Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – Fashion is about far more than just trendy outfits. The growing demand for ethical clothing is one example of how designers are seeking to leave a legacy beyond the runway.
The ethical fashion movement is spreading to the Middle East and North Africa.
Recent initiatives include Talahum by UAE-based designer Aiisha Ramadan, who created coats that transform into sleeping bags for disadvantaged and refugee communities living without proper shelter.
In 2016, Cairo hosted ICANSURVIVE, an event to commemorate World Cancer Day. As part of theproject, 32 cancer survivors were paired with fashion designers to help them create the outfit of a lifetime
“I consider this to be one of my biggest achievements”, said Egyptian couturier Ahmed Nabil, 28, one of the volunteers as ICANSURVICE. “I still can’t let go of the moment I saw her crying from happiness when she got to wear her outfit at the event”.
Though a transformational experience for Nabil, this was not his first attempt at thought-provoking designs. He was only 23 when he launched his company, Nob Designs, in 2014 to begin a journey of exploration by designing clothes for unconventional causes and experimental concepts.
The company sells a diverse set of fashion pieces with designs that aim to inspire conversation. Nabil’s creations are much like art pieces at a gallery, but instead of being displays on canvas, they are exhibited on t-shirts, tops, dresses and abayas.
His latest collection combines street fashion inspired by underground culture with Arabic calligraphy. The Halal Project endeavors to blur the lines between conservative and edgy to demonstrate that fashion designs can be accessible to anyone.
“It’s all about their idea of accepting one another regardless of difference”, Nabil said. “My main aim for this project is a call for all people to peacefully coexist”.
Nabil added that the shift towards tolerance is not something that just the general public needs to work on. Fashion designers themselves are sometimes biased in their perceptions.
Many millennial designers, particularly in Egypt, remain wary of exploring modest fashion, despite the trend’s rising popularity. Sometimes it is because they want to avoid defining themselves as conservative instead of being considered modern and trendy.
Fellow Egyptian designer Sara Elemary , who has been running her Sara Elemary Designs label for label for nearly a decade, agrees.
“Modesty is a big thing in Egypt. I can’t understand why they are neglecting it”, she said. “A woman doesn’t have to be in a headscarf to wear modest clothing. There are so many famous designers from whom modesty plays a big role in their work”.
Meanwhile, events such as Dubai Modest Fashion Week have been promoting the concept and encouraging budding designers in the region to consider this trending domain.
“I believe that there’s a problem with modest fashion, but over the past two years, that issue has started to diminish as designers have incorporate more modest designs in their collections”, Nabil said.
The next step for him is getting into the couture domain with his long-awaited project, Nob Couture. The look of the new collection is still a mystery, but he seems determined to continue sending messages and starting discussions through his designs, which he said are inspired by his life experiences.
As for designers in the region, the time is ripe for them to start supporting the causes they believe in through their work. Whatever topic or fashion style the decide to pursue, they need to be fearless in triggering conversation in the Arab world with their creations.