Decoding sustainable fashion in the UAE

Somya Mehta /Dubai
somya@khaleejtimes.com Filed on September 23, 2021

(From left to right) Natasha Fownes, Jelena Dancetovic, Araceli Gallego and Reem

(From left to right) Dr Mohamed Ahmed Helmy, Brett Girven, Dr Arathy Vijayan

The third edition of the monthly interactive platform addressed the sustainable fashion movement

Sustainability. The more you peel its layers, the more there is to peel. Used in several contexts — be it climate change, environment, food, or more recently, even fashion and beauty — the term has gained momentum and newer dimensions as people get more aware of the planetary issues that endanger human existence.

In the third edition of wknd. conversations that took place on August 19, at A Cappella restaurant, The Pointe, fashion entrepreneurs and health and lifestyle experts joined the panel discussion on mapping conscious fashion in the region, while paving the sustainable way forward.

The afternoon kickstarted with a demo session on light healing therapy, where Govind Das, founder, Lucia Light ME, introduced cutting edge technology in the world of meditation, to make your relaxation journey more instant and far easier than the (sometimes seemingly impossible) endeavour of bringing your mind to stillness.

The first session of the afternoon, ‘Sustainability: Dissecting the buzzword’, started off with assessing the existing footprint of conscious fashion in the Middle East and the specific roadblocks faced by brands that are making active efforts to embrace sustainability.

The panel comprised Araceli Gallego, founder of a sustainable fashion e-marketplace, Goshopia, Natasha Fownes, founder, La Brocante, a pop-up selling preloved items, Jelena Dancetovic, retail and events manager, Shop Retold, and Reem, founder, Reem’s Closet, the region’s first preloved luxury fashion store, established in 2008.

The second session of the afternoon, ‘Mapping the future of sustainability’, explored the many ways to create awareness around sustainability at the ground level. Speakers Brett Girven, principal, Arbor School, Dr Mohamed Ahmed Helmy, consultant cardiac surgeon, Zulekha Hospital and Arathy Vijayan, clinical psychologist, Zulekha Hospital, discussed how embracing sustainability can impact our wellness and ways to shift our mindset towards leading a more sustainable life, in a context driven by fast fashion.

Deep-diving into the challenges witnessed in selling preloved clothing in the region, Dancetovic said, “The key problem remains that people don’t really feel comfortable, at their core, to buy second-hand clothing. We don’t want people to see us in the same clothes again. What happens as a result is, half the people will end up throwing away their clothes and very few will pass them on to somebody.”

Arathy Vijayan, clinical psychologist, also argued, “People don’t really understand the concept of sustainability. Opting for the less sustainable options often becomes the easier, quicker choice. Being sustainable takes practice.” She added that there should be more recognition towards individuals that undertake sustainable initiatives. “It deserves acknowledgment and will push more people to do more.”

So what can be done differently? People can go to sustainable fashion stores to give away clothes they no longer need and these outlets can find new homes for the pieces. “We can resell it for a much cheaper price and you can find something else for yourself. It’s a win, win situation,” added Reem’s Closet founder.

Dancetovic also pointed out how the pandemic has caused this major shift in people’s perspectives towards sustainability. “But did we really need a catastrophe to start thinking about our planet?” she enquired.

Gallego, who’s a sustainable fashion advocate and a serial entrepreneur, believes that there’s space in everyone’s closet for preloved, upcycled, sustainable clothing. “We sell upcycled pieces, which will be completely exclusive to you. Every piece we sell has a story behind it, it’s unique,” she mentioned, adding that while they’re always looking for exquisite designs, the focus always lies on fair trade and privileges for the workers.

“People are always looking for sustainability. Whether it’s a necklace that signified a time in history, or they’re looking for an item that is unavailable because it came from another country, or something that was a little expensive and they couldn’t afford it the first time. Second-hand buying can tick all these boxes and more,” added Reem, acknowledging that drawing people in becomes easier when they share similar passion for conscious fashion.

Delving into the interplay of health and sustainability, Dr Helmy also added how sustainability is increasingly becoming a part of the health and education lexicon. Education around sustainability initiatives plays a pivotal role in the early adoption of sustainability as lifestyle, emphasised Girven. “Schools need to offer transformative education, one that is reflective of the changing times and the growing need for sustainability.”

Rounding up the afternoon, the La Brocante founder also acknowledged the camaraderie amongst sustainable brands in the region, which is unlike most retail outlets. “We all have different areas of work, however, we all work in unison. The camaraderie amongst all of us, whether it’s upcyclers, craftsmen, artisans, is a testament to the fact that we are creating a circular economy,” she added. “And for me, this camaraderie going forward, not only as women but also as movement-makers, is in itself a huge step forward.”

somya@khaleejtimes.com

wknd. conversations is a monthly interactive platform where influential leaders from different industries come together for an interactive session on a variety of subjects.

Somya Mehta