Wear it proud: Celebrities such as Livia Firth, spotted wearing an upcycled silk gown at the Winter Whites Centrepoint Gala, London, champion the cause for sustainable fashion Image Credit: Rex Features

Dubai’s penchant for luxury brands and designer wear is legendary. Now, adding that extra oomph to its style quotient is the green factor. Ethical fashion has finally reached the country’s shores and from green abayas and upcycled vintage boutiques to bamboo-fibre garments and sustainable brands, Dubai has put its own spin on the industry.

Undoubtedly the hottest trend, eco-fashion is about making garments and accessories that take into account both the environment and the working conditions of the people producing the items. Eco-friendly clothes are made from organic materials such as silk made by worms that feed on organic trees and cotton grown without pesticides. Bleaches and other harmful chemicals used to colour fabrics are also shunned.

“There is a great deal of awareness of what we wear, where it comes from and how it was made,” says Ayesha Mustafa, who in 2011 launched Fashion ComPassion in the UK, an ethical fashion company.

“We want to create a positive change through fashion by changing the status quo and bringing trendy, affordable ethical garments into the mainstream market to a global audience.”

Mustafa divides her time between Dubai and the UK and has hosted trunk shows in the emirates. Celebrities including Lily Cole, Eva Longoria, Anne Hathaway and Livia Firth have worn items that she retails.

Although a more recent development in the UAE, the rest of the world has been turning green with style for a few years. In 2009 the grand dame of sustainable fashion Livia Firth founded the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC), which pairs glamour and ethics to raise the profile of sustainable fashion. Last year, GCC launched the GCC Brand Mark, teaming up with Gucci to launch the world’s first zero deforestation certified bags made from Amazon leather.

Testimony to Firth’s crusade were the 2012 Academy Awards that saw Hollywood’s finest turn the red carpet green — from Best Actress winner, Meryl Streep who wore a custom-made eco-gown by Lanvin to Firth’s gown that was handmade by Valentino designers using recycled PET fabric and Valentino’s house silk. At last year’s Winter Whites Centrepoint Gala at Kensington Palace, London, Firth wore a white 1950s-inspired princess gown made to GCC specifications by designer Henrietta Ludgate, who made the gown using upcycled duchess silk sourced from a local shop in London. And of course there is the queen of green, Stella McCartney who recently teamed up with German sportswear brand Adidas to create a line using the company’s special DryDye technique. Unlike conventional dyeing methods that use an average of 100 to 150 litres of water to process a kilogram of fibre, DryDye uses a pressurised form of carbon dioxide that takes on the characteristics of both a liquid and a gas, allowing it to penetrate fibres and disperse preloaded dyes without other chemical agents.

Closer to home there is a refreshing green wave sweeping across the city. Last year, the Goethe-Institut Gulf Region inspired an audience with its Berlin-Dubai Festival Fashion show that showcased green abayas made of eco-friendly material, designed by Emirati and German designers.

Moving from mainland Europe to Africa, we find the Tunisian brand Numa that was set up by Dubai-based designer Melika Dahlouk who found a way to merge the modern with the traditional while advocating women’s empowerment.

For Dahlouk the key to sustainable fashion is fair trade, above average working conditions and adequate compensation. “In addition to that it is vital that we support traditionally skilled craftsmanship and give a new lease to ancient handicraft techniques that have become almost obsolete due to industrial mass production.” Made using traditional artisan techniques of Tunisia, the collection uses silver, gold, and precious stones, recycled or upcycled French fabrics, Italian leathers, silks and Egyptian cotton blends.

Understanding the importance of supporting the community along with the environment is at the core of Beshtar that was set up by Dubai-based American designer Carole Laugier Naim. Beshtar uses products and textiles that are made by artisans in Afghanistan and reinterprets or uses them in a contemporary fashion. “The business has been set up as a social enterprise using the circular economy model – I put aside a percentage of the proceeds to invest in charities and NGOs in Afghanistan that have fledgling businesses or projects that need to be funded and will give a certain income to those in need.”

Other interesting green concepts include Dubai-based Bambootique, which was founded by Asma Al Tajir and Reim El Houni, who wanted to introduce consumers to natural, environmentally friendly fashionable wear at affordable prices. And adding that extra edge to fashion is Maha Abdul Rasheed who set up the upscale and chic Bambah Boutique that is pioneering vintage wear in Dubai. Rasheed believes the awareness of sustainable fashion in the region is growing. “People are interested in how they can go green in various aspects of their lives. Fashion is just one avenue of getting on the green bandwagon.”