Currently ,we’re on a fashion re-discovery journey. It all started with a pair of counterfeit shoes and the eye-opening documentary The True Cost, revealing the dark side of our Instagramable, fast fashion, bargain picks. This journey has created the way for a conscious movement, raising awareness about how much fashion is harming the planet faster each year.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), released a report in 2018 at the International Conference Center in Geneva, stating that the $2.5 trillion apparel industry is the second highest user of water worldwide, producing 20 percent of global water waste. For example, the production of one cotton shirt requires 2,700 liters – the amount a person drinks in 2.5 years. Asides from the environmental concerns, fast fashion is responsible for the largest factory fire in the history of the industry, where 112 people lost their lives in Bangladesh, a major player in textile manufacturing. The workers are paid below minimum wage, trapping them in poverty, while working in poor, unsafe conditions.
One creative saw beauty in all of the chaos and created the conceptual shoot Consume Me, in a bid to make a difference and create awareness for people who are buying fast-trend based fashion, without knowing what goes into it or where it goes after they throw it away.
Ghufran Katatney is a graphic designer by trade but a freelancing creative at heart. She left the agency she founded with her best friend a few years ago to revisit her old love for fashion. We all heard that fashion represents freedom, which many use as a great escape from their desk job. “Even when I was in school I was doing photoshoots...fashion wasn’t peaking in Egypt [yet].”
Later Katatney studied styling at the University of the Arts London. “I felt like I needed to study to have a base,” Katatney says.
Upon her return to Egypt after studying, word had gotten out about her career shift and the phone rang with her first campaign. “The week I got back, Okhtein called me and said that they want me to run a campaign for their new bags. I said that’s amazing, and [that’s how I] got really good exposure...It just happened from there.” Katatney was already a well-known player in the fashion field through her agency.
Discussing what drove Katatney to create the shoot, she recalls, “My friend and I were talking about Black Friday and she showed me a video of people in the United States who were beating each other up. It’s a jungle,” she continues, “I saw that and I was so interested [in] how fashion has made everyone become not inhuman, unemphatic, nothing good comes out of it...As I read articles and the stats, I decided to do a conceptual shoot.”
According to Katatney’s research, American shoppers spend a record of $5 billion every 24 hours. The average American household has more than $7,500 in consumer debt and the amount they spend in a single weekend is more than half of the total they give to churches in an entire year. At the same time, enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth 4 times.
Where did fashion go wrong? Was it when parents filled their babies’ wardrobes with unnecessary clothing, that won’t fit them
in less then a month? In response, Katatney says, “In my opinion, quick fashion was the worst thing that could happen. People used to take so much time into making things and designing and stitching...Fashion was an art...You look at all of these quick fashion brands like H&M, Zara, Forever 21. It’s very recycable fashion in a sense, but it’s not even recyclable. It’s made to wear for just one season, because it’s all trend-based fashion. It’s not basics...it’s not been made with high quality that will stay with you... The manufacturers didn’t put much effort into making one piece, then it all became a business and not an art of fashion.”
According to the UNECE, 10 percent of the global carbon emissions are emitted by the fashion industry and cotton farming is responsible for 24 percent of insecticides and 11 percent of pesticides despite using only 3 percent of the world’s arable land. A shocking 85 percent of textiles are sent to landfills, i.e. 21 billion tons a year.
“What effects me are the labour rights of people who work for the fashion industry. I am not going to say I am an angel, but I love some Zara. I also know that Zara’s labour standards are disgusting. So it’s always in my head to be conscious about it...I can buy clothes that are not just trend-based...I take a lot of my mom’s clothes as well.”
It’s all about conscious buying, the change won’t happen overnight where no-one buys fast fashion again. The affordability of fast fashion brands like H&M and Zara in Egypt isn’t like it is in other countries because of the dollar flotation and the hefty customs regulations. It can cost up to 799EGP for a pair of blue jeans, which is not affordable for the middle class who have been seen to head to flea markets (Wekala). When to the cost of a pair of jeans is the equivalent to 30 percent of a basic administrator’s salary, it is simply not affordable for the masses.
Hope a change and a remodeling of the fashion system is a dream for most, who probably won’t get to see it. “Right now it’s not looking very well, but social media is adding to it. It has probably tripled the consumption behaviour.” Katatney explains her take on it “I read that people are taking pictures of their new clothes just for instagram, and then they return it. We have reached a point where when you wear one outfit you just can’t wear it again…[they need to] show everyone that they have so much clothes, even if they’re not buying it.” Katatney has her own personal experience with the new age of social media originated shoppers “90% of my girlfriends will never wear the same dress to a wedding that they have posted on instagram. If they haven’t posted it, they’ll wear it again, even if people didn’t see them at that wedding because it’s a different group.”
The industry’s current unsustainable structure has been under threat for some time now by platforms that allow consumers to rent, sell or buy pre-loved clothes. Websites such as Rent The Runway, La Reina and Posh Hire from our local market, are increasing and launching regularly. Katatney sees hope in the new generation, noting, “the new generation is always testing boundaries, especially in Egypt.” Wearing pre-owned garments comes with a certain stigma in the Middle East, but Katatney disagrees, “the stigma is no longer there with the younger generations...The older generation is not going to change no matter what. When I wear such things and I see my grandmother, she would say, ‘you’re wearing other people’s clothes. I hope that you washed it,’ but with the newer generation, wearing vintage and used clothes has become a style statement. I think that with more education, the stigma is no longer there other then the older ones.”
Katatney has a theory for how awareness can be brought to the masses and the main source the young upcoming designers. “The most influential fashion designer in Egypt now is Kojak. So let’s say he runs an awareness campaign about where his ready-to-wear collection goes after the season is over. Or where he gets his fabric from. Even if it’s just on Instagram. It just needs to start somewhere, and then people will buy into it...It all starts with one person.”
It may feel like Egypt is not on the radar when it comes to the discussion for a more sustainable fashion market, but we still have miles to go just to develop our local designers. “Their priority is to not look at the environment, they want to just get into it [the fashion market]...It’s similar to the triangle effect. To be able to think about the environment is a further step in their career.” Katatney points out that, given the small size of the local market, “The fashion world in Egypt is not like that. At the end of the day, it’s a person who does a little collection every now and then. It’s not going to have such an impact like H&M or Zara, who are making tonnes and tonnes of products each year, and really harming the environment.”
Among the local brands, Fufa doesn’t throw away any fabrics or material and reuses it to create tags, hangers and unique shopping bags for their customers. Also, Indira Jewelry melts down their waste materials to create more pieces.
STY/ART DIRECT: @ghufranbythegram