How adoption of sustainable fashion in the Middle East can reduce waste, cut carbon emissions

Special As brands respond to the shift away from in-store sales, consumers seldom connect their purchasing decisions to socioeconomic or environmental issues. (AFP)
As brands respond to the shift away from in-store sales, consumers seldom connect their purchasing decisions to socioeconomic or environmental issues. (AFP)
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Updated 29 April 2022

How adoption of sustainable fashion in the Middle East can reduce waste, cut carbon emissions

As brands respond to the shift away from in-store sales, consumers seldom connect their purchasing decisions to socioeconomic or environmental issues. (AFP)
  • The global fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and colossal amounts of waste 
  • Promoting sustainable fashion brands in the Middle East could radically reduce the amount of textiles going to landfill

DUBAI: Of all the retail-industry business models held responsible for the growth of unsustainable consumer habits, few come close to matching the bad reputation acquired by fast fashion — the design, manufacturing and marketing methods behind the production of mass-produced clothing.

The environmental costs keep rising as fast-fashion brands release as many as 52 micro-collections each year, which constantly show up on roadside billboards, online banner ads and social media sites teasing the best deals in trendy clothing.

On the bright side, ethical fashion, quality second-hand clothing and other more environmentally friendly alternatives are increasingly available to consumers, who have a big role to play in countering the harmful effects of fast fashion.

Still, experts say businesses must take responsibility for their actions and governments must develop regulations to encourage eco-conscious shopping habits and promote sustainable fashion.

Employees working on a production line of clothes for export at a factory in Xiayi county, in Shangqiu in China's central Henan province. (AFP/File Photo)

The challenge is, to put it mildly, daunting. As brands devote big budgets to digital marketing and subliminal advertising in response to a seismic shift away from in-store sales, consumers who spend hours browsing websites for the best deals seldom connect their purchasing decisions to environmental (or socioeconomic) issues.

For example, a pair of jeans might seem like a fairly harmless purchase. In fact, the production process behind this wardrobe staple requires about 2,000 gallons of water — equivalent to the amount the average person will drink in seven years.

This explains why the $3 trillion fashion industry, which accounts for 2 percent of global gross domestic product, has been alternately identified as the second or third largest polluter in the world year after year, just behind oil.

The industry might be responsible for as much as 10 percent of global carbon emissions, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development. Clothing factories, mostly located in developing countries, churn out well over 80 billion garments every year, with fast-fashion brands dominating the retail market.

“As fashion changes so quickly, consumers tend to want to buy instantaneously and then, when fashion changes again, they want to dispose of it,” Kris Barber, founder and CEO of DGrade, a sustainable brand in the UAE that produces clothing from recycled plastic bottles, told Arab News.

Mannequins stand in line on the stairwell first floor and second floor at the flagship store of Japan's cheap-chic clothing chain Uniqlo at Ginza shopping district in Tokyo. (AFP/File Photo)

According to the 2015 documentary “The True Cost,” an expose of the fashion industry directed by filmmaker Andrew Morgan, about 400 percent more clothing was being produced worldwide at that time compared with 20 years previously. The figure is probably much higher now.

This, coupled with a steady fall in prices, mean that garment purchases are more affordable to a much larger section of the global population, pushing consumerism in the sector to an all-time high.

For better or worse, people now own five times the amount of clothing their grandparents did — and are more likely to throw clothes away after minimal use.



Surveys suggest that some items of clothing are worn an average of only seven times before they are disposed of, and most women use as little as 20 to 30 percent of the contents of their wardrobes.

“Generally speaking, the retail business model for products that have an inbuilt disposable element — not just in textiles but across the board, from mobile phones to televisions — is all about overproduction and driving down the unit cost,” said Barber.

His journey in eco-fashion began 12 years ago and, along with his colleagues at Dgrade, he is working to improve the quality of recycled fibers. The company produces more than 250 types of fabric that are indistinguishable in quality from those made from virgin fibers.

Members of Extinction Rebellion Argentina are seen dressed with model designs created with recycled elements by Trash Couture fashion designers, during a demonstration against fast fashion industry, at Florida pedestrian street in Buenos Aires. (AFP/File Photo)

“Production of each of our T-shirts, which are made of 100 percent recycled polyester, consumes 10 plastic bottles on average,” Barber said.

DGrade, which also produces customized clothing for businesses, recently expanded operations at its manufacturing plant in the UAE, where more than 1,000 tons of polyethylene terephthalate, or PETP, plastic bottles are recycled every month to make fabrics and food packaging. There are about 50,000 empty bottles in each ton.

The scale of the global issue the business is addressing is huge. Currently, the equivalent of one garbage truck filled with textiles is sent to landfill or incinerated every second, worldwide. Studies show that unless the fashion industry takes major steps to reduce waste, it will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions budget by 2050.

Experts within the industry broadly agree on the need for checks on the production of garments, shoes and fashion accessories. Whether consumers will be willing to pay extra for more environmentally sustainable items is another matter altogether.

Juliette Barkan, co-founder of Palem, a sustainable fashion brand in the UAE, said that awareness of the industry’s environmental footprint and responsible consumption ought to go hand in hand.

“Unless consumers put pressure on industries and opt for more durable items, choosing slow fashion, quality and timeless pieces over fast fashion, the changes will remain anecdotal,” she told Arab News.

Based on her experience, Barkan says the role of social media in shaping consumption habits cannot be overstated.


* $3tn - Value of global fashion industry.

* 2% - Fashion industry’s share of global GDP.

* $3bn - Projected value of KSA online fashion market.

* 75% - Middle Eastern poll respondents who said they buy from eco-conscious fashion companies.

“In a world where we are all our own brand, our need to dress up has increased considerably, creating constant need for newness,” she said. “The demand is so big that the leaders of the sector are now investing in the metaverse to fill the demands of digital fashion.”

Palem uses natural fibers made from 100 percent sustainable materials, such as organic cotton, sustainable viscose or recycled fabrics in its fashion lines. To encourage more manufacturers to become equally sustainable, Barkan says, consumers need to become more aware of what they are buying.

“The good news is we feel that there is an awakening, a new-found awareness among consumers in the Middle East,” she said. “People are starting to ask questions and take ownership of the subject.”

This is reflected in the number of sustainable fashion brands emerging in the region and the establishment of the Middle East Fashion Council in the UAE, which was founded jointly by Simon Lo Gatto and Payal Kshatriya Cerri.

The fashion council was set up as “a dictionary” for designers in the region and “a guide for whether a designer was looking to become more sustainable,” said Lo Gatto.

Women search for used clothes amid tons discarded in the Atacama desert, in Alto Hospicio, Iquique, Chile. (AFP/File Photo)

Added Cerri: “Our place in this narrative is to bring together the leaders, challenge the way we think, challenge the way the sourcing and manufacturing is done to brands based in the region from other countries, as well as to be able to provide a platform and support for manufacturers within the region.”

She believes the fashion industry in the Middle East needs to adopt innovative methods, in particular the use of blockchain and 3D printing, to help reduce waste and increase transparency in the production process. A greater localization of production would also help.

“Dubai is a massive retail hub for all brands but homegrown brands are where the fight is,” Cerri said.

With sustainability at the core of its values, the Middle East Fashion Council has partnered with Dubai’s Sustainable City, the first net-zero energy residential development in the emirate, to host two fashion shows, one this month, the other in October. Going forward, the organizers hope to host a sustainable fashion week showcasing eco-friendly brands.

The fashion market in Gulf nations and the wider region has grown exponentially in recent years. The first edition of Arab Fashion Week, following in the footsteps of long-established events in New York, Paris, London and Milan, took place in Dubai in 2015. It later became the first floating fashion show when it was staged aboard the Queen Elizabeth II cruise ship in 2018.

In Saudi Arabia, the online fashion market was worth $715 million in 2018 and is expected to reach $3 billion this year, making it the largest in the region. Over that same period, the online fashion market across the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council area is expected to have grown from $140 million to $500 million, and in Egypt from $125 million to $300 million.

Juliette Barkan, co-founder of Palem. (Supplied)

This regional growth means the adoption of more sustainable production and consumption habits are all the more pressing. Despite the growth of e-commerce and the emerging fashion scene in the Middle East, however, many designers who attempt to take a more sustainable approach continue to face challenges to their efforts to grow their brands.

“Many new sustainable brands are not PR ready,” said Cerri.

Consumers in the GCC area are intensely loyal to big, well-established brands, says Alia Jashanmal, the co-founder of Aloushi’s, a sustainable lifestyle e-commerce store. But attitudes are beginning to change.

The good news is that attitudes are beginning to change. “I believe our society is adjusting to promote homegrown businesses,” Jashanmal told Arab News. “People are educating themselves on how to identify and support sustainable fashion.”

In its “Global Consumer Insights Survey 2021,” which was published in December, professional services network PwC identified a growing awareness of social and environmental sustainability among consumers in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt.

Kris Barber. (Supplied)

Among those surveyed, about 65 percent said they had become more eco-friendly over the previous six months, while seven out of 10 shoppers said they engage in sustainable behaviors.

In fact, the respondents from the region consistently outscored global survey participants on a range of questions related to this issue. For instance, about 75 percent of Middle Eastern consumers said they buy from companies that are environmentally conscious, compared with 54 percent globally.

While fast fashion no doubt remains ascendant for now, it could also be the retail business model du jour. Which is why, for Barber and his colleagues at DGrade, the consumer survey’s findings ought to be viewed as an incentive for the industry to do better.

“Without entirely blaming the fashion industry,” he told Arab news, “I think it’s more about trying to create products that are of very good quality, products that last longer and that people are going to use and wear more often.”

Iran protests could topple morality police: Human Rights Watch

Iran protests could topple morality police: Human Rights Watch
Updated 19 sec ago

Iran protests could topple morality police: Human Rights Watch

Iran protests could topple morality police: Human Rights Watch
  • Regime ‘should repeal discriminatory laws and policies against women’: Researcher
  • Nationwide demonstrations followed death in custody of Mahsa Amini, 22

LONDON: Nationwide protests in Iran following the death of a woman in custody could topple the country’s so-called morality police, Human Rights Watch has said.

Rothna Begum, senior researcher at HRW’s women’s rights division, told The Independent that the morality police “could have their powers removed” after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in September after being detained for an alleged infringement of Iran’s hijab rules.

“I don’t think anyone was expecting these protests. Iran should abolish the morality police, compulsory hijab laws and repeal discriminatory laws and policies against women,” Begum said.

“While women have campaigned on a range of issues and have protested against a number of discriminatory laws and policies against women, with many sentenced to prison, this time we are seeing men and women, regular people and such protests are taking place all over Iran.”

Protests have erupted in over 80 cities and towns across the country with women at the forefront, waving hijabs, hurling them in bonfires and chopping off their hair.

The demonstrations are the largest in Iran since the pandemic. To date, some 1,200 protesters have been arrested after demanding the ousting of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and chanting “woman, life, freedom” and “death to the dictator.”

UN sounds alarm over leukaemia in Iraq linked to oil fields

UN sounds alarm over leukaemia in Iraq linked to oil fields
Updated 30 September 2022

UN sounds alarm over leukaemia in Iraq linked to oil fields

UN sounds alarm over leukaemia in Iraq linked to oil fields
  • ‘The people living near oil fields are victims of state-business collusion’: Special rapporteur
  • Leaked Health Ministry report blames air pollution for 20 percent rise in cancer in Basra

LONDON: The UN has warned that people living near oil fields, where gas is openly burned, face heightened risks of leukaemia, and that it has classified such areas as “modern sacrifice zones.”
Singling out sites in Iraq for gas flaring — a process of burning gas released by oil drilling that produces cancer-linked pollutants including CO2, methane and black soot — the UN said profits have been prioritized over human rights, noting Britain’s BP and Italy’s Eni as working these sites.
David Boyd, UN special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, told BBC Arabic: “The people living near oil fields are victims of state-business collusion.”
Despite Iraqi law prohibiting flaring within 6 miles of homes, a BBC investigation found areas, including on the outskirts of Basra, where gas was being burned less than 2 miles from people’s front doors, with authorities aware that this was the case.
A leaked Iraqi Health Ministry report seen by BBC Arabic blames air pollution for a 20 percent rise in cancer in Basra between 2015 and 2018.
As part of its investigation, the BBC undertook the first pollution-monitoring testing among the exposed communities, with results indicating high exposure to cancer-causing chemicals and the finding that Basra’s Rumaila oil fields flare more gas than any other site in the world.
The government-owned site, with BP as lead contractor, is near the town of North Rumaila, known by locals as the “cemetery” because of its high leukaemia levels.
Local environmental scientist Shukri Al-Hassan described cancer there as so rife it is “like the flu.”
Iraq’s prime minister issued a confidential order banning employees working at sites from speaking about the health damage resulting from pollution.
Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul Jabbar Ismail told the BBC that he had instructed all contracted companies operating in the oil fields to “uphold international standards.”
Responding to BBC requests for comment, Eni said it strongly rejects any accusations that its activities are endangering the health of Iraqis, while BP said it is “extremely concerned” and will conduct an “immediate review.”

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters
Updated 30 September 2022

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters

Iran cleric calls for crackdown on protesters
  • Cleric Mohammad Javad Hajj Ali Akbari: The Iranian people demand the harshest punishment for these barbaric rioters

DUBAI: An influential Iranian cleric called for tough action on Friday against protesters enraged by the death of a young woman in police custody who have called for the downfall of the country’s leaders.
“Our security is our distinctive privilege. The Iranian people demand the harshest punishment for these barbaric rioters,” said Mohammad Javad Hajj Ali Akbari, a leader of prayers that are held on Fridays in Tehran before a large gathering.
“The people want the death of Mahsa Amini to be cleared up... so that enemies cannot take advantage of this incident.”
Amini, a 22-year-old from the Iranian Kurdish town of Saqez, was arrested this month in Tehran for “unsuitable attire” by the morality police who enforce the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.
Her death has caused the first big show of opposition on Iran’s streets since authorities crushed protests against a rise in gasoline prices in 2019. The demonstrations have quickly evolved into a popular revolt against the clerical establishment.
Amnesty International said on Friday the government crackdown on demonstrations has so far led to the death of at least 52 people, with hundreds injured.
Amnesty said in a statement it had obtained a copy of an official document that records that the General Headquarters of Armed Forces issued an order to commanders in all provinces to “severely confront” protesters described as “troublemakers and anti-revolutionaries”.
Despite the growing death toll and crackdown by authorities, videos posted on Twitter showed demonstrators calling for the fall of the clerical establishment.
Activist Twitter account 1500tasvir, which has more than 150,000 followers, posted videos which it said showed protests in cities including Ahvaz in the southwest, Mashhad in the northeast and Zahedan in the southeast, where people were said to be attacking a police station.
Reuters could not verify the footage.
Meanwhile, Iran rejected criticism of its missile and drone attack on Wednesday on the Iraqi Kurdistan region where Iranian armed dissident Kurdish groups are based. The United States called it “an unjustified violation of Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“Iran has repeatedly asked the Iraqi central government officials and regional authorities to prevent the activities of separatist and terrorist groups that are active against the Islamic Republic,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told state media.

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer
Updated 30 September 2022

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer

Think hard before working in Qatar: British engineer
  • Ranald Crook, 76, was trapped in the country for 8 years over a commercial dispute
  • His warning follows claims that another Briton was tortured, killed by secret police

LONDON: A British engineer trapped in Qatar for almost eight years over a commercial dispute has urged people to think hard before accepting large salaries to work there, after his own exhausting battle to leave followed the alleged torture and death of another Briton in 2019.

Ranald Crook, 76, was unable to fly home from Qatar because of a series of travel bans imposed on him at the request of former business associates, which left him tangled in legal actions in which every victory of his resulted in the initiating of a new case against him. 

Crook spoke to The Times after reading on Thursday about a former senior vice president of Qatar Airways who was found dead in a Doha hotel room on Christmas Day in 2019 following his arrest and alleged torture by secret police.

Marc Bennett was accused of keeping confidential information belonging to the airline after his resignation in October that year, and was held for three weeks in a state security detention center before being released without charge but banned from leaving the country.

Qatari authorities claimed his death was suicide, but a British coroner found “no evidence of suicidal intent.” The UK Foreign Office urged Qatar on Wednesday to look into the allegations thoroughly.

Not only did Bennett not leave a suicide note or email or text his family and wide circle of friends, but the night before his death he had a video call with his wife and children during which, The Times reported, he was “laughing and joking.”  

Bennett’s widow Nancy said: “There are so many questions. He left here with the whole world ahead of him.”

Crook, who finally returned to the UK at the end of 2021, said he was drained by his ordeal. He warned Britons to think hard before accepting large salaries to work in Qatar, noting that while still in the country, his wife would wake because he had been crying in his sleep.

He added: “If you go to work there, be very careful. Look very carefully at those you’ll be working with and their reputations.

“The accusations are made in five minutes, but it takes years to clear your name. I thought I had been cleared in November 2016, but another case began and another travel ban was slapped on.

“I wasn’t served with any court papers, I found out about the second action by chance in April 2017. There shouldn’t even have been a travel ban but this was Qatar, and these things happen.”

Both the detention of Crook and the circumstances surrounding Bennett’s death have raised further concerns in the build-up to the World Cup in November, and the decision to allow Qatar to host it.

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity
Updated 30 September 2022

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity

HRW urges EU to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity
  • EU-Israel Association Council meeting taking place next week after 10-year hiatus
  • Human Rights Watch: European officials should stop ‘reciting empty platitudes’

LONDON: Human Rights Watch has urged the EU and its member states to use next week’s EU-Israel Association Council meeting to condemn Israeli crimes against humanity.

The meeting comes just weeks after Israeli authorities raided and ordered the closing of the offices of seven prominent Palestinian civil society organizations — some of which receive EU funding — despite objections from the bloc and its member states.

“Europeans should know they’ll be shaking hands with representatives of a government committing crimes against humanity and outlawed prominent civil society groups challenging these abuses,” said Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel and Palestine director.

“Pretending it’s business as usual with Israel amid escalating repression sends the message that EU condemnation is worth little more than the paper it’s written on.”

Criticized by Palestinian, European and international NGOs, as well as 47 members of the European Parliament, next week’s meeting will mark the first in a decade after they were paused following Israel’s objections to the EU’s position on West Bank settlements.

HRW, however, has said the bloc’s position represents “empty platitudes” that fail to consider the human rights identified as essential within the Association Council.

Alon Liel, former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, told the press earlier this year that as long as the Europeans did not take concrete action, “Israel doesn’t give a damn. It feels very confident this anti-human rights behavior will have no cost in the international arena.”

In May 2021, EU member states abstained or voted against the UN Human Rights Council’s establishment of an inquiry to investigate abuses and identify the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite consistent voting to support accountability mechanisms in other contexts.

“The decades-long European failure to take action in the face of grave human rights abuses has emboldened Israeli authorities to brazenly escalate their repression of Palestinians,” said Claudio Francavilla, EU advocate at HRW.

“Instead of reciting empty platitudes, European officials should use the Association Council to finally condemn Israel’s apartheid and persecution and make clear there will be meaningful consequences should the Israeli government not reverse course.”