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By Miriam al Ali
Islamic Fashion, 101: Many Westerners may not know this, but the long, black covering for clothing worn mainly by Arabian women is called an abaya; the headscarf that is worn with jeans and other casual wear is called a hijab. Hijab is a term that means ‘barrier, covering or veil’, and for many Muslim women around the world, it’s an essential part of the fashion they consider to be modest enough to comply with Islamic dress codes.
Unfortunately, these items of Islamic clothing are often also a ‘barrier’ to eco-friendliness, as more than not, they are made out of nasty polyester, nylon or rayon, all of which trap sweat and heat. But that is about to change.
Abeer Al-Azzawi is a young Canadian woman who fretted that in a world where eco pet accessories and organic baby clothes worn for mere months are offered to consumers in abundance, there were very few ‘green’ options for the hijab, which is worn every day by millions of women around the world.
“From all of my research, I never found one eco hijab that was available,” said the designer to the leading newspaper, the Toronto Star.
So Al-Azzawi – who doesn’t wear the traditional head scarf herself – created Queendom Hijabs, a line of head coverings that uses soy and bamboo based fabrics that breathe well, and are warm in winter and cool in summer. Due to its flexibility, breathability, and natural credentials, the line quickly gained popularity with sportswomen and Muslims living in colder climes.
“My goal is to make every hijab eco,” she says.
While this is good news for hijab wearers from Canada to Indonesia, the eco-abaya, however, remains elusive. Still mainly a Middle Eastern phenomenon, these long black robes do make a strong appearance in London during the summer months, when many Arabs escape the heat to the more moderate weather of the English capital. While the highest quality abayas are often made of fine silk, these are often reserved for special occasions, and even so, they can’t necessary be considered ‘eco’, because the dyes used are often toxic, and they are frequently covered in synthetic crystals, plastic beads or other non-eco embellishments.
Some brands, such as Body AMR, pictured in our main image, and Selma-Benomar, pictured below, do carry all-silk, breathable, design rich pieces that are high on style whilst being low on bling, but the ethics behind their creation are unknown. Indeed, many Gulf based designers tend to use Indian-based sewers and finishers – and there’s no guarantee these people are fairly paid – or that they’re not children.
That being said, there’s clearly also a growing demand for ethical and eco-fashion in the region, as demonstrated by Vogue Italia’s green design talent hunt, in conjunction with the Dubai Mall. There are some Dubai-based brands, such as All Things Mochi, that are creating collections that are handcrafted by local artisans using traditional methods of embroidery to create contemporary pieces. Mochi’s Palestinian-born founder draws her inspiration from being immersed in the cultures and communities where each individual collection is born.
But which entrepreneurial designer is truly the first to corner the Arabian sustainable fashion market? Who is the ‘Stella McCartney’ of the Arab world? The answer is: Khulood Bint Thani. Her eponymous label is not only chic, it’s also made from OEKO-TEX ® certified fabrics, which are all guaranteed to be non-toxic and eco-friendly. Her dramatic draping, bold use of colour and unique silhouettes have captured the attention of international markets, encouraging her to now show her work at Paris fashion week.
Now the question is: who will follow her lead? Watch this space…