While a few local clothing manufacturers have attempted to include sustainability into their business models, Pakistani fashion still has a long way to go before it attempts to transition toward eco-friendly, fair, and ethical methods.
“Sustainability has become a buzzword nowadays,” says Abdul Rehman, a Michigan State University research fellow and the founder of Aangan, a slow fashion business that debuted in 2020.
“It’s encouraging to see more local firms advocating sustainability; yet, only a few of them have progressed beyond exploiting sustainability as a marketing ploy, and few have been able to adopt a fully sustainable model.” When it comes to manufacturing and sustainability, sustainability is sometimes limited to the final product alone – in fact, it is completely neglected.”
Rehman says he strives to maintain Aangan as sustainable as possible by working closely with his mother, Nasreen Jabbar, who dabbled in fashion design and needlework in the 1970s. Aangan’s accessories collection is almost always made from salvaged fabric, according to the designer, from locally sourced material (purchased in Bahawalpur and interior Sindh) to using eco-friendly, biodegradable packaging (which always includes a handwritten letter on recycled paper).
Anuje Farhung, a fashion designer based in Islamabad, has always been compelled to take a more environmentally conscious approach to her work since graduating with a master’s degree in fashion from the United States.
“I’ve always been fascinated by fabric, its sculptural quality, and the various ways in which it may be manipulated.” During college, I did a lot of experimenting with that. I was also looking at other people’s art, which was quite inspiring… Because of the technology available, the number of prototypes that may be created is limitless.”
Farhung didn’t start significantly working on material ideation in eco-friendly materials until the pandemic occurred. Farhung claims that by collaborating with Sarah Khan, a Peshawar-based scientist, on biodegradable sequins (made of algae), consumers might be persuaded to switch to eco-friendly fashion.
“Why wouldn’t anyone want to switch to sustainable fashion if it’s affordable and has some longevity?” Look around the world at rural communities; they’ve been adopting sustainable techniques into their daily lives since the dawn of time. However, we now live in a world of rapid consumerism and fast fashion, and we’re all to blame for it. What happens after you make a fast fashion purchase is an important issue to ask. What effect does it have on your environment and community?”
Sarah Cheema, the founder of Frower, a fashion start-up, says she’s noticed herself drifting away from trends and becoming more interested in handcrafted garments with a storey to tell. Cheema also felt compelled to return to her roots through her label, which she co-founded with her sister Maimoona.
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“Because our region has such a rich history of textiles and the craft techniques that stem from it, such as embroidery, weaving, dyeing, and block printing, among many others,” she says, “we already have such a strong, sustainable template engrained in our culture; all we have to do is be mindful of the impact our choices have on the earth, stop chasing fast fashion, and be critically regional.” “Mastery of craft is vital to me personally. I chose artisans who are professionals in their disciplines, many of whom have been doing this for generations, since they understand the essence of the craft and see it as more than a job for them.”
Traditional design firms in Pakistan, according to Arslan Athar, a writer based in Lahore, need to be proactive in implementing practical, far-reaching changes in their methods.
“A Pakistani firm claims to be 100 percent sustainable, but several studies suggest that their back-end functions similarly to a quick fashion brand, thus it appears that they’re now deciding which aspects of sustainability will keep them profitable and appealing. “I believe the main cause of this is that Pakistani fashion has simply refused to acknowledge the truth that it is a polluting force,” says Athar.
“Sustainability must be more than a one-off collection released on Independence Day; it must be your company’s mentality.” Small businesses are really embodying what it means to be sustainable on Instagram, which is where I see promise. Because they are’small’ and have fewer resources, I am more forgiving of their understanding of sustainability, and they appear to be receptive to discussions about how they can be more sustainable and benefit the environment more. I see potential and growth in these little enterprises, and I hope they become the moral compass for larger brands to become more sustainable.”
Athar’s opinions are echoed by Zain Ahmad, the creative mind of Rastah, a high-end streetwear brand. For one thing, Ahmad believes that local firms should be more self-aware of whether or not their supply chains allow them to be environmentally friendly, and that they should not deceive their customers by using the “mantra of sustainability as a marketing technique.”
Rastah continues to feature the faces behind its limited, much-coveted creations through their internet platforms, working specifically with handloom artists and local craftsmen in Lahore.
“It’s critical for brands to discuss what they’re doing to make their work more sustainable — merely declaring that your garments are handcrafted isn’t enough.” Who manufactured your raw materials, and what’s the backstory? The importance of transparency cannot be overstated.”
Mehr F. Husain, who founded her social venture, Zuka Accessories, in 2018, often collaborates with local artisans on products that she sells on her Instagram page.
“We urgently need to develop a circular economy,” she argues, noting that Pakistan is “rich in people resources and crafts.” We have a long history. I fail to understand why we are unable to take all this and expand in the craft sector to create an industry that serves to all socio-economic sectors. Local brands must connect with communities to build cycles of sustainable practises and products in a country that is very vulnerable to climate change and economic shocks. This, in fact, has the potential to inspire more creativity and innovation.”