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.

INNUMBERS

* $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.”


Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack

Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack
Updated 19 sec ago

Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack

Syria slams chemical watchdog report on 2018 attack
DAMASCUS: Syria on Thursday dismissed the global chemical weapons watchdog’s statement, which said that investigators had found “reasonable grounds to believe” the Syrian air force dropped two cylinders of chlorine gas in 2018 on then-rebel-held town of Douma.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons produced a detailed report following a fact-finding mission that investigated the April 7, 2018 attack. Medical workers and activists said at the time more than 40 people were killed in the attack. OPCW inspectors headed to the site of the attack days later.
The United States, Britain and France blamed Syrian government forces and launched airstrikes. Syria and key ally Russia deny any chemical attack.
Douma was the final target of the Syrian government’s sweeping campaign to reclaim control of the eastern Ghouta suburbs of the capital, Damascus, from the rebels, who gave up the town days after the alleged chemical attack.
Syria’s permanent representative to OPCW, Ambassador Milad Atieh, told reporters that the OPCW has been biased toward “Western positions.”
“The OPCW’s report relied mostly on information obtained from countries hostile to Syria and some other media and social networking sites run by terrorist organizations,” he said. “The report contained false accusations aimed at increasing pressure and escalating Western positions hostile to Syria.”
Atieh claimed the report’s methodology had “serious irregularities and defects” and false accusations that impacted its credibility, though he did not give any examples or offer evidence to support his statement.
In an attempt to ensure accountability for crimes in Syria, the United Nations has established a commission entitled “International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism.” It is mandated to preserve and analyze evidence of crimes and prepare files for trials in “national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes, in accordance with international law.”
Atieh however accused the United States and Western countries of political interference with the UN commission.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in a joint statement with his British, French, and German counterparts last week commended the OPCW report and called on key Syrian ally Russia to “stop shielding Syria from accountability for its use of chemical weapons.”
“Syria must fully declare and destroy its chemical weapons program and allow the deployment of OPCW staff to its country to verify it has done so,” the statement read.
The ongoing conflict that started in Syria more than a decade ago has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half the country’s prewar population of 23 million.
Syria joined the OPCW in 2013 under severe international pressure after a deadly chemical attack on a Damascus suburb.

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit
Updated 41 min 39 sec ago

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit

Spain, Morocco seek reset of testy relationship at Rabat summit
  • Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed as many as 20 agreements to boost trade and investment
  • There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain's enclaves in Africa

RABAT: Spain and Morocco have agreed to set aside their differences, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Thursday, as they seek to repair a relationship marked by
frequent disputes over migration and territory.
Sanchez was speaking at a summit in Rabat where the two countries signed as many as 20 agreements to boost trade and investment, including credit lines of up to 800 million euros ($873 million).
“We have agreed on a commitment to mutual respect, whereby in our discourse and in our political practice we will avoid everything that we know offends the other party, especially regarding our respective spheres of sovereignty,” Sanchez said.
There have been regular diplomatic crises over Spain’s enclaves in Africa, Morocco’s dispute with rebels over the Western Sahara, and the arrival of thousands of illegal migrants in Spain each year through Morocco.
Morocco refuses to recognize Spanish sovereignty over Ceuta and Melilla, but last year the two countries agreed to open the first customs control points between the two.
Madrid says that reflects Rabat’s recognition of the enclaves as foreign territory, but Morocco has not confirmed the development and has given no public statement indicating that its long-held stance that the enclaves should be part of its territory has changed.
Sanchez restored cordial relations with Rabat in March 2022 after he reversed former colonial master Spain’s four-decade policy on the Western Sahara by backing Morocco’s proposal to create an autonomous region.
Forging peace between the neighbors has forced Sanchez’s Socialists into some uncomfortable positions.
Last month, its MEPs voted against a resolution in the European Parliament to call on Morocco to improve its record on press freedom. MEP Juan Fernando Lopez said this week that maintaining cordial neighborly relations sometimes involved “swallowing a toad.”
Spain’s about-turn on Western Sahara drew the ire of Algeria, a Polisario Front ally, which suspended trade with Spain and warned it could cut the flow of natural gas even as it forges closer gas ties with Italy.
In Rabat on Thursday, Moroccan Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch expressed satisfaction at Spain’s support for Morocco’s autonomy plan as the “most credible solution” to resolve the Western Sahara dispute, but did not reference an agreement to set aside all sovereignty disputes.


Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism
Updated 02 February 2023

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism

Turkiye slams West for security warnings ‘harming’ tourism
  • The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Quran-burning incidents in some European countries
  • The US and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance

ANKARA: Turkiye on Thursday slammed a group of Western countries that temporarily closed down their consulates in Istanbul over security concerns, accusing them of waging “psychological warfare” and attempting to wreck Turkiye’s tourism industry.
Germany, the Netherlands and Britain were among countries that shut down their consulates in the city of around 16 million people this week. The German Embassy cited the risk of possible retaliatory attacks following Qur’an-burning incidents in some European countries. The United States and other countries issued travel warnings urging citizens to exercise vigilance.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the consulate closures and travel warnings were part of a Western plot to prevent a rebound in Turkiye’s tourism sector following the coronavirus pandemic.
“On a day when we declared our aim of (attracting) 60 million tourists, at a time when 51.5 million tourists arrived and we obtained $46 billion in tourism revenue, they were on the verge of starting a new psychological warfare (against) Turkiye,” said Soylu, who is known for his anti-Western rhetoric.
The minister said Turkiye had conducted as many as 60 operations against the Daesh group so far this year and detained 95 people. Last year, close to 2,000 Daesh suspects were detained in more than 1,000 operations against the group, he said.
Earlier this week, the Interior Ministry said Turkish authorities had detained a number of suspects following a warning from a “friendly country,” but hadn’t found any weapons, ammunition or sign of a planned act of violence.
In November, a bombing on Istanbul’s bustling Istiklal Avenue, located in the heart of the city and near a number of foreign consulates, killed six people and wounded several others. Turkish authorities blamed the attack on Kurdish militants.
Last weekend, Turkiye’s foreign ministry issued a travel warning for European countries due to anti-Turkish demonstrations and what it described as Islamophobia. The warning followed demonstrations the week before outside the Turkish Embassy in Sweden, where an anti-Islam activist burned the Qur’an and pro-Kurdish groups protested against Turkiye.
In a related development, the Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Norway’s ambassador to ask for a protest planned for Friday in the Scandinavian country to be prevented because there would be an “attack” on the Qur’an during the event, Turkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported Thursday.
Norwegian newspaper VG said a group called Stop Islamization of Norway planned to burn the Qur’an outside the Turkish Embassy in Oslo on Friday.
The group’s leader, Lars Thorsen, told VG that he planned to carry out his protest “in the context of Turkiye’s intolerance of Western values of freedom.”
Recent demonstrations in Europe where activists desecrated Islam’s holy book have infuriated Muslims in Turkiye and elsewhere.
Anadolu said the Norwegian ambassador was told that the planned action would constitute a “hate crime” that should not be allowed.


Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group
Updated 02 February 2023

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group

Iranian film director Jafar Panahi starts hunger strike in prison — rights group
  • Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010
  • Panahi has won several international awards

DUBAI: Iranian film director Jafar Panahi has started a hunger strike in prison to protest against authorities’ refusal to release him temporarily on bail pending retrial, the activist HRANA news agency reported on Thursday.
Panahi was detained in July and told he would serve a six-year prison sentence originally issued by a Tehran court in 2010, amid a stepped-up crackdown on dissent in the Islamic Republic.
“According to the law, I should have been released on bail after my request for retrial was accepted but my case has been delayed for more than 100 days,” the 62-year-old film director wrote in a letter, according to HRANA.
“This is in stark contrast with the speedy trials of innocent youth which are brought to the gallows 30 days after their arrest,” added the director, who won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d’Or prize for his 1995 movie “White Balloon.”
There was no immediate reaction to the HRANA report from Iranian authorities on state media.
Iran’s judiciary said in July Panahi would serve a six-year sentence over charges of “propaganda against the system” and inciting opposition protests after the 2009 election that led to months of political turmoil.
Since then, nationwide protests sparked by the death in police custody of Kurdish Iranian young woman Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16 2022 have represented one of the toughest challenges to the Islamic Republic.
At least four people have been hanged since the demonstrations started, according to the judiciary. Iran has accused foreign enemies of fomenting the unrest.
Panahi has won several international awards, including the 2015 Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear for his film “Taxi.”


Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran
Updated 02 February 2023

Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran

Netanyahu in Paris to press Macron on Iran
  • The pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program”
  • Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine

PARIS: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron Thursday, hoping to gain support against Iran’s nuclear program but shadowed by an upsurge of violence in the region.
Israel’s Paris embassy said the pair would discuss “the international effort to stop the Iranian nuclear program.”
Netanyahu hopes that Iran’s role supplying drones to Russian invaders in Ukraine as well as the crackdown on protests at home will prompt Western allies to drop any pursuit of a revival of the 2015 deal over its atomic drive.
The prime minister has also said Israel is considering sending military aid to Ukraine, apparently dropping its previously more neutral stance over the conflict.
France agrees that “firmness” is needed in dealings with Iran, a diplomatic source told AFP, calling its nuclear program “dangerous” and highlighting its role in the Ukraine war.
Tehran also holds several foreign nationals who Western governments see as political hostages.
But Macron’s office said the French leader would “reiterate (to Netanyahu) the need for all sides to avoid measures likely to feed the cycle of violence” between Israelis and Palestinians — while offering “France’s solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorism.”
Netanyahu visits as Israelis and Palestinians exchanged rockets and missiles over Gaza, the latest violent episode as the conflict intensifies.
A week ago, seven were killed in a mass shooting by a Palestinian at a synagogue in annexed east Jerusalem — one day after an Israeli raid in the West Bank killed 10 Palestinians.
In France until Saturday, Netanyahu is also set to meet French business chiefs and leaders of the country’s Jewish community, the Israeli embassy said.