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In recent years social sustainability within the fashion industry has gained much needed attention and recognition throughout our community. As Muslims we are beginning to acknowledge the importance of sustainable development and the role that we must play as caretakers of Allah's Earth, as well as the people within it.
In the past, the concept of sustainability has been limited to environmental and economic concerns, however, we are now awakening to the notion of social accountability; but as a nation, and especially as an Ummah, we seem to have lost sight of the ‘people’. We have forgotten that at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), people traded with one another and it wasn’t so destructive, it was simply a way of life and a means to an end. We have forgotten that there is blessing in sharing and supporting one another, and that the skills and craftsmanship of individuals are God given gifts, that deserve to be respected and preserved. We have forgotten that with every decision that we make we are either stepping closer to Allah, or further away, that includes the decisions we make about how we trade and how we consume.
Despite our apparent ‘awakening’, we are still surrounded by a toxic fast fashion industry that imposes a modern form of slavery. It is an industry that has companies wanting to design and mass produce clothing inspired by the catwalk, as quickly and as cheaply as possible. It is an industry that is fuelled by unethical marketing campaigns and a deep hunger for profits. Ultimately, those at the bottom of the chain (the workers) suffer the most. As consumers we've become accustomed to cheap products, we are drowning in overconsumption, but we can no longer say that we are unaware of what goes on behind the scenes of fast fashion.
This isn’t just about challenging businesses to be completely transparent with their entire supply chain, or saving our money to buy those ‘ethical pieces’, it’s about reminding ourselves of the wider discussion; it is acknowledging that on the surface, we may feel we are conscious and aware, but that still may not be manifesting in the choices that we continue to make.
To add some depth, I would like to introduce you to 3 inspiring initiatives, led by Muslim women, that are shaking up the conversation surrounding fast fashion, social sustainability and ethical clothing. Through their work, they are demanding social accountability, asking the difficult questions, and challenging us to truly think, before we buy.
Hoda Katebi at Blue Tin Productions
An Iranian American, political fashion activist and creative. Hoda wears many hats, she is unapologetically political and dedicated to creating awareness and showing fierce resistance on many issues but more specifically; she runs a radical online platform dedicated to ethical fashion and activism. Her engaging Instagram feed is both reflective and thought provoking, as she strives to build stronger communities formed of deeper love and more justice. She also challenges Muslims worldwide to consider what the real expense of our ‘representation’ is and what price others have to pay for us to be visible.
“Representation cannot and should not, be a replacement for liberation, especially at the expense of our own communities globally.” - Hoda Katebi
A great deal of Hoda’s effort has focused on workers rights and challenging the fashion industry, which then evolved into her real passion for change, the establishment of Blue Tin Productions. This incredible cooperative is a worker owned manufacturing company of pattern making, sample making and small to mid scale clothing production. It is run by immigrant and refugee women (who range from domestic violence survivors to widows surviving war) and their mission is to challenge fast fashion sweatshops.
In an article written for Vogue she explains; “I thought if I could start a clothing line and make it successful and be completely ethical, then it would be so much easier to hold brands accountable.”
Hoda is incredibly transparent in the co-operative’s methods of working and she frequently invites people in to truly understand and appreciate the intricate process of time, skill and hard work that goes into a single pattern.
Blue Tin Productions really does represent the power of supporting vulnerable communities and the amazing skill, creativity and success that can be achieved when you value the workers and the environment in which they work.
Hoda Katebi can be found at:
IG: @hodakatebi / @bluetinproductions | Website: www.joojooazad.com
Oh So Ethical
Oh So Ethical is fronted by 25 year old activist, Mayisha, who has a fiercely strong passion for calling out the exploitation of workers and fighting against injustice and corporate greed. She campaigns, she petitions, she brings awareness and most importantly, she calls us to action. Oh So Ethical as a platform, reminds us that we, the consumer, are not passive bystanders, we have a responsibility. We can strive to make more ethical choices when it comes to the things that we buy, but we also have a voice and many voices will always hold more weight than just one.
Whilst Mayisha’s work spans across many sectors, she also draws specific attention to the brutality of what happens within the fashion industry. When speaking on the Oh So Ethical instagram feed on the factory fires in Bangladesh she said;
“It is very easy for these people to become statistics. One death is too many but 73 souls were lost. I want to emphasise that this doesn’t happen in a vacuum.”
She goes on to talk about the colonial rule, the manipulation of the West and the impact that this has had on countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is made clear that this conversation is far deeper than the rampant exploitation of migrant workers. This is colonialism, racism and capitalism playing at its dirtiest, whilst innocent lives are being lost.
Oh So Ethical has an extremely informative blog with details on brands that have been exposed and links to the podcast, which feature conversations with people from around the world, mobilising against corporate greed. There is a wealth of information about how to take tangible steps to help hold those big brands to account.
We asked Oh So Ethical what advice they would give to consumers who want to support a more ethical production of clothing but don’t know where to start, and this is what they said:
“One piece of advice would be to take action to stand in solidarity with garment workers mobilising for justice, as this is where the crucial, systematic change begins. Follow social media accounts of labour rights orgs [organisations]/trade unions etc so you’re updated on what’s happening, and actively speak out/share allegations against your favourite brands. Ask what they're doing publicly and encourage others to do so too. Solidarity against corporate power is so important.”
Oh So Ethical can be found at:
IG / Twitter @ohsoethical | Website: www.ohsoethical.website
A Co-op and design label making artisanal clothes, radically ethical and from sheep to shop.
Founded in 2018 by Tunisian-American mother and daughter duo, Iman Masmoudi & Leila Najar, who believed they were simply activists and social theory nerds that hate economic exploitation; but what they realised after years of experience in Northern Africa, is that traditional crafts were dying out and women were sadly being forced to enter the industrialist workforce. They were motivated and inspired to stand against the tide and take an opportunity to build a co-operative that would model a more holistic approach to the clothing industry, whilst also preserving the traditional crafts in North Africa.
The team at Tuniq believe in ‘radical transparency’ as the key to challenging and perhaps even reversing the harms caused by current exploitative practices, and by the capitalist climate that we live in today. Their website offers a ‘behind the scenes’ look into the thorough process of hand producing their garments and demonstrates how connected they are from start to finish, or from ‘sheep to shop’ as they like to say. The delicacy and thought of each step in the manufacturing of Tuniq’s pieces is truly beautiful. They take you on a journey that is woven with history, culture, craftsmanship and community. Their ethos is centred around human dignity, fairness and authenticity and if you immerse yourself in the work that they do, you can’t help but fall in love.
The very essence of Tuniq’s work acts as an important reminder that;
“God created this beautiful world and that humans are mere stewards and custodians of it. We must uphold the perfect God-given balance that exists within nature and must not transgress the boundaries of this by taking more than what can be given and depleting natural resources which can't be replenished.”
When questioned for advice for consumers to support ethical clothing production, Tuniq said,
“Firstly, start by praying for God to help you in your intention to do good in this world. Then turn to your community and see what you can do locally, can you share clothes and swap with friends and family? Can you shop at local thrift stores? Finally, if you are able, support small brands that are working hard to make a difference! Be diligent and know that if a brand is not transparent, they have something to hide, search for open and vocally committed groups; support them and spread the word!”
The work of Tuniq can be found at:
IG: @tuniq_official | Website: www.tuniqoasis.com
Three completely different and ground breaking initiatives with Muslim women at the forefront; these women are collectively standing up against oppressive corporate forces, mass production and profit thirsty giants. They are reminding us that behind every brand (ethical or not) are real people; people whose lives, dignity and well-being all matter. They aren’t afraid to make us feel uncomfortable because the truth is, we should be.
Words by Sarah Yataghane