Somaya's project depends on natural fabrics. Photo: Somaya Abu Al Ezz fashion line

Can green fashion help Egypt?

The fashion industry is hurting the environment, but new initiatives are rising up to the challenge to produce environmental garments.
The fashion industry is hurting the environment, but new initiatives are rising up to the challenge to produce environmental garments.

The fashion industry is doing great harm to the environment. It generates carbon emissions that contribute to climate change and generates environmental pollution during manufacturing and transportation.

The per capita emissions related to the estimated global consumption of fibre materials were 442 kg of CO2eq in 2016. This is equivalent to a passenger’s share in a 4,100 km-long flight or driving 2,400 km in a passenger car. Likewise, the apparel industry’s annual per capita water consumption tallies up to an estimated 23,900 litres, which is akin to taking about 150 baths, according to a 2018 study titled “Environmental Impact of the Global Apparel and Footwear Industries Study”.

“The fashion industry contributes significantly to the increase in carbon emissions and the depletion of resources in all stages of the industry, starting from farming, manufacturing, packaging, shipping and distribution,” Khaled Sulaiman, a climate change journalist and author said.

New clothes

In recent years, many initiatives have emerged around the world to produce eco-friendly fashion, and Egypt has started to become a part of the trend.

“We are trying to reduce pollution resulting from the fashion industry by producing eco-friendly clothes, based on handicraft and recycling,” said Somaia Abolezz, founder of a fashion line that carries her name.

Somaia (who graduated in Fine Arts in 2014) started her project in 2018 to produce a different kind of clothes. Her initiative is based on drawings directly on the fabric, while also recycling clothes. The first collection was launched in 2019,  from natural hand-woven fabric on a loom.

She employs female breadwinners, empowering them and teaching them a profitable craft.

The project employs female breadwinners. Photo: Somaya Abu Al Ezz fashion line

High costs

Green initiatives like Somaia’s face stern competition from the mainstream clothing industry. Her costs, she says, are much higher: “This, of course, negatively affects the marketing operations but in return we have an environmentally friendly product that is soft to the touch and doesn’t cause any allergies.”

“The obstacles we face are financial: the unavailability of materials and the difficulty of marketing due to the high cost of manufacturing”, Somaya explained.

Somaia is now preparing to produce a new fashion line made out of bamboo, which is an environmentally friendly and anti-bacterial fabric.

Cotton production

Egypt’s production of cotton in the past ten years ranged from 80 to 150 thousand tons per year. This cotton is the main raw material feeding an important national textile industry. The country counts about 23 public sector companies for spinning and weaving, in addition to 4,500 private sector companies, not to mention small workshops, according to a study by the Industrial Development and Workers Bank of Egypt.

The textile industry produces millions of tons of greenhouse gases annually, which in turn are the driver of climate change. Global warming threatens Egypt with a shortage of agricultural production, water shortages and coastal flooding, according to a 2010 study.

“With the exacerbation of climate change, the global trend has increased to produce environmentally friendly or green fashion, and some have resorted to producing biodegradable living tissues instead of traditional fabrics to reduce carbon emissions,” said Khaled Sulaiman.

He pointed out that those in charge of the industry must take into account that organic clothes are attractive in shape and cost-appropriate to meet the challenges of marketing and that consumers also have a role to change the habits of consumption of fast clothes.

For all indicators, the dyeing and finishing, yarn preparation and fibre production life cycle stages appear to be the three main drivers of the industry’s global pollution impacts.

Green clothing against plastic

Up-fuse is another environmentally friendly project that was launched in 2015 to produce bags made of recycled plastic, avoiding the use of artificial dyes.

“Our primary goal is to educate people about preserving the environment in an innovative way and contribute to reducing plastic pollution through the use of plastic waste in the manufacture of bags,” said Rania Rafea, one of the project’s founders.

Egypt ranks seventh in the world as the largest producer of plastic waste that seeps into the seas and oceans. The amount of marine plastic waste in the country ranges between 0.15 and 0.39 million tons per year, according to a recent study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin.

The study warned that the quantities of plastic pollution that were detected could pose a threat to the marine environment and the fish that consume this waste, which ultimately reaches humans.

“The recycling process is expensive, and it takes two weeks to a month to manufacture a new collection of bags, so their prices range from 40 to 400 pounds(2.5-25 USD)”, added Rafea.

“When burnt, plastic emits toxic fumes. It also does not decompose over time, so by recycling it, the environment is protected from pollution,” said Reham Refaat, a researcher in climate change management at Alexandria University.

“The cost of recycling plastic is high, which makes marketing difficult, especially at the local level. However, in the end, you protect the environment from more costly damage, so we need to raise awareness about the importance of such initiatives and obtain grants to help them continue,” Refaat added.

She pointed out that factory owners, in turn, have a societal responsibility to make such environmentally friendly initiatives and reduce pollution that their plants participate in.

Inside each of the UP-Fuse bags, there is a message that says, “Your bag loves and appreciates the planet and people, and by owning it you help to recycle 30 plastic bags.”

Rahma Diaa
Rahma is a freelance Egyptian journalist and media trainer. She’s the founder of the Climate school initiative and the winner of Covering Climate Now’s Emerging Journalist Award 2021. She’s collaborated with Arab and foreign media, such as, Asharq news, Scientific American (Arabic version), climate tracker, VICE, and ARIJ websites and networks.