How Arab fashion is waking up to sustainability

Sustainability was a major highlight for the Saudi fashion house Sadeem during Fashion Forward Dubai. (Supplied)
Updated 22 November 2019

How Arab fashion is waking up to sustainability

  • The fashion industry is a major contributor to environmental problems. But some labels are finally focusing on being part of the solution
  • The industry is the world’s second-largest polluter

DUBAI: Fashion has a new buzzword, and it is not a color or silhouette — it’s a total change towards how fashion is produced and consumed. The industry is the world’s second-largest polluter — at the same level as the water, energy and chemical industries. It can truly be seen as a threat to the planet: From the amount of clothes that end up in landfills to its greenhouse emissions, the figures  are now at record levels and increasing every year.

The good news is that the industry is finally starting to take responsibility and major labels are now looking at ways to make their work sustainable. While a few European luxury houses have been trying to address this issue for the last 15 years, fast-fashion brands like Zara have only been seriously looking at sustainability for the last year or so. That’s true, too, of regional fashion labels.

Sadeem displayed its sustainable collection at  this month’s Fashion Forward Dubai. (Supplied)

At this month’s Fashion Forward Dubai (FFWD), one of the region’s major fashion platforms, sustainability was a major highlight for the first time. Of the 21 labels showing, five — Saudi Arabia’s Sadeem, Roni Helou, Reemami, Farah Wali and Hass Idriss — showed sustainable collections, and it was also the focus of a talk about the future of fashion.

Bong Guerrero, CEO and Co-Founder of Fashion Forward Dubai believes that, in many ways, regional fashion has a natural alignment to sustainability. “Higher quality and timeless design are important aspects of sustainable fashion, as are bespoke and vintage fashion,” he says. “All of these are hallmarks (of) the region’s fashion landscape.”

Sustainability was also the focus of a talk about the future of fashion at FFWD. (Supplied)

Sustainable fashion is a broad term. It is about more than simply using fabrics that are environmentally friendly, covering all areas of fashion. Aljawharah Sadeem Abdulaziz Alshehail — founder and designer at Sadeem, who has been designing sustainable collections for three years now — tells Arab News, “When I design, I think about going from cradle to cradle.” That’s a term that crops up often when talking about sustainability — meaning that products should be able to have multiple ‘lives’ (as opposed to cradle-to-grave, meaning that, although the product may last a long time, it will eventually be junked). Sadeem works only with textile mills that are eco-friendly and she never goes for mass production —making sure that there is no waste. “I do not follow seasons,” she says. “I make clothes that women will want to wear for years.”

Sadeem is a Pret-a-Couture fashion brand by Saudi designer Sadeem Alshehail. (Supplied)

At FFWD she presented a collection called “Awaab” (Doors), which she says was inspired by her homeland — “(Saudi Arabia) is a nation moving forward without letting go of the past,” she says.

Her designs reflected this. While their style was minimalistic, she used details like embroidery and appliqué as a highlight.  The traditional geometric pattern of Sadu was a recurring feature. “The triangle is something that is so much a part of this region’s design history,” she says.

These were clothes made for the modern woman, which could be worn anywhere, from the boardroom to  a dinner party. The collection included maxi dresses and lounge-style tops and trousers in a palette of red, white and black, ensuring versatility.

Sharjah-based Reema Al-Banna also showed a sustainable collection at FFWD. (Supplied)

“Do not underestimate the consumer in this region. She is starting to understand that sustainable fashion is (necessary), and it will become a major part of regional fashion,” says the Saudi-based designer.

Sharjah-based Reema Al-Banna also showed a sustainable collection at FFWD and is working towards making her label — Reemami — 100 percent sustainable. “It is becoming a trend in the region, and buyers from major stores in the Middle East now ask you how your produce your clothes,” she says. “We try our best, but the region is still adapting to sustainability.”

Many of the fabrics Al-Banna sources are recycled and she ensures patterns are cut in a way that ensures her fabrics fully optimized, “And whatever is left over I use to make a hair accessory or something that can be used,” she adds.

Reema Al-Banna is working towards making her label — Reemami — 100 percent sustainable. (Supplied)

Her designs are quirky. She likes to play with color, pattern and cut, designing for women who like a graphic, bold take on fashion, and for all body types (at FFWD, the Saudi-born model and body-positivity activist Ghaliah Amin walked for Reemami).

Lebanese designer Roni Helou presented a collection of clothes made from surplus-stock fabrics — and shot the campaign for his collection at a landfill, to emphasize the amount of waste generated by the industry. Some of the clothes in his collection served multiple purposes — for instance a skirt that can be turned into a shirt. Outerwear is his forte, and a coat from his collection is a truly a piece you can wear for a lifetime.

“It is about making fashion that leaves a positive impact ,” says the young designer.

Many of the fabrics Al-Banna sources are recycled. (Supplied)

The Middle East may still be playing catch up when it comes to sustainable fashion, but there is no doubt that awareness is growing. The region seems to be waking up to the idea that clothes with a conscience are the way forward for a woman of style. As Guerrero says, “The focus on sustainability in fashion is only set to grow. It’s a virtuous cycle: The more that designers incorporate sustainable business practices and consumers respond positively, the more the media will cover this facet of our industry.” 

He continues: “Sustainability seems to be moving from a ‘nice-to-have’ talking point to a philosophy of shared values between designers and their audiences.”

The hottest films due out in 2020

Updated 07 August 2020

The hottest films due out in 2020

  • As cinemas reopen post-COVID, Arab News looks at the major blockbusters coming our way over the rest of the year


August 26

Christopher Nolan’s latest feature is arguably the year’s most-anticipated film, with Nolan the most-inventive mainstream filmmaker of his generation. Typically, the trailers for “Tenet” haven’t revealed much of the story: We know there’s some astonishing visual trickery — as you’d expect from the man behind “Inception” — and some mind-bending time-shifting, but apart from that, not much. John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) plays the hero — an operative of a shadow organization tasked with preventing World War III. The cast also includes Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Michael Caine and Kenneth Brannagh. Saudi cinemagoers will be among the first to get to see “Tenet.” Expect your mind to be as dazzled as your eyes.

Bill & Ted Face The Music 

August 28

Twenty-nine years on from their ‘Bogus Journey,’ best friends Bill and Ted (aka Wyld Stallyns) — played by Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves — must once again use their music to save the world, this time with the help of their daughters, some old friends (including Death), and famous musicians from throughout history. If it’s anything like the originals, this long-awaited third installment will likely appall critics and enthrall fans.


August 28

Josh Boone (“The Fault In Our Stars”) takes the reins of this “X-Men” spinoff, which will reportedly be the last film in the “X-Men” franchise from 20th Century Studios (since Disney now holds the rights). Expectations are high: The trailer suggests there’s a healthy dose of horror in this superhero feature, and there’s certainly a great cast of young actors, including Maisie Williams (“Game of Thrones”) and Charlie Heaton (“Stranger Things”), playing the young mutants held in a secret facility (supposedly for their own good, although it soon becomes apparent that there’s nothing benign about the intentions of those in authority there). 

A Quiet Place PART II 

September 4

The sequel to 2018’s post-apocalyptic sci-fi hit picks up straight after the shattering climax of part one, which means that John Krasinski — despite writing and directing — appears only in the prequel flashbacks. The Abbott family must face the alien creatures that hunt by sound again, but they aren’t the only threat to Evelyn and her kids as they venture out to seek sanctuary.

Wonder Woman 1984 

October 2

Patty Jenkins returns to direct Gal Gadot as immortal Amazonian warrior Diana Prince in this sequel, set in Eighties America. 2017’s “Wonder Woman” was probably the best film in the DC Extended Universe so far (not a high bar, admittedly), so fans — and investors — will be hoping the two can work their magic again. 

The French Dispatch 

October 16

The trailer for singular filmmaker Wes Anderson’s latest showcases his trademark stunning aesthetics and the excellent ensemble cast he’s assembled for this tale of a fictional US newspaper’s French bureau, which includes Adrien Brody, Benicio del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and a host of other stars. The film is reportedly inspired by Anderson’s love of The New Yorker magazine, and has been described as “a love letter to journalists.”

Black Widow 

November 6

Scarlett Johansson’s superhero finally gets to headline her own feature after eight outings in other movies from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Set after “Captain America: Civil War,” the story sees Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow confronting the demons from her past — when she was a KGB assassin and SHIELD agent — that have been hinted at in previous films. 

No Time To Die 

November 12

Pre-release details of Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as British superspy with a ‘licence to kill’ James Bond suggest the decades-old franchise is making some further attempts to upgrade for the 21st century — including a female ‘double-0’ agent! At the start of the movie, Bond has been retired for five years, but is enlisted by the CIA to help search for a missing Russian scientist. He reluctantly returns to action and runs up against possibly the nastiest foe he’s faced so far: Safin, played by Rami Malek.  


November 20

Pixar’s “Soul” looks set to be the year’s top animated film. Directed by Pete Docter (who also helmed the acclaimed hits “Inside Out” and “Up”), it’s Pixar’s first film led by a black character, Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx), a music teacher and aspiring jazz musician whose soul gets separated from his body after an unfortunate accident. With the help of other souls, he attempts to get back to his body on Earth before it’s too late.


December 18

Despite the fact that David Lynch made a movie version in 1984, many still consider Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel set on the desert planet of Arrakis, where the only commodity of value is the “spice” drug that can prolong life, to be ‘un-filmable.’ That hasn’t dissuaded Denis Villeneuve (“Blade Runner 2049”) from giving it another go. There’s a fantastic cast on board, and with 30+ years of studio trickery developed since Lynch’s attempt, it’s a reasonable bet that Villeneuve can pull it off.

Top Gun: Maverick 

December 23

Tom Cruise reprises the role that made him a global megastar — the, erm, maverick fighter pilot known as Maverick. He’s back at the Top Gun academy, this time as an instructor. He’s not the only link to the 1986 original either. Val Kilmer returns as Iceman, who’s now an admiral in the US navy, and Miles Teller plays Bradley ‘Rooster’ Bradshaw — the son of Maverick’s late friend and flight partner Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw, for whose death Maverick still feels residual guilt, more than 30 yeas later.