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So you’ve heard about ethical fashion, but what does the movement really mean for your wardrobe and your shopping habits? We asked Ayesha Siddequa, founder and creative director of Dubai-based Future Fashion, for the lowdown, and found slow and sustainable spending to be more stylish than ever…

“When I ask people whether they know what sustainable or ethical fashion is, the first thing that comes to most minds is recycled clothes and, to be honest, hippies,” laughs Ayesha Siddequa, the Indian-born CEO and founder of Dubai-based ethical platform Future Fashion.

“The thing is, though, the concept of sustainable, ethical or eco fashion has been around for a long time. I am sure most people would agree that our parents and grandparents were far more thrifty shoppers. I remember wearing fashion that was handed down from my mother almost until I was 15 years old. OK, so maybe I wasn’t the most fashionable kid in school, but my clothes were the most sustainable.”

The simple fact, however, is that few adults are content to wear hand-me-downs, and one person’s vintage is another person’s old, leading to the current fast fashion epidemic, warns Siddequa. “The primary objective of the largest portion of the fashion industry is to quickly produce a product in a cost-efficient manner. Most consumers do not know (and many don’t ask) what goes on behind the scenes to make this fast fashion happen. But we are seeing an upswing in interest on the back of one too many stories of labourers being exploited by one company or another.”

As such, Siddequa, a graduate in the field of corporate social responsibility, has recently been named the UAE’s country coordinator for Fashion Revolution, an initiative spanning more than 90 countries and started in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. Also a member of the International Executive Board at Global Sustainable Fashion Week, and sustainability head for the Islamic Fashion Design Council, she says consumers have almost as big a role to play as producers do in altering the current fashion landscape.

“The first step to fixing a problem is to admit there is one, and it is becoming increasingly obvious to shoppers and industry insiders that the fashion industry today is highly unsustainable,” explains Siddequa. “To implement systemic change though, there must first be a market for sustainable products, and until the cost of sustainable fashion reduces, or the price of fast fashion increases to cover its current environmental and social externalities, the proposition looks attractive on paper, but will remain a challenge with the majority of budget conscious consumers.”

futurefashion.me

Go vintage, buy second hand

It’s the ultimate irony that much of what is currently available in our stores is deliberately designed to look vintage or worn. But from an environmental standpoint, wearing original vintage and contemporary second hand garments not only keeps clothing out of landfills, it also displaces the need to make new virgin fibres, manufactured with oil-based petroleum or using cotton. In the UAE, there are now many alternative fashion initiatives. An increasing number of high-end consignment and resale stores, both online and physical, have come into operation over the last few years – think My Ex-Wardrobe, Garderobe, So Chic and more – giving customers a sustainable and individual alternative to the high street.

Find new technologies

While we recycle or donate less than half of what goes to landfill each year, at least 50 per cent of the textiles we throw away are recyclable. We now have access to new technologies that can make fabrics out of food, plastic or glass bottles, even air-dye fabrics, and a number of local businesses and organisations are looking to harness these. D-Grade, the Islamic Fashion and Design Council, Goumbook, the Sustainability Advisory, Green Emirates and the Sustainability Tribe are just some of the firms that can help provide information on green and sustainable lifestyle, products and businesses in the region.

Buy organic

The term organic refers to anything that is natural, healthy, free from chemicals, environmentally friendly and unaltered by harmful chemical processes. As such, organic clothing helps the environment in several ways. Fewer toxins will go into the soil, air and water as zero pesticides, insecticides and fertilisers are used in growing and raising the plants and animals used to make your purchases. Clothing made of organic fabrics is also proven to be more comfortable, particularly for allergy and rash sufferers.

Upcycle and re-purpose

The process of converting unwanted or worn materials or products into new items of better quality is becoming increasingly popular among individuals concerned about climate change. While recycling is great, we should remember even that requires energy and resources, from collecting and sorting to  processing unwanted items. Turning them into something new, however, requires little more energy than your own (or a talented tailor’s).

Recycle

While it comes with its own issues, for items that are beyond repair and cannot be reused, recycling remains the best option. While figures for the UAE are unclear, it’s estimated that more than one million tonnes of textiles are thrown away every year in the UK alone, despite a growing number of fashion businesses now choosing to incorporate recycled fibres, fabrics or clothes in their collections.

Buy Fairtrade

Fairtrade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development, and its purpose is to create opportunities for producers and workers who have been economically disadvantaged or marginalised by the conventional trading system. By buying fairtrade, you can help address the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminate against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.

Questions to ask before you hit the fitting room

  • Is it made to last?
  • Is it locally made? If not, where was it made?
  • Is it ethically produced?
  • Is it eco-friendly? How much virgin material is used?
  • Do I really need it?

Each year, the USA alone disposes of over 14 million tonnes of textile waste. A staggering 85 per cent ends up on landfill, despite the fact that more than 50 per cent could be recycled, reused or repurposed.