Helping design dreams become fashion reality

BEIRUT: Unlike other items of clothing, T-shirts seem to occupy a particularly special place in many people’s wardrobes.

The perfect T-shirt is one which is comfortable, comforting, and perhaps also allows wearers to express a little part of themselves. At online store ikimuk, you can also submit your own designs to be considered for printing. Twice a month there is a different theme, and the design which wins the most pre-orders is printed.

The meaning of the name ikimuk remains a mystery, as the founders say it is secret. But what is known about the company is that the concept was one of the first rounds of ideas to win a funding injection last year from startup accelerator Seeqnce.

Since then they have had five rounds of online competitions, with themes from “fruits and vegetables” to “zombie.” The current theme is “Hakwaji,” which has seen traditional Arabic proverbs transformed into modern designs. The one currently in the lead reads “Shu fi brasak?” – “where is your mind?” – in an orange on blue script.

Similar to American site Threadless, the idea came to the founders while being introduced at Seeqnce early last summer.

Friends from ALBA (Academie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts) Carl Halal, 22, and Sevag Malkedjian, 24, had always wanted to work on something creative together. At Seeqnce they met Nour Jabra, 21, who handles the marketing side, and Hussein Negm, 24, their developer.

“We’d always had ideas about doing something for the art scene so we got together and we saw the Seeqnce opportunity, we went there ... and we all came up with this idea,” Halal says.

“We wanted to do something related to art and artists and helping them out ... and we decided to do T-shirts,” Malkedjian adds. “A T-shirt has value, when people buy a T-shirt there’s an emotional connection, they like it, they have something special.”

Initially the team had thought of releasing limited edition prints, but spotting a gap in the market, they settled on T-shirts.

“When you look around in Lebanon you find that you have a lot of T-shirts which are overpriced, at around $100, or you have the lower end which are very generic, so we wanted to create something different,” Jabra says.

With so much creative talent in Lebanon, the ikimuk team also realized that many aspiring designers struggle to find an outlet to share their talents.

“We want to help these Lebanese artists and other Arab artists to be known and to sell their art. They do this amazing stuff, these amazing illustrations, but they are not known yet,” Malkedjian says.

The team started out by asking their artistic friends for submissions, but now word has spread via word of mouth and social media.

Each competition gains more submissions than they eventually put up for the vote – some have to be removed for copyright infringement or if they are not original works, for example. Of the six or so designs which are then selected, the one with the most pre-orders at the end of the competition is printed, and delivered to those who selected the winning design.

Patrick Abdel-Sater created the most recent winning design, a T-shirt which spells out the Lebanese slang expression “Shu zombie ana?” A senior graphic designer at advertising company People, and founder of the Beirut Misses Colors movement (responsible for painting stairs in Mar Mikhael), he says the opportunity to design for T-shirts offered an “escape from reality.”

Seeing his co-workers wearing his design for the first time Wednesday, he says he felt “a huge satisfaction ... there’s nothing better than winning!”

The T-shirts (which currently come in S, M, L, XL and XXL, but a women’s fit will also soon be released) cost $25 each. The winning designer wins a cash award of $300, in addition to $1 for each T-shirt sold. The recent competitions have had around 65 pre-orders for the winning design, but the team is looking to introduce a new system, whereby designs which reach over a certain threshold also get printed, although their cash reward will not be so high.

With interest from abroad, ikimuk will also soon launch a new payment system so that international orders can be accepted and orders for more than one unit can also be placed. They have received submissions from other countries in the region and they are keen to expand to Egypt and Tunisia at first.

“Our main goal is to have a brand that is backed up by all the artists that live in the region, it’s not like a one-man brand like Christian Dior, it’s different styles, different angles, different views,” says Halal, who adds that they are also hoping to work with famous international designers in the future, who would hopefully create special edition T-shirts, not sold through the same competition scheme.

At the moment, only winning T-shirts from the current competition can be bought, but the ikimuk team is also intending to create an archive, where previous winning designs can be bought even after that competition period has ended.

And today, T-shirts, but one day, the world. The team wants to branch out to other products in a bid to build a nurturing space that can help support burgeoning creative talents, whilst simultaneously reaping financial rewards.”

Halal says, “We want to work not just with illustration, but music, photography ... all creative fields. We want to be a brand that helps all kinds of art.”

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 14, 2013, on page 2.




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