When you think of fashion, what comes to mind? Is it beautiful, tall, lean women wearing gorgeous clothing that you wish you owned? Thoughts of runways, models, and constantly changing trends with subsequent sales are frequent companions to the concept of fashion. 

Muslim women in particular have a very special, growing stake in the business. In recent years, we’ve seen the rise in modest fashion and how it has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Seeing the value of this largely untapped market, mainstream retailers like H&M, Zara, and Nike have created lines and collections catered to Muslim women to get a piece of the pie.

There has also been an increasing amount of advertising campaigns by Gap, H&M, and Nike, just to name a few, that include and even specifically target hijab-wearing Muslimahs and modest dressers, and large magazines like Sports Illustrated and Playboy have even featured hijab-wearing Muslims like Halima Aden and Noor Tagouri on their pages for the first time ever. 

In addition, online modest fashion companies like Modanisa, Sefamerve, Louella, Shukr, AAB, and dozens more are making a real dent in mainstream “Western” clothing lines, and they want in on the business. This is the impact we have on the established fashion industry: we are a growing market; fashion-houses want our attention. But let’s not be overly flattered just yet, there’s a flip side to this shiny coin.

Did you know that the fast-fashion industry is among the top ten most polluting industries in the world, preceded most glaringly by the fossil fuel industry, and according to more recent statistics, road transportation and agriculture, among a few others?

Textile waste a major polluter in Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh

At least 75% of all clothing donated to charities and thrift shops ends up flooding developing countries, crippling the locally sourced and produced small fashion companies.

But wait, there’s more. Did you know that 84% of purchased clothing doesn’t even make it to the thrift store and goes directly to a landfill near you? Or that some of the most profitable clothing manufacturers reside in predominantly Muslim countries (such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines), where women must leave their families behind to work extra long hours in difficult conditions to be able to partly pay for bare living expenses?

And now, garment workers are being further exploited and abused by major brands as they have not been paid for orders they have already completed.

Due to the retail constrictions that came about as a result of the Coronavirus, many brands and retailers like Primark, Gap, and Kohls just to name a few, have cancelled or paused orders, even those already produced or that are currently in production. This negligence has pushed 4.1 million unpaid workers into extreme poverty, starvation, and homelessness as they already lack access to savings, healthcare, or unemployment benefits.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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/ In the wake of #COVID19 we have seen GLOBAL brands openly claim to support communities by ‘closing stores’ and ‘making masks’, YET a good portion of these brands have NOT provided those same conditions to their garment workers, some continuing to NOT pay them. ⠀ It’s important to note, this is NOT just a Bangladesh problem 🇧🇩 — workers in China, Cambodia, Pakistan, Myanmar and the U.S. have still not been paid. ⠀ There are 20+ fashion brands on our #PayUp petition for not promising to support garment workers. We’re asking for your continued HELP. ⠀ We STILL need @anthropologie, @athleta, @instarcadia, @bananarepublic, @bestselleroneworld, @burton_menswear, @ca, @childrensplace @fashionnova, @forever21, @freepeople, @gap, @jcpenney, @kohls⁣⁣⁣, @levis, @liandfung, @mothercareuk, @oldnavy, @primark,⁣⁣⁣ @rossdressforless, @sears, @topshop, @urbanoutfitters, @walmart to #PayUp. ⠀ How to help: ⠀ ‼️COMMENT (and comment again) letting them know “support garment makers AND #PayUp”. ⠀ ⚠️ FYI: Just because a brand isn’t listed does not mean they’re not guilty! ⠀ ❓ASK brands the tough questions. “Did you pay factories for cancelled orders?!” “How are you able to offer 50% off of a garment?” ⠀ 💰 DONATE to garment worker relief funds, we’ve linked some donation 🔗s in our bio! ⠀ — ⠀ For those new to Remake, we’re a non-profit based in the 🇺🇸, with 150k community members across the 🌎 — together making fashion a force for good.⁣ ⁣ Join our movement @ Remake.World ⠀ — ⠀ Learn more about #PayUp, and sign the @changedotorg petition (🔗 in bio) to push companies to pay factories for their orders. 📝 ⠀ With your help 17 brands have promised to pay, and Remake has helped unlock $15 billion globally of the $40 billion in Spring cancelled orders.

A post shared by 𝗿𝗲𝗺𝗮𝗸𝗲 (@remakeourworld) on

The #PayUp campaign was launched on March 30th by Remake Our World, which is a nonprofit and global movement that is working towards changing the fashion industry by bringing about more ethical and sustainable practices from production to consumer shopping habits. The petition demands brands to promise and fulfill their obligation to pay suppliers in full for all of the placed orders, including those that have been canceled, are currently in production, or that have been produced, in a timely manner.  

With labor rights groups, individual activists, and popular media stars like Nabela Noor and Irene Khan joining the movement and speaking out against this highly unethical and unfair treatment of garment workers, the movement has gained a lot of momentum and has successfully caused 18 brands to agree to pay for their back orders. 

This effective social media campaign has unlocked $1 billion for suppliers in Bangladesh, and $15 billion globally, which amounts to approximately one-third of the $40 billion owed in wages to garment workers.

But there is more work that needs to be done in ensuring greater accountability, higher standards, and more protection for garment workers. If this movement, as well as others on social media, have shown us anything, it’s that we as people, consumers, and community members have the power to bring about real change in the world, and even save lives, from a simple tap of a button, share, or comment.

The truth of the matter is that garment workers have been enduring unethical and unsafe treatment and working conditions for years before the issue started trending on social media. In addition to the lack of fair (or existent) wages, many of the synthetic materials used in the production and dyeing of fabrics are causing irreparable damage to the workers handling the substances, as well as to the natural environments in which the residues are dumped, with no regard for safety or ecological standards.

Cotton is among the fabrics with the biggest environmental footprint in the world because of the tremendous amount of water needed to irrigate it, and the types and quantity of pesticides used to maintain non-organic fields make it one of the least desirable fabrics to use. Organic cotton requires 90% less water, and zero pesticides, which are great advantages.

But even beyond this, cotton has a history of forced child labor in countries such as Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, which is why the U.S, among other countries, and over 260 fashion labels have banned cotton that is sourced under such conditions (incidentally benefitting its own home grown supply).

Check out the French documentary produced by the Cash Investigates television program  called, Cotton – the Other Side of Our T-Shirts for an exposé on how cotton is produced, but also how suppliers and weavers will mislabel the garment to avoid the stigma long attached to Uzbek cotton.

But, perhaps you didn’t know any of this. Are you still excited to be finally recognized as a premier target market for fast-fashion? Or are you having second thoughts?

Let me be clear. I love beautiful clothes. The Prophet (SAW) encouraged us to look our best. Clothing is a reality that we all must contend with, and if a little flare comes into play, why not? Respecting hijab doesn’t mean you need to look frumpy.

There’s no question about the human inclinations towards beauty, and I’m not arguing against it. What I am trying to get across, is that with increased power (purchasing power in this case), comes increased responsibility.

Our God-given amanah to care for the Earth should not be transgressed because of our vanity. After all, the Quran tells us not to be wasteful or extravagant, as Allahdoes not love the extravagant.”

Our responsibility for respectful treatment of our neighbors, sisters, brothers, and the environment should not be compromised by our desire for cheaper and more plentiful clothing. There must be a balance between looking good and doing good, and this is where we can benefit from drawing a line in the sand.

Synthetic fibers contribute to the depletion of fossil fuels, as well as air and water pollution from production to use (each time you wash it, microplastics enter waterways, and are ingested by sea creatures who mistake them for food), thus working their way up our food chain as well.

Does this mean that we should only buy natural fibers, sourced from organic products, through fair trade means, at equitable prices? That would be awesome! But let’s face it, that amount of conscientiousness can cost a small fortune, and in some areas of the world, is still an unlikely possibility.

A few small changes like a bit more mindfulness in our purchasing choices can go quite a long way. Easy steps that can lead us in a more positive direction are:

We currently have, on hand, enough clothing to clothe all of humanity for the next two centuries. So why make more? We could simply use up our stash, shop our closets, buy second hand or consignment, or repurpose old clothing by refashioning it with a more modern flair.

If you need to buy new, then buy organic, sustainable, ethical garbs that are well made, and thus made to last. Support local sisters and smaller brands that are not only environmentally and socially conscious, but faith conscious as well.  

When you’re wearing clothes that you can be proud of, you’ll be walking with an extra spring in your step (because of how proud you’ll be of yourself). And because you chose that garment more mindfully, you’ll most likely take better care of it and make it last for longer.

Some might even suggest as H&M’s Conscious Collection does, that you should purchase recycled polyester, but this is probably the least desirable option, as recycled polyester cannot be re-recycled, and it will shed microplastics into the ocean each time you wash it. Uses for recycled synthetics are commendable, but clothing probably isn’t its most deserving recipient.

These simple choices can send a clear message to retailers that you won’t go for certain types of materials. If retailers stop carrying such products, labels will stop producing them. They are, after all, operating on the assumption of profit.

As mentioned earlier, your actions on social media, as small as they seem, can actually go a long way and make a real difference. Along with sharing a post, sending a message, or an email to your favorite brands inquiring about the working conditions of seamstresses and encouraging ethical practices through social media can do wonders.

The current #PayUp movement and the strides it has made remind me of the Fashion Revolution and the #Burnberry affair of 2010.

In case you missed it, nearly ten years ago, a manufacturing plant in severe need of repairs collapsed in Bangladesh, killing nearly all of its staff who were inside sewing garments they could scarcely afford to purchase themselves. As a result of this tragedy, #FashionRevolution was created, and the movement towards holding fashion labels accountable began in earnest.

As for Burberry, it became known that the company had incinerated over 37 million US dollars worth of fashion clothing, accessories, and fragrances rather than risk lowering the value of the brand by selling them at sale prices. The #Burnberry hashtag garnered millions of retweets, and the company took notice, releasing a press statement that promised never to incinerate its unsold merchandise again. Burberry also said it would expand on its recycling initiatives to reuse and donate instead. In the same statement they also promised not to use real fur trimmings on their garments in favor of vegan alternatives.

This response happened within less than 48 hours of continuous tweeting. So, don’t think that retweeting and emailing doesn’t make a difference. It does! I have it on good authority that each email that a fashion company gets about its products is counted as corresponding to 500 similar customers who hold the same opinion but just didn’t bother to put their thoughts on screen, and press send.

How often does it happen that your vote counts for 500 different people? Not often! So why waste this power? The US and Canada encourage companies to incinerate unsold goods by not levying taxes on them if destroyed. Writing to your local and wider governments to have these incentives changed to reflect more environmentally-friendly concerns is another useful step you may choose to take.

Finally, how much better would you feel about wearing something that was made specifically for you (not by accident and not as an afterthought), using the most natural and ethically-sourced, renewable materials, manufactured by people who are valued as human beings, respected as skilled workers, and paid accordingly?

Wouldn’t you feel so much better knowing what went into each piece of clothing you wear? Wouldn’t you feel more confident wearing clothes that you know were done with halal intentions foremost in mind, respecting each step of the process from fabric sourcing to final product?

I know I do. And I know I shop a lot less because of this thought process. I consequently contribute less to unfair labor practices, environmental pollution, and I support companies that pride themselves on their ethical dealings and are transparent about everything they do.

I’ve also dabbled in a more minimalistic lifestyle, which is in-line with my fashion sense and my ethical values, not to mention other considerations of a more political nature such as country of origin, where I ask, Is this a country that is famous for human rights abuses? For scant or no environmental controls? This is very easily remedied by avoiding products made in such countries.

Don’t forget the tremendous impact boycotting South Africa had on the apartheid. Our money does talk, so let’s make it speak louder, clearer, and more ethically! On my part, I shop predominantly from two sources: Shukr, an online Muslimah fashion shop that delivers worldwide, as well as local thrift and consignment shops.

Purple Impressions, an ethical modest fashion brand that is committed to women’s empowerment, fairness and equality, diversity, giving back, eco-consciousness, and full transparency

I know it isn’t easy to find companies that do take all of this into consideration, but the movement is growing. Given the fact that we are being directly targeted as customers for these consumer products, we should take this attention with a grain of salt.

Along with appreciating the recognition, consider the power of influence that our potential market can have on very pressing and serious issues such as human rights, fair trade, and environmental concerns with sustainability and safe disposal (or outright rejection) of chemical agents.

As an emerging market we are at the cusp of a very lucrative business. Now, it’s up to us whether we’re satisfied with simply the appearance of respect, and our images being plastered everywhere to represent an industry in desperate need of reminders, or if we want to go a step further and demand that our innermost values of respect for our people, animals, and planet be taken into account as well.

Much has improved since the Rana tragedy in Bangladesh, but recently there has been a push to set back many of the regulations, including preventing workers from unionizing, in order to attract emerging fashion companies looking to make a dent in the industry through cheap labor and low safety standards.

Despite the fact that the minimum wage has increased, it’s still about half of what a regular family of six requires for minimum living standards as manufacturing companies are pushing their workers to the brink to make up for the added cost of labor. This is where the fashion industry should step in, and they won’t unless we urge them to from our end.

With the ball in our court, will we push for true representation of our values, or will we be satisfied with just another pretty hijab?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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Hanaa Walzer

Hanaa Walzer is a freelance writer, blogger, educator, lecturer, and editor who has published in a variety of Muslim and non-Muslim magazines, journals, and blogs. Her most recent essay is due to appear this summer in an anthology titled “Muslim Women At Home.” She has a diverse background culturally, ethnically, linguistically, professionally, and academically. As a revert to Islam who lived on three different continents, nestled within a variety of cultures, and peculiarly fascinated with and passionate about languages and literatures, she constantly attempts to connect all the worlds she belongs to. She endlessly interlaces discourses, narratives, ideas, and concepts to bridge gaps, and widen her own worldview while attempting to improve others’ understanding of each other. Although her academic background is in languages and literatures, with a BA, MA and PhD in Languages and Literatures, she has also studied business, and is an avid reader of everything from philosophy to fashion, with many stops in-between. As the mother of four third culture kids, and an educator, she’s a strong proponent of diverse and holistic approaches to education and life. A self-proclaimed perpetual learner, she never tires of learning more about anything that catches her fancy, and is then all too happy to share her new found knowledge with those around her, including you! Check out her blogs at hanaasediting.blogspot.com , and www.cafecaterpillar.blog to learn more about her and to read more of her work.

2 Comments
  1. Excellent article with a lot of valid points. One thing consumers don’t take into consideration however, because they’re not behind the scenes in fashion/clothing manufacturing, is that supply and demand is not just what the consumer wants but what suppliers are able to deliver as well. Certain fabrics and materials were developed because of the growing world population and without them a lot of people would be naked right now. Mother Earth simply can’t produce fast enough for human growing demand. Better practices must be implemented, new technologies should be developed, and the Earth must be taken into consideration, but all of this takes time and is very difficult to do. Cost of production is and our growing poverty line is another reason why fast fashion is a thing. Not everyone is privileged enough to purchase ethical clothing- it’s a sad reality to the world we live in. A lot of the issues we face today are due to mass poverty and a select few hoarding wealth and power. Some people live a cushy enough life to be able to afford and boast a lighter foot print but what about the immigrant, the at risk minority, the single mother, the large family of 10? There’s so much to take into consideration but the first thing to fix in our world is and should be equality.

    1. Hi Vanessa, thank you so much for sharing your perspective. You made some really valid points, and I completely agree with you. It is not something we can expect to change in a day, and not everybody can afford to shop ethically, as you mentioned, since more sustainable and ethical brands tend to be more expensive. At the same time, there are things we can do to minimize the harm, such as shopping less, or being more mindful about what we do with our clothing once we stop wearing them in order to reduce waste. As you said, it’s all about supply and demand, but if we as consumers start to really think about our shopping habits, and try to not shop as excessively, these small changes can eventually lead to a larger impact when brands realize that our demands and priorities have shifted. As you said, it is our demands and needs that are shaping the decisions brand’s make and what they do to mee those demands. Aside from the speed of production, and the materials used, we should always encourage brands to ensure the safety and fair wages of their workers. No worker should have to suffer or work under harmful productions to provide us with stylish, affordable clothing. So, these are just some of the ways we can try to bring about positive change in this industry.

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