Middle Eastern designers embrace the concept


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Last week I bought a keffiyeh online in the United States while living in the Middle East, where these cultural scarves are readily available in souks and souvenir shops. I bought mine from American hijab brand Vela Scarves, which promises 100% of the proceeds will go to the Islamic Relief relief program for Gaza. The charitable charm of the scarf made me sell.

As early as 2010, the Cone Cause Evolution Study, which investigated consumer attitudes toward business support for social and environmental issues, found that 85% of consumers have a more positive image of a brand when it supports a charity they care about, and 66% would choose a brand that supports one charity over another. Anecdotal evidence suggests the sentiment grew stronger and stronger once the pandemic hit.

Realizing the appeal of wellness fashion, brands and retailers have long partnered with charitable initiatives with exclusive, limited-edition items.

Chloe has created t-shirts supporting UNICEF’s gender equality projects, and Asos sells a shirt featuring the word ‘Heroes’, donating her profits to charities supporting the NHS in the UK. But more and more start-up labels are also focusing their activities on charitable intentions, going beyond unique fashion pieces designed for specific causes.

Cult label Pangaia can be credited with ushering in this wave of ethical retailing. The brand’s signature tracksuits in solid tones of fabric formulated with recycled and organic cotton, have received fashion industry approval not only for their striking minimalism, but also for their commendable and enduring element. For each item sold, the brand undertakes to plant, protect or restore a tree.

In April, Pangaia launched an exclusive regional capsule collection on Al Tayer-owned luxury e-commerce site Ounass. Images of the desert-inspired collaboration campaign spread across huge billboards along the main streets of the United Arab Emirates – a country where designers and consumers are increasingly fashion conscious.

Philanthropic fashion is in vogue

Many fashion brands rooted in the region have charitable foundations, from The Giving Movement, a unisex sports brand that donates Dh15 from every sale to Dubai Cares, to Blssd, a contemporary womenswear brand that funds a group cancer support.

In the luxury sector, there is SemSem, led by Abeer Al Otaiba, which partners up each season with a different non-profit organization. The brand has been worn by celebrities such as Blake Lively and Gigi Hadid, and its Spring / Summer 2021 collection, with royal silhouettes and dramatic pleats, is available through Net-a-Porter and Farfetch.

“From day one, I knew I wanted SemSem to have a philanthropic component,” Al Otaiba said. The National. “As a mother raising a young woman, I think it’s important to support and defend women.

“For me, the notion of giving back and being active philanthropically is more important than the emphasis on corporate responsibility – it’s personal. The most meaningful part of life is how we treat others. and what we can do to make the world a better place This is my little way to pay it forward.

The brand organized a fashion show supporting the International Rescue Committee and partnered with initiatives such as Every Mother Counts and Women for Women International. Last year, SemSem donated around Dh75,000 to the Afya Foundation to help distribute medical supplies for Covid-19 frontliners.

Fashion built on ethical foundations

While donating funds is certainly an effective way to provide support, many rising fashion brands have humanitarian and eco-friendly ideals woven into every step of the design process – from sourcing and production. of fabrics for sale.

Ohoy Swim, a label headquartered in Dubai, produces its swimwear ethically and sustainably, and donates a percentage of its profits to Healthy Seas, a charity that sends volunteer divers to retrieve abandoned fishing nets.

Anna Nielsen and Henna Kaarlela launched the brand in 2016 and produce their designs in small family factories in Portugal and Sri Lanka. They took inspiration from the Scandinavian aesthetic, but wanted to make sure their designs were environmentally friendly before they started their business.

“We researched the market and came across Econyl, which makes fibers from recycled plastics and creates incredible fabric that can be recycled endlessly in the circular economy,” said Nielsen. The National. “We wouldn’t have launched a brand if the option of a recycled fabric hadn’t been there.

Giving back to the community

While sustainability and philanthropy can be buzzwords in fashion, brands that make a lasting impact have an ethic embedded in the philosophy of their companies. A recent Vogue Business feature, titled The Fashion Philanthropy Game said that to make a real difference for charities, brands should make long-term commitments rather than one-time donations. These commitments don’t always have to be purely monetary – there are many ways brands can offer support to communities in need.

“I am dedicated to supporting women not only in the form of donations, but also in the form of shared knowledge. Sometimes education, mentoring and friendship are just as, if not more, useful as funding, ”says Al Otaiba.

She notes that, since many nonprofits in the arts community have been affected by the pandemic, SemSem is working with the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to promote free programming and accessible arts education. The brand has also partnered with the Washington Ballet to broadcast its annual Nutcracker tea, which is traditionally a closed-ended, invitation-only affair.

Dubai’s minimalist uSfuur (Arabic for “bird”) jewelry brand is also passionate about supporting communities by encouraging education and creativity. The brand recently launched a campaign in conjunction with grassroots community organization Myhomeland, in which customers can pledge monthly donations to help cultivate crafts in displaced communities across the Arab world.

“We align ourselves with projects and initiatives that support and help empower refugee communities through educational or creative means, while focusing on children and youth – we believe these are the future leaders of tomorrow, and it’s important to invest our resources and skills together to help them in any way possible, ”says designer Yara Tlass.

Donations from patrons go towards running the learning centers, covering teacher salaries, staff training, rent, school supplies, Wi-Fi, and the organization of regular art workshops that operate as forms of trauma relief.

Shaping a more conscious future

Recent global crises and social movements have not only helped consumers become more awake, but also more aware of how they spend their money.

“With the current state of the world, people have realized the importance of ethical consumption. They have become more aware and responsible for their choices as consumers, ”says Tlass. “It’s good that this has become mainstream because it has made consumers want to shop wisely – I just hope it stays that way after the hype ends. “

A 2018 Fashion business A study that found that 66% of millennials worldwide are willing to spend more money on sustainable clothing, and Nielsen believes these shoppers, with their purchasing power and social media activism, have the power to change the trend in retail.

Climate change and the human impact are undeniable now, and I think everyone is looking for ways to feel better by always buying fashion and taking small steps towards a greener future.

Yara Tlass, designer

“The younger generation is aware of consumerism and its impact on the environment as well as the conditions of the people who make their clothes,” she says. “Climate change and the human impact are undeniable now, and I think everyone is looking for ways to feel better by always buying fashion and taking small steps towards a greener future. “

Sustainability has undoubtedly become one of the key requirements of traditional fashion and, by definition, it aims to maintain an “ecological balance”. For many creative activists, giving back to the community is a critical part of finding that balance, which is why many focus on where the profits from sales ultimately go. But in the fierce world of fashion, where the market is not only saturated with competing designers but also by the growing threat of fast fashion, can philanthropic brands prosper financially?

For designers truly invested in making a difference, the ethical foundations of their business trump anything else, says Nielsen. “We are determined to leave a positive impact. It’s more important to us than making a lot of money, and that will never change.

Updated: Aug 29, 2021, 4:12 am

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