It’s safe to say Ali Mahmoud is a modern Renaissance man. The UTD alumnus is a medical student at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, a husband, a businessman and fashion designer for Next Ummah, a fashion brand he founded during his time at UTD.
Mahmoud said the word “ummah” refers to the general Muslim community.
“In a way, I was kind of going for the phrase ‘next generation,’ but tying in Muslim sentiment to it,” he said.
Next Ummah, which Mahmoud started in April, resembles streetwear brands like Supreme, if Supreme catered to modern Muslims. Designs range from a shirt adorned with an image of Malcolm X shooting laser beams out of his eyes à la Cyclops, the character from the “X-Men” comic books, to a shirt quoting Kanye West praising Allah on his song “So Appalled.”
For Mahmoud, the inspiration for the brand came from looking at similar brands that catered to young Muslims and finding designs in one of two camps: those that leaned too heavily on religious imagery and messages and those that nixed the religious aspect all together in favor of aesthetics.
With Next Ummah, Mahmoud is trying to find the proper balance between the two sides to create a brand that represents his religion while still appealing to the eye.
“Those shirts and clothing items, they look cool, but they don’t exactly accomplish the same mission as what Next Ummah is trying to accomplish and that is to kind of merge those two to create clothing that looks cool, that expresses a message and that allows Muslims to be proud of where they come from,” he said. “I feel like in order to do that you have to not only be obvious in how Muslim the clothing is, but you also have to make clothing of a good and modern quality.”
Mahmoud, who designs all of Next Ummah’s apparel, draws inspiration for the shirts from sources like “The Simpsons,” Muhammad Ali and Drake. He starts off the designing process by simply jotting down ideas on his phone and working from there.
Sometimes, the designs work out great. Other times, Mahmoud said he creates a shirt that just doesn’t look good or doesn’t get the desired message across. Mahmoud admitted this can be frustrating, but that it’s part of the creative process.
Mahmoud started a crowdfunding campaign to help cover the expenses of the company and it raised over $5,000 dollars in about a month. He’s not the only one who is running the show, however.
When he’s not interning at a cancer research treatment center in Chicago, molecular biology junior Omar Hamed is directing the marketing and advertising for Next Ummah. Hamed first heard of Next Ummah from Mahmoud and said he fell in love with the idea immediately.
“I was like, ‘Man, that’s really cool,’” Hamed said. “Just hearing the idea made me realize how much impact this can have because it really is a void in the fashion industry. … I’ve always felt our youth are very proud of their identity, we just didn’t have the tools to express it aesthetically.”
Hamed has been helping Mahmoud since the crowdfunding campaign and putting in time to reach out to customers. Afterwards, Hamed approached Mahmoud and offered to come on board to help take off some of the workload.
Even though they’re across the country from one another in Galveston and Chicago, Hamed said the distance doesn’t hinder his work on Next Ummah with Mahmoud.
“Honestly, it’s just the feeling, that trust between the both of us, I feel that’s the key thing,” he said. “You just trust the other and try to communicate as much as possible. You can do it over the phone, messages, it depends on how each of us, how our days are and how busy we are, but we try to stay in touch pretty much daily.”
Since the company is still young, Hamed said any money that Next Ummah makes is automatically invested back into the company. Mahmoud said all products are printed in the United States to ensure both quality and peace of mind in knowing that no sweatshop labor is involved in the production of Next Ummah apparel.
That makes it more expensive to make Next Ummah clothing than if they made their products overseas, but for Mahmoud it’s worth the cost.
“It means that the shirts are made in a way that is absolutely devoid of any kind of abuse,” he said.
Although they’re only making t-shirts right now, Mahmoud said there are plans to make other apparel like hats in the future.
Mahmoud said his goal is to one day have Next Ummah resemble an Urban Outfitters for Muslims, where different people can bring their designs together to celebrate their culture in a collaborative setting. He stressed, however, that Next Ummah is not exclusive to just Muslims.
“I don’t have a problem with anyone outside of the Muslim community choosing to wear the shirts,” Mahmoud said. “If anything, I think that it would be somewhat of a show of solidarity in today’s times where there’s a lot of open discrimination against Muslims. So I think if someone from a different community wanted to wear the shirts. … That’s more of really an honor for me just because my message was received by somebody who didn’t have the same beliefs as I did.”