Fashion for the soul
Being conscious and ethical is not just the hottest trend in the fashion scene right now - it's also the smartest
The 2016 Met Gala earlier this month saw Emma Watson step onto the red carpet and steal the spotlight in one fell swoop. This was no mean feat, even for Watson, who has been creating trends even before she turned 18. The theme for the gala was 'Fashion in the age of technology' and it saw Hollywood's A-listers bring on their stylish A-game - from shimmering metallic gowns to (in Zayn Malik's case) robot arms. But Emma Watson had her own interpretation of the theme - a stunning off shoulder ensemble that was sustainable and ethical, and created through a collaboration between Calvin Klein and Eco Age.
"Being able to repurpose waste and incorporate it into my gown for the Met Gala proves the power that creativity, technology and fashion can have by working together," Waston later commented in a Facebook post that has since gone viral. She took it up a notch by going against celeb norm of not repeating clothing, and promised to repurpose the different elements of the outfit for future use. "I'm looking forward to experimenting with them," she said, ending her post with, "Truly beautiful things should be worn again and again and again."
Watson wasn't the only celeb who chose to promote sustainability at the gala - The Wolf of Wall Street actress Margot Robbie's gown was made with organic silk woven in Italy, while the zippers were made from recycled materials, and 12 Years A Slave actress Lupita Nyong'o chose to go green literally in a jade sequined dress that was assembled entirely in Calvin Klein's New York atelier.
Sustainable fashion or eco-friendly fashion is no new concept. It refers to clothing that does not put undue strain on the environment, right from the harvesting of raw materials up to its final disposal. The idea may sound rather simple, but the process is not. Creating any type of clothing sustainably involves farming, harvesting and processing materials without the use of harmful pesticides and toxic dyes, as well as shipping and disposal of garments in a responsible manner. Then there is the matter of its carbon footprint and the working conditions of the labour force behind it. It is no wonder that clothing industry magnate and designer Eileen Fisher once announced: 'The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, after oil.'
All this means that designers that attempt to create sustainable, ethical clothing often have their work cut out for them. Luckily, there are still those who try.
"Sustainability is a way of life," says Sally Sarieddine, founder of Lebanese handbag brand LaLaQueen. "Once you are aware of the harm that comes to the environment, you do your best to be constructive in everything that you do."
A huge advocate for conscious fashion, Sally designs handbags that are locally handcrafted in Lebanon and as sustainable as they can get. Prior to being a designer, Sally dabbled in theatre, public relations and marketing. But it was after she signed up for a fashion design course in London that she realised what she really wanted was to create art that 'embodied her personal message to the world'.
"I commit to being ethical and sustainable and want to allow conscious customers to shop with peace of mind," she explains. "I use locally-sourced materials, less chemicals and reused and recycled materials wherever possible."
LalaQueen's handbags are assembled by local Lebanese artisans who operate in healthy working conditions and all packaging for the bags is made from recycled materials only. Sally also believes that true elegance has no age, and this can be seen as the theme of her shoots that refreshingly shifts away from the norm to feature a striking older model as well. It is all part of her aim to be conscious and give back to the community, and consumers are taking notice. In fact, even celebrities like Amal Clooney have been seen sporting LalaQueen handbags.
"Consumers are becoming more conscious of the environment," says Sally. "They want to take part in contributing to the greater good - even if that means simply supporting brands that do so."
She is not wrong. As consumers start to sit up and take notice, big brands are following their lead. Case in point, Nike, which was once universally criticised for its use of sweatshops, now includes sustainability as a part of the innovation process. The factories have been inspected by independent third parties and come up clean, and they have even pledged to go 'toxic-free' by 2020. Another example is H&M. At a time when most high-street brands are under fire for creating heavy amounts of waste and exploiting workers, H&M released its conscious collection. It looks like more and more brands are realising that the key to success is treating the environment - and their workforce - with a little more respect.
"Being ethical is about helping the community that has given you so much," says Ayah Tabari, a Dubai-based designer and founder of Mochi. Named after cobblers who developed the art of embroidery in Gujarat, Mochi focuses on bright pieces of clothing and accessories that are handcrafted by local artisans - and for every new collection, Ayah travels to a different destination to design a line that reflects the culture's best.
"I make sure that every collection is created within the country itself," explains Ayah. "In that way, I know I am providing the men and women with fair employment and decent wages. So the Indian collection is made within India, and the African collection is made with the help of a local community in Africa. It is such a wonderful experience each time because you meet these people who are so talented and see how they grow and how their lifestyles change."
For Ayah, mixing consciousness with fashion came naturally - to a point where the Palestinian designer says she could not fathom the fashion aspect without thinking about how to be ethical as well.
"I've always wanted to help other people," she says. "And I've always wanted to get into fashion. To be able to combine the things you love is amazing. I think we live in tough times and giving back is now more important than ever. And, honestly, it just makes you feel good too."
There's no doubt that sustainable fashion is now very much en vogue and trendier than ever. And with more celebrities donning their metaphorically green outfits, it looks like this is a trend that's only going to get bigger in the years to come. The movers and shakers of the fashion industry need to realise that it's time to either go green - or go home.