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Ethical Fashion in Pakistan
As you’re admiring our new collection (because if I’m honest, that’s what I’m doing right now), it’s a good time to remember just what ethical fashion is and why it’s important. You can visit our ethical fashion page, but also Aamna Haider Isani shares a Pakistani perspective on ethical fashion:
Here in Pakistan, we tend to associate the words ‘ethical’ and ‘socially aware’ fashion with substandard clothes that have compromised style and quality to fulfill their philanthropic purpose. We think of the middle-aged vendor who comes from Bahawalpur every summer with a suitcase full of unstitched, embroidered clothes. He sells shadow work and mokaish (tinsel work) on chiffons and cottons and hasn’t a clue of what design or fashion is.
We also confuse the word ‘ethical’ with ‘ethnic’, the latter referring to cultural clothing rather than clothing that is manufactured with a socially conscious motivation. What exactly is ‘ethical’ fashion, you might want to ask? In a nutshell, ethical fashion relevant to Pakistan is socially conscious fashion that aims to economically empower or rehabilitate a group of underprivileged people, especially women. And contrary to popular belief, it need not be a compromise on style; the involvement of fashion brands ensures that.
Ethical fashion brands aim to work with groups of impoverished people to help them sustain a livelihood. These brands may also be reviving dying crafts that are indigenous to a certain area. That is what Cath and Ange Braid aimed for and achieved when they started working with a group of Chitrali women to create the Bohemian Polly&Me bags. Not only did the tribal women start bringing money home but they also kept the Chitrali craft of shathahi, mushkali and iraqi (three popular Chitrali stitches) alive, while taking it beyond the mountains to the world stage at the same time.
Lastly, when brands are ethical in terms of development, they make sure that what they manufacture is made with minimum damage to the environment. Eco-friendly fashion is a bigger concern to the west that suffers a risk of industrialisation rather than poverty, which concerns the third world countries more. While ethical is creating awareness in South Asia (especially in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India) one of the best examples to be found is Bibi Russell’s Fashion for Development Campaign, which the Bengali designer started in 1995 and is passionately pursuing to date. Not only has she kept indigenous crafts and weaves of the region alive (manufacturing and marketing fashion products to the world) but over the years she has come to employ over 35,000 workers in rural areas.
Things have not been so successful in Pakistan. While institutions like Apwa, Behbood and Ahan (Aik Hunar Aik Nagar) have been working independently, there are hardly any designer initiatives that can be documented transparently. Rizwan Beyg has been working towards an Ethical Fashion Week and he, along with other designers, have been employing women from rural Punjab and Sindh to work on collections, but much more has to be achieved. Small steps need to be facilitated into bigger drives.
Slogans like ‘Fashion as catalyst for change’ ring loud when it comes to ethical fashion. The idea is simply to empower communities and revive their livelihoods via their craft. “It’s about using culture and creativity to eradicate poverty”, says Bibi Russell on her Fashion for Development page. “I want to present the beauty of poverty that is oblivious to the global community. It’s not charity — that’s demeaning. The people I work with can show their skills to the world with pride.”