Planet Earth is like no other, full of breathtaking landscapes, exploding colours, and home to millions of species. It is a place which inspires us, gives us a reason to live with its vibrant and vast array of patterns and textures. But this planet is suffocating, crying, and telling us that we are polluting it every day. Our desire to wear fast fashion is one of the biggest reasons contaminating the mesmerizing beauty of our planet. So, is there a solution to being both Fashionable and Sustainable?
Every year over 100 billion of clothing items are produced globally. Recent estimates in an article written on Bloomberg in February 2022, indicates that consulting firm McKinsey and the World Economic Forum suggest the number of garments produced each year has at least doubled since 2000. Garments made from polyester and other synthetic fibers are a prime source of microplastic pollution, which is especially harmful to marine life. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, Fashion accounts for up to 10% of global carbon dioxide output—more than international flights and shipping combined. The research also states the facts that only a fraction of what’s manufactured gets recycled. Eighty-seven percent of the total fiber input used for clothing is ultimately incinerated or sent to a landfill. Aside from landfills being full of wasted textiles, environmental experts estimate that it takes about 2,720 litres of water to make one cotton shirt and a whopping 7,000 litres to make one pair of jeans. Overall, nearly 20% of global wastewater is produced by the fashion industry. (Dottle, R., Gu, J., 2022)
There are many such more facts, and they all point towards one thing- “lets adopt sustainability”. And to adopt this fact, we need to first understand this concept. Sustainable fashion, also called as Eco-Fashion, or sometimes ‘Green Fashion’ is a part of the growing design philosophy and trend of sustainability, the goal of which is to create a system which can be supported indefinitely in terms of human impact on the environment and social responsibility. For more than a decade people are consciously taking measures and sustainability has become a major focus of fashion brands. They have released sustainability reports that detail goals to use more recycled or organic materials. Though sustainability measures are growing in popularity, so far, they’re no match for the speed and sheer weight of apparel piling up on the planet.
One of the main issues reported by the environmentalist related to sustainability is Fashion consumption. Fashion brands try to address the problem of sustainability by encouraging consumers to shop for more sustainable fabrics, but the reality is that it just leads to more and more consumption. So even if brands are creating exactly what consumers want, they are also creating a culture that encourages them to throw clothing away too quickly. Fashion brands have been in discussion where they have destroyed the unsold products and also send tons of clothes to the landfill. Concept of dumping clothes to developing countries is another concern leading to over consumption and excessive fabric waste pollution. Fast fashion has instilled a new mentality of ‘disposable fashion’ among the Millennial and Gen Z consumers. Calls for overall reduction of fashion consumption levels and more sustainable forms of fashion consumption come from NGOs (e.g., Fashion Revolution, 2017), international organizations (UNEP, 2020; EEA, 2019), and academic researchers. (Vladimirova, et al., 2022).
According to the conceptual framework of the international research network on Sustainable Fashion Consumption, the consumption of fashion is comprised of three key phases: Acquisition, Use, and Disposal. Each of these phases, consumers can engage into more sustainable consumption practices. The widest spectrum of options is available at the acquisition phase, from different forms of collaborative fashion consumption – including buying second-hand, swapping, and renting garments, to buying less all together (Vladimirova, et al., 2022). Nevertheless, ‘slowing down’ fashion, reuse and overall reductions in apparel volumes have been widely recognized as solutions to the fashion industry’s sustainability problem (Vladimirova, et al., 2022).
“Fashion consumption practice”, is related to a routinized behavior related to acquiring, using, or disposing of fashion items. There are various acquisition practices which act as a window into consumers’ ways of satisfying their need for fashion. Acquisition practices include online shopping, discount shopping, and impulse purchases (as more conventional forms of acquisition, often also associated with fast fashion) and buying new ethically made fashion or secondhand clothes, swapping or borrowing clothes, and having clothes made or tailored (generally viewed as more sustainable forms of fashion consumption) (Vladimirova, et al., 2022).
Rather than consider fashion consumption as an individual lifestyle choice based ultimately on rational reasoning, we need to consider the aspect of social practice. Social practice can help to uncover why and how people engage in certain ways of ‘doing’ or ‘experiencing’ fashion over others by considering materials, competence, and meanings involved in different forms of ‘routinized behavior’ and ‘habitual doing’ (Vladimirova, et al., 2022).An in-depth study on these social practices and a sincere effort of every country in the world towards consumer awareness on the global issues related to fashion consumption and Fashion sustainably is the key to a healthier future.
Sustainable Practices in Bahrain
The study of social practices and a step towards sustainability was started long time back in the Kingdom of Bahrain. Situated on the Persian Gulf, Bahrain is recognized by the World Bank as a high-income economy and therefore people in the Kingdom have high purchasing power. The social practice towards sustainability in Bahrain is based on the approach of recycling post-consumer textiles. Post-consumer clothing is defined as any type of clothing made from manufactured textile that the owner no longer needs. and decides to throw away. Collected clothes are mainly used in four ways: the first way is to do charity and help the poor. Second way is to resell them as secondhand clothing and donate money to the charity. The third way is to export them to developing countries, the fourth way is to break down the recycled fabric to fiber through mechanical or chemical processing that converts them into new products or getting the fabric reconstructed at the level of haute couture. Studies show that consumer awareness on Fashion Sustainability is the need of the hour in the Kingdom. (Bushager, 2018)
In 2001, a few Bahraini women took the initiative to create an environment service association in cooperation with the environmental affairs directorate and mother and child welfare society, under the patronage of Sh. Lulwa Bint Mohammed Alkhalifa, a civil society action programme for recycling and reuse clothes in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The project was supported by UNEP and the environment affairs directorate. UNEP provided guidance and technical support to the association. (Bushager, 2018). To support to the cause various societies were formed, contributing towards sustainability
Contribution of non-governmental societies
Tarbeia Islamic Society was established in the Kingdom of Bahrain by group of charity and humanitarian activists. One of their programmes is collecting used clothes. These clothes are collected in the charity boxes on the road, or the society also provides services in collecting clothes from door to door. Once collected, the clothes are sent to the individuals in need, put on sale and money goes to charity, and sent as charity to Makkah in Haj season, and to the countries like Syria, Yeman, Egypt, and Sudan. Moreover, the clothes which are not in good condition are displayed in the Local Friday market for sale and the money collected is used for charity. In February 2017, Good Imprint Association started a similar campaign of collecting used clothes and recycling it. Other charity societies have clothing donation boxes around the Kingdom too. Societies like Al Noor Charity Welfare, Bahrain Voluntary Work Society, and Isa Town Consumer Co-operative Society, also hold different types of awareness seminars, lectures, campaigns, and other related events. They also approach various institutions and create awareness towards various sustainable environmental issues including Fashion Sustainability. (Bushager, 2018)
Contribution of Fashion Designers
With the awareness created locally and globally younger generation in Bahrain are taking strong initiatives towards creating awareness and following the concepts of Fashion Consumption and Sustainability.
In the recent years, Ms Haya Khalifa, a graduate of Fashion Design programme from the College of Art and Design at the Royal University for Women in Kingdom of Bahrain, has been actively spreading awareness through her talks on Fashion Consumption and Sustainability. Winner of the best Arab Designer award, Founder of Nesma Studio- Slow Fashion Brand, Ms Haya is a Fashion Designer and sustainable Fashion enthusiast, she aims to give back to the world and is committed to sustainability. Ms Haya’s conducts lecturers and workshops in Bahrain at space 340, Muharraq Model Youth Center and Women Power Submit contributing greatly towards Fashion sustainability.
In a talk by Fashion Revolution (world’s largest fashion activism movement, of people who make the fashion industry work), Fashion designer, and Fashion Revolution Bahrain’s Country Coordinator, Ms Rawan Maki, believes that “Every boy and girl that has grown up in Bahrain has probably put significant thought into the products they wanted to adorn growing up. Not as much thought is put into where these products come from, and where they go. She believes that targeting Middle School and High School students is important, and an exciting platform to change mindsets on consumption”. Fashion revolution in Bahrain is actively working towards creating awareness on Fashion consumption. In the aim to protect this beautiful planet, Rawan Makis namesake brand uses reusable, low-impact materials, and fabrics. She also believes and promotes that another move towards sustainability is by producing pieces in limited quantities.
‘Basics by Nature’, a sustainable lifestyle brand was established in Bahrain in 2016, by the Russian designer, Dinara Juju, whose background in clothing design allowed her to see the potential for minimalist and natural collections in the region.
A young Fashion Designer Hala Kaiksow adopted the concept of slow fashion. With her interest in natural dyeing, Ms Hala experimented with a wide variety of ingredients that include saffron, clay, coffee, and woad; a natural source of blue dye produced from a flowering plant indigenous to the Middle East. Hala, prefers to work with natural fibres in their raw state, combining them with other recyclable materials. Hala also works with the local weavers and contributes towards sustainability of the languishing craft.
In the summer of 2021, Noof Al Shekar, creative director and founder of NS by Noof, previewed a new collection of sustainable handbags made from recycled ocean plastic waste. Al Shekar, who is best known for bespoke bags made from exotic snakeskin, lambskin, alligator, and Italian leathers, and encased in precious metals finally embraces sustainability.
Bahrain Ministry of Culture and Antiquity, supports sustainably by promoting traditional craftsmen’s and creating awareness of the local craft. Awareness campaigns involves various workshop related to traditional craft of embroidery, stitching, and weaving the fabrics. These training workshops further promote use of organic materials in creating garments and promoting the culture as a big step towards fashion sustainability.
The Bahrain Women Association for Human Development through its program Environment Citizenship, organizes lectures related to Environmental Impact of Fashion. Young Bahraini Fashion Designers participate in such lectures and generate awareness in on sustainability.
Each year the Global Shapers Community organizes an annual kick-off call with Fashion Revolution at Bahrain. Shaping Fashion (global initiative to scale sustainable transformations in the fashion industry through the Global Shapers network) collaborates with Fashion revolution and with local teams of industry experts to organize events, workshops, clothes swaps, and film screenings to push for change in their communities.
In another attempt, Hala Ibrahim, Shereen and Naseem Fekri, came up with the ‘The Undressed Company’ in 2021. The company comes up with the vision of eco-consciousness and is spreading the awareness with the concept of Clothing swap. They aim to tackle retail overconsumption as well as highlight the benefits of second-hand shopping save the environment. Their initial attempt of clothing swap was much appreciated, and the company is now growing up with more ideas reduce fashion consumption and create awareness in its disposal.
“It’s the switch project”, is another community-based environmental initiative in the kingdom. Started in 2021, the group arranges clothing swaps and thrifting pops exhibits. The founder of the project Ms Khadija aims to promote the concept to manage the closet sustainably. The team also arranges upcycling workshops and other activities which make people think globally and act locally.
Talking about the thrift shops, BSPCA thrift shop in Bahrain cannot be missed not to mentioned. It’s one of the first thrift shops in Bahrain where people donate clothes, and they are resold for collecting animal care fund.
The talk on Fashion sustainability will be incomplete without mentioning the contribution made by the students studying in BA in Fashion Design programme at the College of Art and Design, Royal University for Women in Bahrain. This is the only university which offers the undergraduate degree programme in Fashion Design. Students and instructors take great initiatives to use sustainable techniques in design development and productions. In a recent research project college is working on developing a digital wardrobe application suitable to the regional community. Students are involved in various activities in the kingdom which supports the concept of fashion sustainability.
With all the above initiatives taken, Bahrain is walking its steps towards sustainability. However, there is a long road to tread. Bahrain is following challenges to implement the three R’s of sustainability, like the other neighboring countries of KSA and UAE. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle are still at a developing stage. The concepts of mending, repair, reuse, reduce, recycling, upcycling, carbon footprints, biodegradable, and non-biodegradable, are still new to the population. With a high purchasing power, people are greatly influenced by the social media influencers. Instagram is a major catalyst for buying fashion in Bahrain. Concept of secondhand clothing has various emotional attachments and cultural barriers. Government of Bahrain needs to take strong initiatives to sustain consumption. Currently all the initiatives are taken by the private organizations or individual members. Charity is considered as the best method towards garment disposal. But when the clothes are damaged beyond use, they are just disposed of as garbage. Moreover, the awareness of the disadvantages of throwing away the textiles and clothes is not prevalent. People are not aware of how harmful or toxic the clothes can be if they are thrown away. The only landfill in the region, Askar landfill is full to its maximum capacity. Government is trying to find the best possible options to close the loop of sustainability. The consumer education is the most important factor in reducing waste. Individuals at the same time need to understand the gravity of the situation and live with the concepts of sustainability. Everyone should share the responsibility of leaving this world in the best condition for the upcoming generations. In the end we need to keep this planet the most beautiful place in the universe and live being both fashionable and sustainable. To be stylish and sustainable, shop responsibly, handle carefully and recycle strategically.
About the Author
Dr Shweta Kinra Kalra is currently the Head of the Design Department at the College of Art and Design, Royal University for Women, Bahrain. Dr. Shweta received her Ph.D., Masters in Textiles and Clothing and Master’s in Education from University of Delhi, India. She also obtained certificates in Computer Aided Designing and Manufacturing from reputable institutions. Dr Shweta has also received her fellowship certificate from Higher Education Academy (HEA), UK. Her main area of research is Traditional Textiles and its contemporization. Her interest also lies in technological developments and sustainability in the field of Textiles and Apparel Design.
Dr. Shweta has published research papers in national and international journals and presented her work at various conferences. She has also received award for her research work, recognized internationally. Prior to joining Royal University for Women, she had 14 years of teaching experience in the field of Textile & Apparel Design and was teaching at the prestigious college of University of Delhi. Dr. Shweta has also gained her experience working as a Research Associate on projects related to Design Development and Traditional Textiles and Clothing. She was a member of the core curriculum committees of NIOS (National Institute of School Education) and CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) in developing teaching materials for vocational courses in Apparel and Textiles.
Her additional degree in education and her years of work, has given her in-depth experience in developing curriculums, organizing conferences, workshops, seminars, and other related activities. She has supervised many masters research dissertations and has visited as guest speaker and as a jury member in many recognized institutions. Her skills in communication made her present many shows on known TV channels and radio as a textile expert, further enhancing her professional skills.
- Bushager, A.,(2018, Feb), Eco-Fashion: Management of Clothing, Recycling in the Kingdom of Bahrain
- Dottle, R., Gu,J.,(2022, February,23), The Global Glut of Clothing Is an Environmental Crisis, bloomberg.com, https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2022-fashion-industry-environmental-impact
- Katia Vladimirova, Claudia E. Henninger, Cosette Joyner-Martinez, Samira Iran, Sonali Diddi, Marium Durrani, Kavitha Iyer, Iva Jestratijevic, Helen McCormick, Kirsi Niinimäki, Priyadarshini Thangavelu, Meike Sauerwein, Renu Singh, Petr Simek, Stephan Wallaschkowski, (2022, March, 24), Fashion consumption during COVID-19: Comparative analysis of changing acquisition practices across nine countries and implications for sustainability, Cleaner and Responsible Consumption, Volume 5, 2022, 100056, ISSN 2666-7843, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clrc.2022.100056. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666784322000109)