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Fashion Revolution Week: Western modest fashion brands show peers way to ethical practices

by Saadia Hashmy-Elsby | 29 April, 2017 | General
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Fashion Revolution Week: Western modest fashion brands show peers way to ethical practices
Photo credit: FashionRevolution.org

As Fashion Revolution Week grips the global fashion industry it isn’t just Western ethical standards that are under the spotlight but also how transparent the modest fashion sector is and to what extent the Islamic values entrenched in it are upheld.

Fashion Revolution Week (April 24 – 30) marks the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse just outside Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013, which killed 1,138 people and injured many more. Bangladesh’s ready-made garments sector accounts for 80 percent of its exports and employs over 4 million people, playing a pivotal role in the country’s economy and development. The tragedy triggered the creation of Fashion Revolution - a global not-for-profit movement that began in the UK and aims to create transparency across the entire supply chain, from farmer to consumer.

As part of Fashion Revolution Week’s campaign consumers are being encouraged to take a picture of their labels and tweet or Instagram the brand and ask #whomademyclothes? A string of events were held across the globe that explore eco-responsibility and push for fair trade across the industry, including boutique pop-ups showcasing sustainable labels and talks and discussions that pose important questions like ‘Can Fashion Ever be Ethical?’

Credit: FashionRevolution.org

GULSHAAN, PARIS

Parisian designer Imaan M’s ethical modest fashion label Gulshaan, launched in 2014, led a panel discussion at the historical exhibition centre La Bellevilloise in Paris yesterday looking at how fashion impacts society. “Today fashion is not inclusive, and this exclusivity is a real issue – all women in society of all different communities need to be represented,” Imaan told Salaam Gateway.

Speakers included Haifa Tlili, a sociologist who works with forgotten communities in France, Quitterie de Villepin, a French activist committed to the fight against fast fashion and French designer Jean-Luc François. The discussion also served as a springboard for the launch of Gulshaan’s spring/summer collection, which will be available to buy from May 1st.     

Gulshaan’s clothes are solely manufactured in Pakistan, promote traditional handmade embroidery and help a vulnerable portion of the population: women. “Everything is made by women in Pakistan who are divorced or widowed and who have very little means to support their families,” said Imaan to Salaam Gateway.

She is no stranger to the plight of less privileged members of society having studied sociology, humanitarian work and intercultural mediation alongside fashion design. “Before I was a fashion designer I worked in France as a social worker at the Red Cross receiving migrants into France, so I still have a connection with this field and I feel close to it,” she said.

By choosing to manufacture through workshops that empower women by training them in making ready-to-wear garments Gulshaan chose the fairtrade approach, over industrial production and the mass consumption of fast fashion, said Imaan. Gulshaan uses natural fabrics – cotton, linen, wool and silk – woven in various qualities that don’t contain any chemical fibres and are kinder to the environment.

Photo: Gulshaan Spring/Summer 2017. Courtesy Gulshaan

AL MARA SCARVES, LEVERKUSEN

In Leverkusen, Germany, Nouha Touati’s modest fashion brand Al Mara Scarves is also taking part in Fashion Revolution Week. “In April we relaunched as an eco-friendly brand with fair production lines in Morocco and Germany,” Touati told Salaam Gateway.

Organic cotton is woven in Germany, handcrafted by women in Morocco and stitched in Germany by five young female refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. “These girls were already tailors back in their home countries so here in Germany they have a chance to start a new life,” said Touati.

PURPLE IMPRESSION, CALIFORNIA

Across the pond U.S.-based ethical modest fashion brand Purple Impression participated in Fashion Revolution’s ‘Fashion Night Out’ in Oakland, California, on April 27.

The sustainable and artisan label that provides employment opportunities for women in Pakistan claims to be very transparent about its supply chain and is an active member of Fashion Revolution West Coast USA.

"Islamic consumers should definitely feel that there is a responsibility to lean more toward ethical and sustainable fashion." - Alia Khan, Chairwoman, Islamic Fashion and Design Council

 UNDER-RAPT, MANCHESTER

In the UK healthy lifestyle brand Under-Râpt is also attempting to set an example for other modest fashion labels by designing modest sportswear using fabrics that are not only high-tech and performance enhancing, but sustainable and organic, too. “I understood that sourcing organic fabrics would be more time consuming and less available, but I wanted to ensure my brand coincides with consumers’ ethical and moral values – contributing to our planet,” Yasmin Sobeih, designer and founder of Under-Râpt said.

With a number of high street fast fashion brands having had their corporate responsibility in ethical labouring overseas exposed, consumers are increasingly no longer just impulse buyers, but consider where and how a product is made. “I was lucky enough to have found a Turkish supplier where all their manufacturing is done on site, and I’m able to see first hand factory standards and labouring,” added Sobeih, whose brand adheres to ethical trading throughout its supply chain.

Since the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act in 2015 businesses based in the UK, such as Under-Râpt, are required to publish annual statements detailing steps taken to ensure that slavery, exploitation and human trafficking aren’t taking place in a business or in any part of its supply chain. In short, big business in the UK has been forced to make public its efforts to stop the use of slave labour by its suppliers.      

Photo: Purple Impression participates in Fashion Revolution Week by showing who makes their clothes / Courtesy Purple Impression

‘WE FALL SHORT’

Slowly but surely modest fashion is catching on to the fact that it has to operate in line with Islam’s ethical principles that lean towards the good of community versus individualism, and good actions, not only adhering to guidelines on the aesthetics of a modest dress code.

“When I first came into the modest fashion industry I didn’t see any ethics or values,” said Gulshaan’s Imaan. “[It’s] a sector where brands were like squirrels trying to take whatever share of the market they could get.”

These issues that derive from a fragmented modest fashion sector persist and the need for unification remains. “We are at a time where fast fashion retailers are after the Muslim market and we need to have our own narrative which should come from our own values,” said Purple Impression co-founder Afshan Khan.

Fashion is the number two culprit in hurting the environment after the oil industry. Its complicated supply chain of raw materials, production, manufacturing, distribution, retail and disposal of garments is a very heavy user and polluter of the environment.

Addressing this, Alia Khan, chairwoman of the Islamic Fashion and Design Council (IFDC), doesn’t believe the modest fashion industry is doing enough, “Islamic consumers should definitely feel that there is a responsibility to lean more toward ethical and sustainable fashion. The progress that has been made in this area has been fair. It can be better and I think it’s necessary to be tough in this area and we all fall short,” she said.  

"I was lucky enough to have found a Turkish supplier where all their manufacturing is done on site, and I’m able to see first hand factory standards and labouring." - Yasmin Sobeih, designer and founder, Under-Râpt

CHECK ON TURKISH INDUSTRY

For the fashion industry as a whole, some progress has been made.

The Switzerland-based C&A Foundation, together with U.S.-based LaborVoices Inc. recently exposed the risks and best practices in Turkey’s textiles and clothing industry, which contributes a substantial 7 percent to the country’s GDP, and claims a large share of the modest fashion market with an extensive manufacturing base.

The C&A Foundation-LaborVoices platform collected workers’ views anonymously, with a total of 26 Turkish suppliers and 50 production units employing 9,494 workers involved. “Verbal abuse emerged as a worrying trend, with 44 percent saying they’ve been affected. Toilet and cafeteria cleanliness was mentioned by 55 percent of callers and 38 percent said they’d been made to work 14 days in a row without time off – a clear violation of local labour law,” Maeve Galvin, programme manager at C&A Foundation said.

The foundation has been pushing for greater transparency across all levels of the fashion industry for years. “Verbal abuse is a problem the industry hasn’t quite managed to tackle. What is happening in Turkey is unfortunately not unusual, we’ve seen similar results in Bangladesh,” Galvin added.

But on the upside it is new and unusual for workers’ comments on their factory’s conditions to be collected and made public, alongside factory names, C&A Foundation said.    

WAY FORWARD

In its campaign for transparency Fashion Revolution released a review of 100 of the biggest global fashion brands and retailers. The Fashion Transparency Index 2017 looks at how much information brands and retailers disclose about their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices.

The good news is 32 of the 100 brands in the index published supplier lists – at the first tier where clothes are typically cut, sewn and trimmed, said campaigners at Fashion Revolution. This is an increase from last year in which just five of the 40 companies reviewed published supplier lists.

And the way forward for modest fashion? If they want to put their Islamic credentials to good use, modest fashion companies should take the lead to start reporting annually on their sustainability and inclusivity practices and progress. Otherwise, the stories and claims from Gulshaan, Al Mara Scarves, Purple Impression, and others not reported in this article, would not be able to stand their ground for very much longer.

As Purple Impression’s Afshan Khan said, education is key, and for consumers as well. If consumers are well aware of how the modest fashion market operates an informed choice will come easier, because at the end of the day the industry is driven by demand.  

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