Tanween: The New Next Feature Article
DIGITAL FASHION IS SUSTAINABLE FASHION

Loud tabla drums boom through speakers. The scent of oud and luxurious perfumes swirls around the room as women greet each other and dance in celebration. “I love your dress!” one exclaims to another over earsplitting music between sips of qahwa. Saudi women can relate very well to this scenario—it is after midnight, feet arched in heels, and careful maneuvers to keep from wrecking an expensive new dress. On rare occasions, one woman flouts against the cultural norm. She strides into the room, just as happy as the rest, in the same gown that she wore to a party some months ago. Some see her as lazy, while others dare call her brave.

The red carpet has seen Hollywood stars wear extravagant outfits and personalized gowns only to be worn once. Pushy reporters thrust microphones towards them, “What are you wearing?” they excitedly ask. Being on-trend is not exclusive to big-screen stars and Grammy nominees, but to us regular folks as well. As new trends come and go, the glitz and glamour of fashion slip away into the mass piles of the fashion industry’s environmental footprint.

Since the 1990s, fast fashion had become a go-to solution for being trendy. The brand that started it all is Zara. Amancio Ortega is the man behind the brand—currently one of the richest men in Europe. Fast fashion became a favorable choice when shopping. As the world became more crowded, busier and more expensive, buyers were more willing to spend in the fast fashion market, helping excel Ortega’s wealthy position. Fast fashion became the problem-solver for fashionistas and the unstylish alike. The early 2000s saw the onset of fast food, fast fashion and a fast detrimental effect on our environment and humanity.

When go, go, go is the general attitude to people’s lives and fashion choices, our planet responds with no, no, no. We naively buy clothes with no clue to who made it or how they suffered. We wear our favorite pieces, blissfully unaware of the damaging impact it made on countless acres of wildlife and even refugee workers. Fashion altered from trivial to two inches above treacherous. The massive impact of climate change then caught our attention, and we saw the truth.

They say when you pass by a car accident, you cannot help but stare. The collision is abysmal. The wreckage that the fashion industry dumped on Mother Earth is even worse. Not only is the industry's effect on the environment a wreck, but it is also a wreck and a half. So much so that consumers and businesses redirected their moral compass toward sustainable fashion.

The fashion industry is, unfortunately, one of the most wasteful industries out there,” says Shahd Alshehail at Ithra’s Tanween Creativity Conference. The annual event invited Alshehail and Karinna Nobbs, two revolutionaries in the fashion industry, to speak on Digital Fashion is Sustainable Fashion. The talk addressed the importance of sustainable fashion and the dawn of digital fashion.

A disposable mindset had inflated the fashion market—consumers wear and throw their garments, quickly purchasing the next new item. With social media and influencers, we are all victims to fast fashion’s insensible cycle. Until, Boom! Sustainable fashion burst into the scene, a hero wearing a recycled polyester cape. Items are manufactured with tender care. Materials used and close attention to labor gradually planted hope into anxious shoppers—including vegans, environmentalists and sensitive beings.

During Tanween, Alshehail—the owner of Abadia, a sustainable luxury brand dedicated to recovering appreciation for handmade crafts with ethical practices—shared the influence of sustainable fashion’s vitality. As more consumers are aware of the fashion industry’s hand in damaging our climate, more of them turn to sustainable brands—this pressures both luxury designers and fast-fashion brands to fill the market gap. Luxury brands have dedicated themselves to promoting sustainability by constructing responsibly and shedding the use of fur. Gucci, Versace, Burberry, and LVMH (the multinational corporation that owns Louis Vuitton, Dior, Givenchy, and many more) have adopted sustainable responsibility. So, what does this mean for the rest of the fashion industry?

Gucci’s Equilibrium is a ten-year sustainability plan.

If you watched The Devil Wears Prada, you would be aware of Miranda Priestly’s stern speech that shook newly appointed assistant Andrea Sachs to the bone. She made the point, not about the color of the belts (as we know now is cerulean); it showed the power and influence that luxury brands have in the fashion industry. What they say or do goes. As luxury brands filtered sustainability into their profiles, the fast fashion market swiftly followed. Brands such as H&M, Mango, as well as Zara created “Conscious” or “Committed” lines, making sustainability a top priority in their production processes.

Sustainability is quickly becoming a preference when shopping. When the COVID-19 pandemic spread, people of the world responded to the agonizing screams of Mother Earth. She called out to us, shining the most giant spotlight on the significant issue disrupting our planet, our home. Sustainable fashion is vital, and digital fashion is the sister trailing right behind.

Furthermore, the gaming industry has been using digital fashion for years. Quick taps on the keyboard and the click-click-click! of the mouse are familiar sounds to any gamer’s ears. Before players prepare to slash enemy forces, they dress their characters in various clothing options. The gaming industry has been immensely prosperous, that it caught the attention of Louis Vuitton. The French fashion house collaborated with League of Legends to design outfits for characters, inspiring other fashion houses to explore the possibilities of digital fashion.

Louis Vuitton also designed a custom classic LV monogram trunk for the League of Legends World Championship trophy

Even though the fashion industry sets new trends every season, the gaming industry has actually been living in the future for ages. Karinna Nobbs, a digital fashion strategist, states during the Tanween talk, “I really believe that digital fashion can multiply a lot of the efficiencies for fashion companies concerning overconsumption and overproduction.” Digital Fashion is Sustainable Fashion highlighted the no-waste policy that digital fashion offers.

As we spend endless hours scrolling through Instagram, we can spot the latest trends from influencers. Jacket after jacket, dress after dress…Out with old and in with the new is a concept that has tied the fashion industry’s hand in a wasteful series. With digital fashion, anyone—not just those lucky influencers we have one envy eye on—can send a photo of themselves to the digital fashion brand and have their pick of a digitalized garment adorned on their image. With zero impact on the environment, consumers can “tech-wear” a new piece of clothing. As Nobbs stated, digital fashion is a “magic mirror” in the fashion world.

The Tanween talk focused on the crucial need to buy less and shop smart. One lingering question rests on the audience’s minds; can the Saudi people adapt to a sustainable fashion lifestyle? It is ingrained in our culture to be stylish. A daughter can hear her mom say, “We have a wedding to go to, make sure you go look for a new dress to buy.” However, as many young Saudis are adopting a vegan lifestyle, many flock to sustainable fashion brands.

Easing into a sustainable life can be difficult considering the availability to what we can easily access. Sustainability is not an impossible goal; starting by re-wearing our clothes and throwing out the need to be on-trend can help eradicate the wastefulness within fashion. Wear what you can, buy what you need, and make conscious decisions when shopping. You can wear a new blouse that comforts you not only physically but also, mind and soul.

By next year, you can accessorize your life with a new mindset. Push yourself into a conscious lifestyle. Be committed to the new trend: the New Next, the new fashion trend. It is time to ask yourself, what is in your closet?

- Written by Nora Al-Taha