Chicago Sun Times
by Rummana Hussain (NW, 1989)
January 19, 2024
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Watermelon surprise: How the daughter of Hollywood stars helped a Chicago clothing company raise money, awareness for Gaza
Violet Affleck, daughter of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck, wore a crewneck made by clothing company Wear The Peace. Now the company, founded by two sons of Palestinian refugees, is raking in business.
Wear The Peace co-founders Mustafa Mabruk (left) and Murad Nofal stand next to shelves of merchandise wearing their “Freedom Melon” hoodies at the company’s Northwest Side warehouse. Sales of the crewneck version of the hoodie rose after Violet Affleck was spotted in one in Beverly Hills roughly two weeks ago. Pat Nabong/Sun-Times
Murad Nofal and Mustafa Mabruk have lost a lot of sleep working overtime ever since Violet Affleck walked into their lives.
The Chicago-area men actually have never met or spoken to the eldest daughter of Hollywood actors Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck.
But when the teenager was recently spotted taking a stroll with Garner in Beverly Hills wearing the black “Freedom Melon” crewneck from the pair’s Northwest Side clothing and accessories line Wear The Peace, she helped boost sales with her inadvertent promotional promenade.
Demand has been so high for the watermelon-emblazoned gear, Nofal and Mabruk had to hire five additional workers. Not that they’re complaining.
All profits from the sales of the sweatshirt and other products from Wear The Peace’s “Palestine Collections” are being donated to the Bridgeview-based nonprofit Pious Projects, which has been providing on-the-ground humanitarian aid in the devastated Gaza Strip.
Nofal, 28, noted that customers started flocking to Wear The Peace’s website after Violet Affleck was blasted online for sporting the crewneck and for her apparent support for Palestinian civilians affected by Israel’s interminable siege following Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack.
The watermelon imagery, a global symbol of Palestinian solidarity, “erases the entire country of Israel,” criticized an account on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
Many Americans and others around the world aren’t buying that argument. So some of them have opted instead to buy Wear The Peace’s merchandise, which includes a “Press” crewneck that pays homage to the nearly 80 Palestinian journalists who have been killed, mostly by Israeli airstrikes, over the last three months.
The 8-year-old company, which already had a significant following in the U.S. and overseas, raised nearly $200,000 for Gaza since launching its “Palestine Collections” in mid-November.
When the naysayers started “hating on” the apparel two weeks ago, Wear The Peace swiftly collected another $130,000 for the cause in that time period, according to Nofal, who, like Mabruk, is the son of Palestinian refugees.
“It has been amazing to see all the support we have been getting and the awareness our designs can spread in such a quick amount of time because of the power of social me
dia,” said Mabruk, also 28.
But Nofal said he and his business partner can’t help but be frustrated that some people have been more “pissed off by a piece of fruit on a hoodie” than the 25,000 Palestinians who’ve been killed in Israel’s retaliatory siege so far.
Nofal added it was “insane” that President Joe Biden failed to mention Palestinians or the population’s casualties when he issued a statement last weekend marking the 100 days si
nce Hamas took hostages after killing 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals.
Nofal knows how dire the situation is in bombed-out Gaza, as his parents have cousins there. They are “doing as OK as they can be,” he said, but famine has started to blanket the already-crippled area.
Both sets of Nofal’s grandparents were living in refugee camps in Jordan when his father was born in 1967, around the same time Israel started restricting displays of the Palestinian flag in Gaza and the West Bank.
That suppression — as well as the Israeli military’s 1980 shutdown of a Ramallah art gallery featuring pieces bathed in red, green, black and white, the colors of the Palestinian flag — prompted the use of a watermelon as a stand-in for Palestinian identity and resistance.
‘Stand up with those who need it most’
Not only has the company helped feed the hungry, build water wells and educate girls living in conflict zones, but for every item of clothing it sells, it donates a brand-new article of clothing “to a human in need.”
The seeds for Wear The Peace were planted with some of that pride and Nofal’s visits to Jordanian refugee camps where he and his cousins passed out clothes and other supplies.
Nofal was so saddened by the living conditions at the camps, he started brainstorming with Mabruk about how they could make a difference while they were students at the University of Illinois Chicago.
“I could only think about how comfortable we are and how uncomfortable they are,” Nofal said.
Wear The Peace has aided people in several countries, including Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya, Yemen, Venezuela and Pakistan since its inception in 2016.
Nofal and Mabruk are grateful they have been able to keep the spotlight on Gaza, but it’s not just about Palestinians, they stressed.
“My family has always been taught to stand up with those who need it most and to give back to the community whenever we can,” Mabruk said.
No matter how you slice it — even if you have an aversion to watermelons — it is hard to disagree that Wear The Peace’s mission is a noble one.
Rummana Hussain is a columnist and member of the Sun-Times Editorial Board.