In the capital of Kurdistan, a group of young men have created Mr Erbil, a Kurdish gentlemen’s club and style collective. The charmingly talented and swagger-radiating former college roommates turned lifetime friends founded Mr Erbil in 2015. The name belongs to the capital of the Kurdistan region (Erbil) and consists of 15 members in total.
Only minutes away from the proximity of ISIS, Mr Erbil aimed to shine a new light on the region. Protected by Peshmerga, the locals of Erbil continued to eat, drink, and hang out in cafes and restaurants – a reality the media seemed to have missed. With this in mind, Mr Erbil chose to use fashion as a tool to deliver three messages: the first is to show the world that Kurdistan is more than just a place on a map fighting back against ISIS, the second is to advocate for the eradication of violence against women, instead, celebrating their success, and the third is to encourage the sales of locally produced goods with the hopes of advancing an economy that had been suffering.
Now, they have their first store which features ready-to-wear pieces, tailoring services, a barbershop and coffee shop. MESA spoke to the impeccably-dressed-at-all-times group on everything and anything, from female power to what it means to be a Kurdish gentleman.
MESA: Why was Mr. Erbil established?
Mr. Erbil: We, as friends, shared the same interests and passions toward styling, design and fashion, and also the desire to bring awareness to social issues we witnessed daily.
From day one, we worked hard and planned to build a Kurdish clothing brand to mix our taste of design in clothes, using as many local goods as possible. We wanted a design that is classic with a modern twist. We were inspired by our grandparents’ style of sharply tailored suits along with modern sophistication. Beside that we also wanted to show the historical sites of the region, we captured most of our pictures in the historical places like Erbil Citadel, as its history goes back to 6000 BC. We also wanted to show the beauty of Kurdistan’s nature to attract tourists and [we] used social media to gain the attention of the world and pass [on] our messages.
Once we went viral, we got so many messages from so many people from Europe, United States, United Kingdom, South America, Australia, Asia, and Africa asking about Erbil and the Kurdistan region. They shared the surprised expression that they never heard or knew that life is normal in our cities. The first image was coming to their mind was war and killing people, we were so happy that we could change this.
We wanted to share with the world that this region is the hub and peace land for different nationalities and religions. We have different nationalities and religions living peacefully together and having the same rights – people didn’t know about this. We want to show the world that Kurdish women are successful and talented. They have a big role in our society. The stereotype is that Kurdish women are kept in the house and are not allowed to work and express themselves. We dedicated each Thursday to celebrating a successful woman and posting about them on our social media channels so that they will be introduced to the world.
MESA: Who inspires Mr. Erbil?
Mr. Erbil: Our grandparents were our inspirational idols. They used to wear nice sharp suits and go to tea or coffee house to meet with their friends on a daily basis. We saw that moving away but we wanted to bring it back. Also, Pitti Uomo, which is a fashion event happening every year in Florence and was another inspiration and motivation to us. It was fascinating seeing all these designers, fashion brands, influencers and style enthusiast gathering in one place with the same interest. We wanted to do the same in Erbil.
MESA: How would you describe the signature style of Mr.Erbil?
Mr. Erbil: Our style is classic with a modern twist.
MESA: What does it mean to be a gentleman?
Mr. Erbil: As we always say good-hearted inside and dapper outside. A gentleman should respect others, have a good impact on those around them and spread positivity. Any sort of help, support, or good work done by anyone is called a gentle act. So we define someone a gentleman when they are always willing to help.
Mr. Erbil: How do you dress like a gentleman?
MESA: A gentleman always takes care of his appearance starting with good trimming and have a good hairstyle that has been taken care of at least once a week. Then the clothes are usually formal, a sharp three-piece suit.
MESA: What’s the one item you can’t live without?
Mr. Erbil: A tie for a gentleman
MESA: What does sustainability mean to Mr.Erbil?
Mr. Erbil: In economic terms, sustainability to Mr. Erbil is to always be able to survive all the economic changes and […] difficulties. We started the idea when there were economic crises and war in the area. In the term of [the] environment, sustainability to Mr. Erbil is always to respect the natural resources and not abuse it for our goals.
MESA: There is a lot of controversy regarding women’s rights in the Middle East (and negative stereotypes aforementioned above) – what is Mr. Erbil doing to tackle this?
Mr Erbil: When we held our first gathering, named Gents Gathering 2016, we were met with an unwavering amount of positive feedback which, in turn, motivated us even more. We wanted to push our agenda further since we now had a platform where we knew we could capture people’s attention.
One of our greatest platforms has been social media. On our Instagram and Facebook pages we do a series called “Thursday’s Inspiration Girl”, where we show our support for women who are active in our community and achieving their personal goals whether it’s producing a local product or just working towards women’s rights. Our gents recently released a video, spoken in fourteen languages, with the message to stop violence against women. Not only have we received great feedback from men, but also from wonderful ladies.
This is to show the Kurdistan region has always been different than the rest of the Middle East. We always showed our appreciation to their input in our society and they have always had an impact in growing our region. There is a saying, behind any successful gentleman, there is a great lady; we reflect that in our society. Since we have our shop now, we try to give space to startup businesses ran by entrepreneurial ladies and those have their own products and [are] starting their own business.
MESA: What are the next steps for Mr Erbil?
Mr. Erbil: We would like to enter the international market and open branches elsewhere in the EU, UK, US, or any other country. We will be using local force anywhere we go in order to give originality to the finished goods. Why? Because we only bring finished products to our customers but also we share the story behind the work and the person who put effort into the finished product. We share stories with our customers to let them know what they purchase. We also, use a unique fabric called “Krr/Shall” that is hand made woven in the villages here in the mountains.
Also, taking the protection of the environment into consideration, the finished goods didn’t cause killing [of] animals, but helped the animals. For instance, our local fabric here, made of goat’s hair, during sprint season they trim them to prepare for the warm weather of summer as it gets [as hot as] 50 degrees. So, there is no animal abuse in the process.
MESA: Finally, what does success look like for Mr.Erbil?
Mr. Erbil: Our success goes back to the teamwork of the valuable members of Mr. Erbil and our valuable supporters out there. We couldn’t be successful without our fans and supporters. Every day we get positive messages from random people in the world, this is success to us when we see people appreciate us and tell us that “we never knew about this region, but we do know from your social media channel”. Also, success is when we share our success with others, we give our social media platforms to others to be known, we believe that together, we are stronger.
Photo credit: Mr. Erbil