Ever since Nazia Kosar can remember, she has loved advent calendars. Growing up in a British-Pakistani Muslim household, Nazia didn't necessarily celebrate Christmas but, as a kid, she would stick envelopes stuffed with sweets on her wall to make her own version of an advent calendar – to count down the fasting month of Ramadan until Eid (the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan). She remembers, too, that every year in the lead-up to Christmas, all the houses on her street were lit up with fairy lights and she wanted her house to be decorated in similar ways for Ramadan and Eid.
In 2019, Star x Crescent was born, offering Islamic advent calendars to both children and adults. Nazia says she's inspired by her childhood, her daughter and the Muslim generation currently growing up who don't have many products aimed at them.
Star x Crescent's Ramadan calendar, which is filled with 30 sweet treats, is designed using traditional Islamic art. It's split into two stars with 15 segments in each, while an illustrated alphabet spells out an A to Z of important Ramadan terms. The 2022 calendar comes filled with chocolate-coated Medjool dates stuffed with sesame seeds, nuts and dried fruits and Turkish delight in flavors including pomegranate, rose, lemon and mastic, as well as halal jelly sweets, nougat and marshmallows.
Filling a gap in the market
‘I remember one time, while studying at university, my sister sent me a really beautiful Christmas advent calendar and when I moved to Dubai many years later – where they did have Ramadan calendars – I bought and sent one back to her. I've always had this thing for advent calendars,’ she says.
Nazia rediscovered this feeling after moving to Hong Kong for work, where Ramadan was rarely publicly celebrated – a very different experience from the one she'd had when working in finance in the Middle East. ‘After living in Dubai, to go back to having no tangible festivities – it was really hard to get back into the Ramadan spirit. In 2015, I realized that, 30 years since I made my own DIY advent calendar as a child, there's still a gap in the market.’
Nazia is keen to emphasize the spiritual side of Ramadan and also makes a doodle journal with good-deed activity stickers that help children understand the importance of the holy month.
‘People really like the design. They appreciate the creativity and innovation, and I get a lot of compliments. When people see the advent calendar, they also understand why it can't be priced at a couple of pounds.’ Unlike Christmas advent calendars, which can be mass-produced by chocolate manufacturers and supermarkets and sold for under £10, Star x Crescent's Ramadan calendars are priced at £49. Navigating the best price for the product, while trying to make it accessible and ensure all workers are paid fairly, is the balance Nazia is currently trying to achieve.
‘I pick the best dates and the best Turkish delight and sweets, so what I put inside [the calendars] isn't cheap. All of the boxes are also hand-cut and folded, therefore I believe it would be unethical – and arguably un-Islamic – if I wasn't compensating all workers fairly.’
Grabbing the opportunity
Nazia doesn't believe in designing throwaway products, especially since Ramadan happens once a year. When this year's treats have been eaten, you can reuse the calendar as many times as you like and add a personal touch by stuffing the sections with your own sweets and messages. ‘There's also the option to buy the treat-free version of the advent calendar so it becomes a template for future Ramadans,’ she says.
Nazia knows that this is just the start for Star x Crescent and also for other Muslim business owners around the world looking to innovate. ‘By 2030, 33% of the global population will be Muslim and, in the UK alone, Muslims spend £20 billion annually. There's massive amounts of space for us when it comes to making our ideas into a reality,’ she says. Star x Crescent is now exclusively stocked at Harrods department store in London.
‘We come from a faith and culture that's been so innovative in design from the very beginning so, just because there's a lack of representation for us in the market, don't be lazy in your approach. Do something that you think will benefit Muslims today… think openly and broadly,’ says Nazia. ‘Your idea doesn't have to look a certain way for it to be for Muslim communities.’