalists and graduates to commercialise and develop ideas. Social Entrepreneurs translate passionate ideals into sustainable social business ventures. The University of Leicester supports its students through its enterprise programmes including Enterprise Inc and SIFE Leicester and now it has funding awards through UnLtd and Higher Education Fund Council for England to support social business ventures.”
Irene Zempi, a tutor at the University of Leicester’s Department of Criminology who has published research on incidents of Islamophobic hate crime towards veiled Muslim women, said: “Design Molvi is a very innovative way to tackle Islamophobia, it is a very effective means of challenging people's misconceptions of Islam whilst, at the same time, raising awareness about the problem of Islamophobia in the West.
“It is refreshing and encouraging to see students addressing anti-Muslim prejudice in such an intelligent manner. This idea is inspiring and hopefully it will contribute into dispelling myths surrounding Islam and Muslims.”