Eco-Friendly Fashion Trending in the UAE

Sustainable clothing has become increasingly popular under the UAE’s Vision 2021 objective to reduce its carbon footprint

Ranked in the top 10 of the recently released British Spectator Index’s list of the most fashionable cities of 2018, Dubai is a well-recognized fashion hub in the Middle East. Less well known, however, is the burgeoning popularity of the eco-friendly scene in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“Companies in the UAE are increasingly introducing products made of recyclable material into the fashion industry,” Vishnu Sunil, research officer at the Emirates Environmental Group, told The Media Line.

This includes Splash Fashion, one of the biggest retailers in the Middle East in terms of sales volume and stores. Raza Beig, its CEO, explained to The Media Line that his company had become eco-friendlier for ethical reasons.

“We believe it’s our responsibility to initiate this kind of change in the region,” he said.

“Sustainable Environment and Infrastructure” is the title given to one of the six main objectives listed in the UAE’s National Agenda 2021, introduced in 2014 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the UAE’s vice president, prime minister and Dubai’s ruler, as an extension of the country’s UAE Vision 2021, enacted in 2010.

Splash Fashion’s Beig believes that this goal has contributed to the UAE’s sustainable clothing movement, which has started to gain ground in the past five to six years.

“Eco-fashion and social consciousness are slowing but surely becoming priorities for many organizations that are making efforts to align themselves with the goals of UAE Vision 2021,” he told The Media Line.

Beig also said that the sustainable fashion trend in the UAE was due in part to the influence of environmentally friendly policies and collections by global chains, such as H&M, which also encourages customers to recycle clothing at its stores.

Second to oil, the fashion industry appears to be the largest contributor to overall pollution.

“There’s a huge carbon footprint in fashion,” the Emirates Environmental Group’s Sunil said. “There is an environmental problem every step of the way.”

He explained that much clothing is made from cotton, a water-intensive crop that requires the heavy use of fertilizers. Jeans, for example, require hundreds of gallons of water to manufacture. In addition, transporting clothes to stores is harmful to the environment in terms of carbon emissions and the single-use plastic utilized to wrap merchandise.

There are also post-production environmental costs. Newer clothes contain synthetic fibers that, once washed, slip through filters and end up in oceans, acting as a pollutant while simultaneously entering the food chain. The dryer lint that is caught ends up in landfills, often along with unwanted clothing that is not completely biodegradable.

“There is no one-stop solution” when it comes to reducing the pollution generated by the fashion industry, according to Sunil, but eco-friendly clothing made of recyclables reduces the negative environmental impact.

Challenges remain in broadening the consumption of eco-friendly fashion in the UAE. For example, according to Beig, one of the main obstacles is the slow acceptance of environmentally friendly practices in the region.

“The majority of people across GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] are yet to embrace and understand the need for sustainable living,” he said.

Another hindrance is cost, as sustainable clothing is more expensive.

Despite this, Beig believes that sustainable fashion is a developing industry.

“This trend is on the rise and only growing,” he said. “Many new practices and sustainable initiatives are being developed, and support is being offered toward sustainable fashion and the entire supply chain.”

He added that he was optimistic about what lay ahead for eco-friendly clothing in the UAE.

“The greatest part of the future of sustainable fashion,” he said, “is that more and more people are excited about it every day.”

(Tara Kavaler is an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Studies)

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