Society

These Devoted Polish Designers Are Making Catholic Cool

Designers in Poland are giving religious T-shirts and other products a hipster makeover, mixing pop culture with the Bible to create a uniquely 21st-century look.

Faithful hipsters
Faithful hipsters
Milena Rachid Chehab

WARSAW — “Good wine. Designation of origin: Cana of Galilee. 100% pure water” is just one of the 20 Bible-inspired slogans put on T-shirts by a Warsaw-based couple who decided to get their version of Catholicism out on the market.

About a year ago, a former religion teacher named Natalia, and her graphic designer husband, Maciej, founded rokokoko.pl, an online shop that sells Catholic T-shirts. Their idea came about thanks to their growing irritation with the kitschy esthetics in devotional art and design.

“When I taught children about religion, I used to compare saints to superheroes,” says Natalia. “They were all very enthusiastic about the idea until they came across the corny 19th century pictures.”

As a theology expert, Natalia checks the accuracy of the designs with the Bible, while her husband is in charge of the creation of projects. Maciej has collected T-shirts since he was a child, but could never find any that expressed his beliefs in a “subtle” way: “I got fed up with the ‘I trust you Jesus’ all over the place,” he said.

Today, Rokokoko’s collection has more than 20 different shirts, including one that has the weather forecast for the next forty days on Mount Ararat where Noah’s ark moored, according to the book of Genesis, and another that has a real estate ad for the “House on the Rock” with a “life-long guarantee that it will withstand any storm.”

“Some people are into TV series or computers, but we’re into the Bible,” says Maciej. Though he stipulates that being so open about their religion is not aimed at indoctrinating others. “We want our products to be like Game of Thrones T-shirts — by wearing them we really don’t mean ‘if you don’t watch it, you’ll go to hell!’”

Their Catholic designs may be just a one-season trend but the couple is not worried about the future of the brand as they have a powerful ally on their side. Recently a monk from the most famous Polish monastery liked their designs so much that the success of their company for the next 25 years was prayed for in daily Mass!

On another level

Dorota Paciorek, a Ph.D student from Krakow has taken religious T-shirts one step further. Her label Dayenu, Design for God, sells all kinds of products: from breviaries with images of baby Jesus that says “Come on, baby, light my fire!” to blindfolds decorated with quotes from the Bible. She even has an exorcist among her clientele — he keeps his exorcized salt in one of her Biblically decorated salt cellars.

When Dorota converted to Catholicism three years ago, her friends were afraid that she would begin wearing long skirts and “Jesus loves you” T-shirts. “For many years, that kind of esthetic discouraged me from the Church,” she says.

Last summer, she went on a journey to various monasteries throughout Greece and Spain to look for inspirations for Christian industrial design. She was disappointed with what she found. “I saw the same 3D pictures with Christ on the cross and fluorescent rosaries everywhere — and all of them made in China.”

Upon her return, she decided to create her own brand. By calling it Dayenu, which means “enough” in Hebrew, she wanted to protest against the omnipresent religious kitsch. “I am as addicted to reading Bible as much as I am to Facebook,” she adds. “Why not celebrate this joy in everyday objects?”

The greatest challenge of her work is to find a balance between pop esthetics and religious correctness, as she does not want to offend anybody. Hostile reactions do happen though, like the ones toward a picture of a pin-up girl with a quote from Nemehiah 8:10: “Drink sweet beverages.”

Cartoons that my child watches are more sexualized than that,” says Dorota resentfully.

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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