The choice between abayas and the latest fashion styles exemplify the difference between fast and slow fashion. Photo: Kamran Jebreili / AP

Most people who meet me would be shocked to discover that I am very much into fashion.

I love to watch new trends emerge, although I never wear them myself. I’m the one dressed in black at ladies-only parties, while the rest of the guests show off a medley of colour and couture. This usually means one of two things: either I didn’t get the memo to dress up, or I am still wearing my pyjamas under my abaya.

Nevertheless, I know all of the latest trends in fashion. I watch styles come and go. I love them and forget them. It’s the only way to stay sane, because I just can’t keep up – the trends change far too fast.

I often wonder, what happens to all of those old abayas? I imagine that somewhere in the desert there is a tall black pyramid of unwanted garments melting under the burning sun. As a wannabe greenie, I try not to add to the swelling carbon footprint, so I only have two abayas and one pair of shoes, which are made from recycled rubber.

Another name for my style is “slow fashion”, where one uses a limited set of clothing or finds sustainable ways to dress.

Slow fashion is an ideological movement that is opposed to “fast fashion” – or the purchase of clothes that are so cheap that you wear them once and then throw them away – and refuses to participate in the business model associated with the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Bangladesh last year.

I had never really thought about this concept until I met Ayesha Siddequa, a sustainable fashion designer.

I was floored when I found out that she designs evening gowns made from fabrics derived from the abaca (a relative of the banana tree).

“Lots of people think that sustainable fashion is monotone and boring, but it doesn’t have to be,” she told me.

There is also upcycled and repurposed clothing, which you can tailor yourself.

“Why not just get the tailor to make it for you?” my friends ask me. But I’d rather do it myself, taking my time, stitching, messing up and getting better along the way. I also taught my children to sew. Last year we entered the Sharjah Museum’s Emirati traditional clothing competition and my daughter won third place. My house looked like a dump by the time she had finished her competition entry, but I was thrilled with the end result.

Slow fashion is as rewarding as it is necessary. Instead of spending hours walking around the mall looking for that perfect design, colour or fit, you can do it yourself or order it from eco-friendly design houses. But the question is, do you have the patience to wait?

This was something that Mari Stolan of Solv studio asked herself.

“Are there women out there who would be willing to wait six months for a coat in exchange for the chance to participate in the creation process? She learnt that there are. She doesn’t produce before she gets an order, thereby avoiding any unnecessary waste.

“This is the time of the maker,” Ms Stolan says. “Where people make things and where purpose overrides production.”


Maryam Ismail is a sociologist and teacher who divides her time between the USA and the UAE