The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to the fashion industry. Major runway shows have been scrapped, garment factories have seen billions in orders cancelled, and some brands have adopted unprecedented "buy now, pay later" schemes to drive sales.
But the pandemic has also created an opportunity for clothing companies - especially the prolific fast-fashion retailers - to step back and consider their impact on the planet. So says Beirut-based designer Rami Kadi, who was recently appointed as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Goodwill Ambassador for Sustainable Fashion in West Asia.
The fashion industry consumes 215 trillion litres of water annually, the second-most of any sector, and emits 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases. Kadi is part of a wave of designers who are pushing the industry to adopt greener practices and build back better after the pandemic. He spoke to the UNEP about how he is incorporating sustainability into his collections.
UNEP: What do your clothes try and express?
Rami Kadi: I consider myself a contemporary couturier, passionate about modern tailoring. Rami Kadi Maison de Couture stands out for its nouvelle couture, as I include technology, like recycling, and other innovations in my pieces, offering a kaleidoscopic explosion of colors and sparkles (along with) high finish.
UNEP: Why did you feel the need to highlight sustainability in your latest collection?
RK: It is about time that brands create fashion while considering humanity and the environment. We need to start saving our natural resources, as 97 per cent of what goes into making clothes is new resources, leaving only 3 per cent as recycled materials. We need to start thinking sustainably about waste management. Another reason was saving animal lives; we need to stop killing for fashion. Why not use cruelty-free alternatives? Sustainable fashion is healthier for people and the planet, and it teaches us how to love our textiles and clothes again.
UNEP: In your spring-summer collection, you made one piece from recycled plastic. Can you tell us about that?
RK: (Our collection) features the first dress made entirely from recycled plastic-- 100 per cent PET. We used plastic from the sea, melted it and transformed it into thread. The thread was then woven into the fabric for the dress. All in all, it took more than 600 hours of handcrafting to make one dress.
UNEP: How do you hope to see fashion evolving towards sustainability in the coming years?
RK: I believe that COVID-19 has pushed fashion into a better direction by ending overproduction and overconsumption. By reducing production we help change the mindset into one that focuses on longevity when it comes to clothes. I now involve recycled materials in my pieces, use old fabrics and have reduced production as well. I believe the future of sustainable fashion is promising.
UNEP: How does it feel to be named the Goodwill Ambassador for Sustainable Fashion in West Asia?
RK: I am excited to be part of such a change and I am looking forward to working with the UN Environment Programme in the region. Sustainability has been something that I have been trying to incorporate into my collections and has become a topic that is very dear to me. Responsible production will become a reoccurring theme throughout my collections, and I cannot wait to join forces with the UN Environment Programme to achieve our goal. I truly believe that together, we can help shape the future of the industry and promote better and more responsible behavior.