The fashion industry, which is one of the most important components of the global economy, like other industries, is rushing to go green to protect the planet from environmental damage. As the industry continues to boom, increased attention has drawn attention to the myriad of negative impacts the industry is responsible for. Fashion accounts for 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, polluting rivers and streams and drying up water sources.
One way is to go ‘sustainable’, also known as ‘eco-fashion’, a movement and process that promotes changes in the way fashion products and garments are made to bring the fashion industry towards more social justice and move towards ecological integrity. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE, 2018), 85% of all textiles are thrown away every year. Additionally, washing some types of clothing releases significant amounts of microplastics into the oceans.
As the fashion world pushes sustainability and, like so many other industries around the world, takes a leap forward to save the environment from impending disasters due to climate change, many designers, including in the Arab world, are taking the extra step forward to Recycle and upcycle textiles, materials and vintage clothing in their new collections and follow practices that support the ethical creation and payment of factory workers and fashion producers.
We look at several fashion designers from the Arab world and how they create sustainable fashion and apply these practices in special collections. One of these is Reemami, the designer behind contemporary womenswear from the United Arab Emirates with a focus on sustainable fashion and a style that blends athleisure with elegance, contemporary tailoring and Arabic inspiration – specifically from Palestine, where Reema is from. “Reemami is sustainable in many ways – the way I cut my patterns I make sure there is no waste and we use any extra fabric that we reuse and recycle to make other things like . E.g. shirts I created from scraps of extra fabric, as well as headbands and masks,” she explains. “I also try to recycle older collections and older styles and make sure the collections are forever and that the quality is premium, not the material quality of fast fashion brands. I also try to encourage my customers to re-wear the older collections and if something is wrong with the item to fix it.”
Al-Banna says how she’s tried to use organic cotton, certified and recycled fabrics that also come from places that use renewable energy, less waste and are eco-friendly. The brand also tries to make packaging that is sustainable. “We have tried to work with local artisans to promote the system in the UAE, create a larger community and pave the way for young designers to come here and find production houses and factories willing to work with designers who aren’t producing large volumes,” she adds.
Dubai-based Algerian fashion designer Faiza Bougessa, known for her sophisticated silhouettes with monochromatic hues and slim cuts, announced in 2020 that she will dedicate herself to creating sustainable fashion. In her open letter, posted to her Instagram account, she wrote: “As part of an industry that is among the most polluting in the world, I feel compelled to take this mission one step further by starting a new chapter and Transform the way we run our business and produce our collections towards a more eco-conscious and sustainable approach.” Her spring/summer 2022 collection is dedicated to expressing one’s personality through nature and art. It’s a carefree collection that aims to nurture creativity and is inspired by artistic achievement.
Also in the UAE, NIILI, another homegrown, eco-conscious luxury womenswear brand led by Khaled Al Zaabi and Paula Quetglas Llop, is rooted in Emirati heritage and inspired by nature, striving to make a responsible contribution to local community and the environment by delivering fashion and luxury products based on ethical sourcing and responsible production. The latest collection focuses on mother of pearl prints, subtle falcon print pieces, geometric patterns and handmade crochet.
Elsewhere in the Arab world, up-and-coming fashion designers are also dedicating themselves to sustainable fashion. Qatar-based ready-to-wear brand 1309 is rooted in the idea of a “contemporary bohemian” aesthetic. The brand was established in 2015 by the brand’s founder and creative director, Ghada Al Subaey. It focuses on clean silhouettes with bold colors, artful prints accented with embellishments and details, and above all, dedicated to sustainable design. 1309 uses sustainable materials in both garment production and packaging. In addition, 70% of the fabrics used in 1309’s collections are vegan, including vegan linen and vegan silk (aka cupro, a natural by-product of the cotton industry). Like Al-Banna, Al Subaey makes packaging that is biodegradable, compostable and environmentally friendly.
“When I founded 1309, my goal was to create pieces that women feel comfortable in while expressing their personal style,” said Al Subaey. “Through my work, I aim to change perceptions of abayas and celebrate traditional dress without compromising on style. We do this by playing with fabrics, cuts and colors.” The latest collection is also ideal for Ramadan, with abayas that can be worn during the day but also for festive iftars and suhurs. As Al Subaey says, sustainability is key to the brand: “At 1309 we are eco-conscious, sourcing sustainable vegan fabrics and biodegradable and recyclable packaging. This approach has strengthened the relationship with our customers, who are more loyal and appreciative of our ethics and sustainable practices because it also aligns with their own personal values.”