Designer All Amin Is Tackling Sustainability in Fashion By Turning Sneakers into Wearable Art

The fashion label founder and tattooist has built a creative mini-empire on subverting the concept of haram: that which is forbidden in Islam.

“Sometimes you gotta mashallah yourself” reads All Amin’s Instagram bio. The Berlin-based artist was born in Kurdistan, the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq, before coming to Germany—”the conservative, close-minded south Germany”—with her parents in the 1990s as a refugee.

The sneaker handbag is Amin’s most complex creation. Images provided by All Amin at Haram

After fleeing war and oppression, she hoped she’d find a more liberated and creative community. Instead, upon beginning her fashion studies in 2016, she found a rigid and formulaic institutional agenda.

“There was far too much theoretical matter and less practice,” she explains. “In institutions, you have to follow a pre-set pattern to get credits, you have to justify yourself at every step and you’re way too cerebral the whole time. There’s just a lack of personal connection to yourself and your abilities when you’re constantly trained to address issues and one-sided perspectives that may not even bother you.”

So Amin dropped out in 2019 to forge her own self-described “unconventional way” in Berlin, hoping to show the world that a degree is not as necessary when you’re a woman empowered by vision and drive. Her vision—to re-purpose her sneaker collection into something covetable rather than wasting space on items she no longer wore—became her fashion label Haram.

At first, she experimented with high-heeled sneakers, but she soon became emboldened and started transforming footwear into bodysuits, corsets, headpieces and bags.

I must confess that as a reformed sneakerhead, I literally cringe at the prospect of taking a blade to a limited-edition pair of Nikes. Surely the first time, I ask Amin, it must have been a little bit harrowing?

“That’s exactly what I went through!” Amin says. “I was so scared to make the first cut because I didn’t want to ruin my kicks just for a personal experiment, not knowing the outcome. I remember holding the cutter in place and taking quite a long time to be sure it was the right cut.”

She laughs at the memory but adds that the experience was initially overwhelming. She had no pattern to give her confidence. All she had was intuition.

A sneaker top designed by Amin. Images provided by All Amin at Haram

To look at her futuristic, alien-meets-rave designs is to imagine them in clubs in London, Berlin and Amsterdam. The reality, laments Amin, is that even in Berlin, she hasn’t built up a solid client base because the majority of the city dresses in “black, gloomy raver Berghain aesthetics with a touch of Y2K style.”

“In Germany, Berlin is certainly the only city where my brand is valued and works, but even in this city, I’m missing the right clientele,” she explains. “It feels like nobody here has money to spend. I tend to see more demand for my pieces in London, New York, Seoul and Tokyo.”

She cites the sneaker handbag as the most complex item she’s created so far, especially since it is completely handmade and sewn from a prototype that took her many hours to perfect. It was designed as an artwork for Puma in 2022 and forms a part of her new product line. She takes her own version out with her daily, matching it to her outfits. Moving forward, she is planning more pants and skirts made of sneakers to complement the bags.

Amin is changing what it means to repurpose clothing. Images provided by All Amin at Haram

As an artist who lives in her own head, Amin prefers to avoid the fashion and art scene in favor of engaging with nature and solitude for creative inspiration. But, I remind her, we still have not addressed the concept underlying her brand and her own personal sense of agency as a woman and an immigrant. Why choose this word “haram,” so laden with history and emotion as a brand name?

“I decided to enter the market with the name Haram to create representation of the Middle East in the industry and also to free myself from the chains of external determination,” she says. “I determine and classify my own decisions and actions in my life. Today, I can definitely say that it no longer causes me negative feelings. I no longer use the term haram out of rebellion to represent my own values like I did when I was young.”

Now, many years of using the word divorced from its original meaning has almost given it a neutral worth in her life.

She tells me, “Just like my designs, Haram stands for the transformation of a stuck thing and gives it a new chance, a second life. In my language, the term ‘haram’ is synonymous with describing something that represents the highest level of arousal, so just as one would say ‘savage,’ I say haram!”

Designer All Amin Is Tackling Sustainability in Fashion By Turning Sneakers into Wearable Art