We all know that fashion isn’t exactly a friend of the environment – it is the world’s second most polluting industry. From climate control to carbon emissions, if fashion does not clean up its act, it could end up being responsible for colossal damage – which is why being eco-conscious is the new mantra of the industry. Designers from the MENA region are doing their bit and learning how to balance being environmentally friendly with growing their labels on a global platform.
Roni Helou is a label rooted in sustainability. The Lebanese designer, who won the FTA Prize in the Ready-to-Wear category in 2019, talks about how the sustainability process is a work in progress: “We’re working toward reducing the waste levels in our production processes. We’re conducting a report that tracks the impact of each of our items on water, electricity and CO2 emissions. This obviously is a work in progress. We have decided to go in a slower direction and follow our own fashion calendar, because we realize how harmful the system of the industry has been. Although sometimes it can become tiring for people to be told that things must change, we believe that the most powerful tool we have at our disposal is our voice.”
Salim Azzam, FTA Prize winner in 2019 for Ready-to-Wear, is known for his use of handcrafts. He believes that conscious consumption is the way forward. “I come from a community where people do not believe in mass consumption and production. Our clothing is produced locally, and materials are made by local tailors using local materials. Every piece is individually illustrated, traced and embroidered. Each piece takes weeks to create but is meant to be timeless. The craft dictates to only work with sustainable fabrics to achieve delicate work. We primarily use organic cotton and steer away from plastics and polyester.”
Moroccan label Zyne, which won the FTA Prize in 2019 in the Accessories category, was founded by Zineb Britel and Laura Pujol. The brand rose to international fame when Meghan Markle bought a couple of their consciously made shoes during her official trip to Morocco. The duo use 100% biodegradable materials and take their environmental responsibility seriously. “The key to consuming less is to buy products of better quality. Buying fashion that is timeless is not just an investment, but also a way to contribute to slow fashion. Choosing products of better quality, which you will wear longer, helps you not only save on your budget, but also reduce the negative impact on the environment.”
FTA Prize 2020 winner for Ready-to-Wear Omer Asim, who hails from Sudan, marries his African heritage with a contemporary vibe. For this designer, it all starts with your “material” choices. “Being a ‘maker’ myself, I have a close affinity to materiality and material memory. Consequently, I’m very much aware and sensitive to my surroundings. Reusing, recycling, redesigning, rejigging and revisiting are all part of my process, since I started designing more than 15 years ago. Many of my design shapes and some fabrications came about from the material limitations I was working within, and my general distaste for thoughtless waste.”
Krikor Jabotian, FTA Prize winner for Eveningwear in 2019, is known for his romantic take on fashion. The Lebanese designer’s fantastical creations will make any girl feel like a modern-day princess. Social impact is very important to him, and he believes that fashion must give back. “For the past year, we at Krikor Jabotian have been working hand in hand with Fabric Aid, in order to recycle all of our leftover materials and fabrics. The social impact organization takes from us all of our unused fabric and reworks it to create garments for impoverished families in Lebanon. It’s a way to sustain the environment, reduce waste and support the community.”
Ethical handbag label Sabry Marouf was co-founded by Egyptian duo Ahmed Sabry and Daki Marouf. Their studio is based in East London and their sculptural handbags inspired by ancient Egyptian motifs are made using principles of sustainability. In the last year, the FTA Prize 2019 winners in the Accessories category have worked on completely overhauling their supply chain. “We now work exclusively with like-minded businesses, artisans, makers and certified suppliers, who share our same values in sustainability and fair social governance. New partnerships are being made with makers of bio-based and ecological materials, some of which are being produced by local communities or artists and others made possible by high-level multi-disciplinary collaborations. We create pieces in limited editions due to the considerable amount of planning, coordination and highly skilled handwork that go into the making of each piece. It is about slower fashion that promotes craftsmanship and innovation, while reducing the strain on our planet.”
Zeid Hijazi won FTA Prize’s Franca Sozzani Award for Debut Talent in 2020. The Jordanian-Palestinian creative based between Amman and London is currently working on his first collection. He believes being environmentally friendly is a lifestyle approach and that the industry needs to work collectively toward being more eco-conscious. “I’m really trying my best to find ways to work in a more environmentally conscious way by maximizing the use of slow craft. Slow craft, like Palestinian embroidery for example, usually requires less machinery, which reduces the carbon footprint immensely. Additionally, I’m currently exploring ways in which to find sustainable and ethical fabrics.”