Fighting ‘fast fashion’ head on

Fast fashion is defined as “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends”. While it is affordable, it raises various ethical concerns, including the treatment of garment factory workers. It has also raised concerns about its effect on the environment – from the disposing of cheap apparel to the pollution of natural resources.

Now, some entrepreneurs in Egypt are keen on combating these issues by creating more sustainable and ethical fashion solutions.

One such entrepreneur is Norhan El Sakkout, founder of Saqhoute sustainable fashion.

“We need to eradicate the system,” says El Sakkout. “People need to consume less.”

Coming from a fashion business, this may sound counterintuitive, but El Sakkout believes otherwise. Fashion should focus on producing quality products.

“My products are priced higher than fast fashion, but my designs are versatile and long-lasting,” she says.

“The story behind the product”

Shopping is not only about fashion and price. For many, it also matters how their clothes were made.

Josline El Kholy, co-founder of Jozee Boutique, an ethical fashion brand believes companies are ultimately responsible for informing their customers about their products.

“The responsibility is on us [fashion brands] to raise awareness on how our clothes are produced. They [customers] have to know the story behind the product.”

El Kholy – who founded the brand with her husband, Ezzeldine Moukhtar – work with men and women across Egypt to produce unique embroidery on their clothing. The key, according to El Kholy, is having a good relationship with employees.

“Our relationship is like a partnership. We don’t rush things. They [employees] work at their own pace, in their own homes and get creative with embroidery. It’s more like a collaboration instead of an employer-employee relationship.”

Such collaboration is also valued by El Sakkout, who believes in paying fair wages to the people who produce her clothes. Although, minimum wage is common for workers in Egypt, El Sakkout prefers to pay above market prices.

“I pay people to live a dignified life,” she says.

But higher wages also means higher costs for consumers. Not everyone is willing to pay more for a local brand, particularly given the country’s tough economic climate.

“This is something that we struggle with today,” says El Kholy. “But once [consumers] know the story of how our clothes are made, they are more appreciative of the product and its uniqueness.”

Sourcing eco-friendly or locally produced fabrics

Beyond pricing, sourcing fabrics is important for any sustainable and ethical fashion brand. Natural fabrics like organic cotton, linen and wool are commonly favored by conscious designers, particularly if they are grown without the use of pesticides, fertilisers and use less water.

But natural and organic fabrics is not always easy to find in Egypt. Despite the global popularity of Egyptian cotton, many local manufacturers rely on imported cotton instead.

El Sakkout tries to source locally produced natural fabrics, but she’s not always successful.

“Sometimes I’m able to find 100% locally produced cotton and linen in the market, and sometimes I’m not.”

She therefore often relies on using blended fabrics, which is also important for supporting local craftsmanship.

“Currently, we have a problem in job creation in Egypt so using what’s available in the market helps keep our heritage and crafts alive,” she says. “It’s not an all or none approach.” 

Meanwhile, El Kholy also faces the same problem.

“It takes effort to get the type and quality you want, but you have to be persistent and knock on all doors,” she says.

Regardless, sustainable fashion is a growing trend across the world and Egypt is no exception. Although Egypt was slow to embrace sustainable fashion, the practice is now growing steadily as people become increasingly aware of the importance of ethical and conscious consumerism.

Sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must in today’s fast changing world.

“Any new business entering the market will have to keep sustainability in mind. That’s where the world is heading. The concept may be relatively new in Egypt, but we can bridge the gap and cross over really fast,” concludes El Sakkout.