As the fallout from the pandemic continues, altering the way we think, shop and live, one thing has emerged from all the noise: a heightened awareness of the destruction humanity is wreaking on the planet.
Whether it is because of a renewed empathy, an increased awareness of global news, or simply weeks spent couped up at home with little distraction but the internet, collectively we have emerged from the crisis with a new, pro-planet perspective.
According to the MacArthur Foundation’s New Textiles Economy report in 2019, 1.4 billion animals a year are skinned for their leather. Quicklime is still routinely used to remove hair from leather in many developing countries, leading to chemical burns for workers, while the dispersal dyes used to colour synthetic fabrics such as polyester are difficult to remove from waste water, and are frequently flushed straight into the environment, resulting in the toxic poisoning of local plant and animal life.
Other chemicals such as flame retardants, resins and softeners even alter how natural fibres such as wool decompose, while the European Commission reported in October last year that child labour is still rife in 18 cotton-producing nations.
To counter this, an increasing number of companies in the GCC are offering ethical and cruelty-free alternatives to consumers who prefer not to fund bad practice. From the producers of yoga mats, loungewear and ultra-feminine fashion, here are some companies offering interesting pieces that don’t cost the earth.
This UAE company was established in 2017 after its founders Natalie and Cobus Daghestani watched the documentary Earthlings. Horrified by the reality of the meat and leather industry, the duo decided to launch accessories made with cruelty-free alternatives, curating a collection of vegan leather bags in timeless shapes and with a signature print.
The materials used are certified by the Vegan Society, as well as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, as 100 per cent vegan and cruelty-free, which includes not just the “leather” but also all glue, inks, fabric dyes and finishes. Each bag is lined with Global Organic Textile Standard-certified cotton and grown without the use of pesticides, while dust bags are made from recycled plastic bottles.
Even the outer bag each item is shipped in can be safely composted at home, without chemical residue. The brand’s production facility has been certified and assessed by Amfori Business Social Compliance Initiative to ensure it reaches the standards for open and sustainable trading. In addition, for every bag sold, Eurthlin plants a tree with OneTreePlanet, an organisation working to tackle deforestation in the Amazon.
In 2009, before conversations around sustainability became mainstream, Reema Al Banna launched her womenswear brand Reemami in the UAE with a commitment to reducing the waste, water and chemicals used as standard in the fashion industry.
To create its distinctive clashing patterns, Reemani uses local deadstock fabrics and Global Organic Textile Standard-certified organic cotton and denim, which is then dyed and silk-screen-printed toglobal standards. In addition to significantly reducing the amount of chemicals and water required, the label also repurposes fabric offcuts, which are usually just thrown away, into headbands and neck scarves.
The brand has vowed to never use child labour, fur, leather or feathers in its collections, and works hard to ensure its garment workers receive a fair living wage. Deliberately seasonless designs help to promote slow fashion and the brand’s strategy of producing only to order ensures there is no wastage.
Hailing from Saudi Arabia, Abadia is committed to preserving heritage techniques through fashion. Taken from the Arabic words for desert (badiah) and timelessness (abadi), the name serves as a statement of intent to ensure traditional crafts are given a place in modern life.
Techniques such as al sadu weaving, which was added to the Unesco List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2020, are used along with modern colours to bring a touch of history to each piece and to introduce these craft traditions to a new audience. Abadia also uses deadstock fabrics, organic cotton and recycled polyester in its creations, in addition to faux leather, with the only exception being post-consumer camel leather.
Fabric leftovers are repurposed into toys and packaging to reduce waste to the absolute minimum, while all Abadia pieces are made in Lebanon, helping to support the industry in the country and offer workers a living wage.
The Giving Movement
Launched in the UAE in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, the Giving Movement came into being when Dominic Nowell-Barnes spotted a gap in the market for sustainable, comfortable leisurewear. After a year spent researching materials and their various environmental effects, he settled on sustainable fabrics such as Global Organic Textile Standard-certified cotton, fast-growing bamboo and nylon woven from recycled plastic water bottles.
To ensure ethical working conditions for garment-makers, all of the Giving Movement’s pieces are made in the UAE by workers who receive a living wage and have a two-day weekend. Such proximity means the company can guarantee there is no exploitation or child labour in its supply chain.
The Giving Movement also donates $4 per item sold to Dubai Cares and Harmony House, a smaller charity that helps children living on the streets in India. Initially hoping to raise $100,000 in its first 12 months, in December last year it passed the $1 million mark. It has recently expanded to offer children’s clothes and a modest line, and in April staged a month-long exhibition, Let Live or Let Die, in partnership with Bayt Al Mamzar Art Gallery in Dubai, to raise environmental awareness.
Another home-grown loungewear and shapewear brand, Glossy Lounge is working to reduce its environmental footprint while promoting inclusivity. Using only Global Organic Textile Standard-certified cotton, bamboo and Global Recycle Standard-certified recycled polyester, it offers a range of underwear, shapewear and loungewear in sizes XS to XL.
It also offers menswear and children’s staples. Recently, it announced a partnership with Emirates Nature, part of the Worldwide Wildlife Fund, to donate money from every purchase to help restore UAE mangroves, which serve a vital role in protecting sea life and coastal regions.
Established in August 2020, Wild Fabrik is an e-commerce platform for sustainable fashion and homeware. With a focus on high-quality natural ingredients and fabrics, it aims to support small businesses and artisanal workshops, while offering a one-stop solution for those seeking ethical goods.
Before a brand is added to the website, it is screened to confirm it is cruelty-free, pays workers a living wage and is plant-based. Wild Fabrik’s wide offering runs from clothing, including an array of vintage pieces, to embroidered linen napkins by Pamuke, a banana fibre yoga mat by Earthistic and bedding made from Egyptian cotton.
It has also partnered with UAE non-profit environmental organisation Azraq to help fund the replanting of mangroves around Dubai. To promote a circular economy, customers are encouraged to return any items they no longer need, to be donated to Thrift for Good, where they will be sold to help some of the world’s most deprived children.
Tribe of 6
This brand is the newest addition to the regional sustainability scene, and takes its name from the six degrees of separation thought to link everyone together. Like Glossy Lounge and The Giving Movement, Tribe of 6 specialises in athleisure, including T-shirts, long-sleeve tops and tracksuits made from certified organic cotton and sustainable, fast-growing bamboo, while 45 per cent of the collection is made from recycled materials.
Founded by the Kuwaiti Alshaya Group, Tribe of 6 aims to be inclusive, with sizes ranging from XS to XXXL. With several items made to be fully reversible, it is helping to promote a more conscious and flexible approach to dressing.
All woven labels in the clothes are made from recycled fabrics, certified by the Global Recycling Standard, while paper price tags are made under the guidance of the Forest Stewardship Council to ensure proper forest management. Pieces are designed and made in the UAE, with working conditions and wages overseen by Sedex, an ethical trade membership organisation that aims to improve working conditions in the global supply chain.