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09 Dec 2020
Cairo, Egypt
Sustainable Textiles and Clothing

Amira Sonbol was volunteering in a charity shelter when she saw the dangerous side of Egyptian textiles: piles of destroyed, useless clothes. The shelter had planned to donate the garments to needy Egyptians, but many had become simply unwearable. These clothes had been sucked into the wasteful Egyptian textile sector. On top of discarded clothes, Sonbol estimates that local factories can generate up to 118,000 tonnes of fabric cast-offs annually.

It dawned on Sonbol that even ruined clothes and leftover fabric could live on productively, if they were sown together into new, attractive products. That basic idea inspired Green Fashion, a Cairo design house for patchwork-based clothing and accessories. “I realised that we should do something unique and still fashionable, which made these clothes wearable again,” said Sonbol, now Green Fashion’s head of operations.

Since 2018, Green Fashion has aspired to recover value from discarded clothes and fabric cast-offs that would otherwise add to pollution. Textiles account for as much as 1.4 million tonnes of Egypt’s municipal waste annually, according to a 2016 World Bank report.

In Cairo, leftover materials are often disposed of through incineration, which releases greenhouse gases without regulation. This wasteful end for garments also necessitates the production of new clothes by the national textile industry, which relies heavily on Egypt’s scarce water reserves and limited agricultural land.

Green Fashion breaks this unsustainable cycle by placing would-be fabric waste at the centre of its business model. Professor Amal Shabib, the co-founder and head of design, channels her creativity to imagine stylish clothing, bags, and accessories from patchwork of discarded material. She is ably supported by Sonbol and dedicated business and marketing teams.

Yet the centrepieces of Green Fashion’s staff are the talented women who craft Green Fashion’s patchwork designs into a reality. The company recruits female workers from disadvantaged backgrounds and gives them artisan and environmental training. “We support working women who need a better financial state, while also educating them about how to earn a living through sustainability,” Sonbol explained.

For Green Fashion’s employees, benefits extend beyond improving their earning capacity. Green Fashion partners with other organisations, which involves staff members in services like child education and refugee inclusion programs.

The business can deliver these environmental and social outcomes because it has identified a key consumer class. “Our targeted client is anyone who is interested in unique fashion,” said Sonbol, “especially those who are believers in sustainability and protecting the environment.”

Despite Green Fashion’s noble business model — which includes paying decent wages to all workers — Sonbol warns that a feel-good story is not enough. “The customer may buy a product once in order to support the idea,” said Sonbol, “but they will not buy it again if the design is not attractive or does not show professionality.”

 

Learn more about Green Fashion through the website and Facebook.

Photos courtesy of Green Fashion

David Wood is a freelance writer and researcher based in Beirut. He previously worked in Cairo.David Wood
Style with substance: Egyptian fashion designer recycles fabric and empowers women | The Switchers
Green Fashion Sustainable Textiles and Clothing
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