Building a movement and building a business are one and the same for Murad Nofal and Mustafa Mabruk, 23 year-old Palestinian-American owners of an online clothing and accessory company called Wear the Peace. They were both full-time students at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and both working full time jobs when they decided to create a clothing brand to raise awareness about pressing global issues and contribute to the solution at the same time. They call it walking activism.
Everything in their ever-growing inventory displays a beautiful graphic that expresses hope for peace and human rights in the Muslim world and beyond.
“The first step in changing anything in the world is to start a conversation,” says Nofal, who as an artist and activist manages to create designs that are bold and subtle at the same time. For those who turn a blind or hateful eye to the issues it is activism hiding in plain sight. For those immersed in the struggle, it is a form of resistance. It is also always about peace and nonviolence as a way to effect change.
The first thing they started a conversation about was Palestine, launching the business with a T- shirt called the Homeland Hatta. It features a large black and white kufiya in the shape of a map of Palestine, pre Nakba. The shirt found a ready market, and more than two years later, is still a bestseller.
Almost equally popular is the Salam shirt, which spells “peace” in Arabic, its central letters forming a distinctively large peace/victory sign. This is the shirt Nofal and Mabruk sent, via a friend, to teenage activist Ahed Tamimi soon after she was released from Israeli military prison last summer. It netted them a much loved social media post of their friend and a smiling Tamimi wearing the shirt back in her West bank village.
“Palestine is a big issue for us because we’re Palestinians. We talk about it so much,” Nofal says, referring to their policy of using social media as much to post news, photos and u-tubes about human rights struggles as to promote their products. “But we don’t limit ourselves to Palestine because there are other places in the world that need just as much attention,” he says.
Their designs address everything from gun violence in their hometown of Chicago to the Syrian conflict. This spring they expanded on the idea of universal freedom, introducing a red, white and black windbreaker in geometrics reminiscent of the Arab liberation flag, a black and white kufiya pattern running along the sleeves.
In response to the refugee crisis, they produced the Refugee Tree shirt, featuring a graceful tree with bare branches that unfurl into the names of seven Muslim majority countries from which more than 22 million have been displaced. Each word is embedded into a branch in Arabic calligraphy: Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Palestine, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Pakistan.
“These countries will regrow and reflourish just a like a tree…,” reads a recent Wear the Peace Facebook post. “They just need our help.”
It isn’t empty talk. Helping humanity is the basis of the Wear the Peace mission, a concept that grew out of a college course that required them to do some form of community service. Nofal and Mabruk responded by donating new clothing to the homeless and were indelibly changed, in particular, by one man’s tears of gratitude.
The partners are committed to running a business that gives back to the world. For every piece of clothing sold, they donate a new hoodie, crewneck, longsleeve, or tee-shirt through Cradles to Crayons in Chicago and Helping Hands for Relief and Development worldwide. Additionally, they donate profits from sales of all hats, jewelry and other accessories to HHRD and Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. To date they have donated 8,000 pieces of clothing and $10,000 in cash, money that is sent to refugee camps to help with educational facilities, medical care, food and water and more.
“I love it,” says Mabruk. “I love knowing that some kid or some family is wearing shirts that we donated and it’s keeping them warm, keeping them clothed throughout the summer or whenever. The people who love our brand also love knowing that when they buy something from Wear the Peace that someone in Chicago or another country is getting help that they need.”
The people who love their brand are not limited to Muslims, Mabruk says. “We’re trying to make our pieces for everyone,” he says, noting, for instance, that anyone can support Palestine. “It’s a humanitarian issue. Even Christian Palestinians are being persecuted in Palestine.”
Usually there is no way of knowing specifically who they might be helping. They just know, for instance, that there are now ten girls in a war torn country who will be attending school for a year because of a WTP donation. Or that sales from a new “Salam/101 Roses” sticker have so far grossed $300 , all of which will go directly to families of those killed in the New Zealand mosque shootings.
But in April while selling their products at the MAS-ICNA convention in Washington , D.C. they met someone whose life they had touched through their support of the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund. Fifteen year old Izzeddin visited their booth and told them that the PCRF chapter in Harrisburg, PA had brought him to the U.S. from the Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza so he could he be treated and fitted for a prosthesis. He left leg had to be amputated last summer after he was shot during a protest in Gaza. Izzeddin’s dream to walk again was newly realized.
Nofal and Mabruk graduated from NIU a year ago with degrees in finance and left their day jobs, each now devoting about 70 hours a week to Wear the Peace. The clothing is made in the U.S. and they outsource the screen-printing to a Chicago company. Other than that, it’s a two-man operation with all kinds of plans for the future.
“We’d love to become a worldwide brand and have employees and the capacity to provide big things for children like soccer fields and art programs,” Nofal says. “When I was a kid, playing soccer helped me forget everything that was going on. And I didn’t really have much going on to forget about, you know. So for these kids who have lost family members—70 per cent of kids in refugee camps have PTSD— for these kids to forget about everything for even an hour or two a day…that would be something.”
Most of all they would like to help make the world a place where war and oppression are obsolete.
Is that kind of change possible?
“There’s a big problem in our society that needs to be fixed,” says Nofal. “You see things like Kim Kardashian every week and Yemen—which has the worst famine in the world right now, about 50 million people are starving in Yemen—that’s barely talked about in the news. It’s like you value one human life over 50 million.
“I feel like people need to start waking up and start speaking for people who don’t have a voice,” Nofal says. “People need to realize that everyone deserves the same quality of life that they have. When people start actually caring, change can start. Change starts from the bottom up. It starts with the people.”
Nofal and Mabruk also hope some of those wake-up calls might start with a friendly conversation between strangers about a Wear the Peace design.