Ethical consumerism is on the up in the UAE’s scene stealing emirate. Against all the odds, the kingdom of bling has developed a conscience and in the process is learning that it’s now cool to care…CD Traveller reports
While Dubai excels in many areas, it doesn’t do well ecologically. Worryingly the UAE has one of the largest ecological footprints (signifying a lifestyle that wastes resources) in the world, second only to the USA. On the fashion front in particular, Dubaians have been slow in extreme when it comes to embracing clothes that they can feel good about – as well as look good in.
Part of the reluctance can be attributed to cost; prices for ethical clothing (encompassing organic cotton, fair trade clothes and garments made from recycled material) can be steep, meaning that they can’t easily be factored into a weekly retail recce in the same way that garments from Stradivarius and Swedish stalwart H&M can. Yet while it’s understandable that the emirate’s expats love a bargain, you have to wonder why high street fashion fixes are so, well, cheap. And the conclusions you’ll come too (cotton picked by a child in the third world before being sewn together in a sweatshop) combine to make the boot sale prices a whole lot less attractive…
Ethical clothes have also suffered from a severe image problem in the past. Think of the dreadlocked eco warrior Swampy and you’ll get what we mean. Let’s face it; the hippy look was never going to take off in bling- bedecked Dubai.
Fortunately fashion forward, environmentally aware Dubaians are finally finding that they have more appealing – dare we say it, stylish even – options. And while some remain limited to those with fat wallets (and thin frames), not all of them need cost an arm and limb. Dubai might be way behind the likes of London and New York, but there are places where locals, expats and tourists alike can pick up something pretty and know that their actions didn’t harm the environment – or exploit workers in the developing world.
The budget conscious should give vintage a chance and check out Dubai’s charity shop scene. Buying second hand clothes is so much kinder to the environment; you’ll save on all the energy used in producing and shipping a new garment. Cruise over to Karama (ideally in a hybrid car) and seek out the Dubai Charity shop (04 337 8246) and Al Noor Thrift shop (04 297 9989). Others worth a rummage around include Rashid Paediatric Therapy Centre (04 294 5998) and the granddaddy of Dubai’s charity shops – Holy Trinity (04 337 8192).
Straddling the middle ground is Gap’s flagship store over in Deira City Centre. The first Gap store in Dubai, stocks the ‘Product Red’ range and pleasing all profits from products that fall under the red banner are donated to a fund fighting Aids, malaria and TB in Africa. Alongside Gap, there’s Marks & Spencer who launched its own Fair Trade line a few years back. Meanwhile Timberland sells eco-friendly footwear made with vegetable tanned leather and recycled rubber soles and has introduced a reforestation project whereby they plant one tree for each pair of boots sold.
At the upper end of the feel good shopping spectrum is S*uce over at the Village mall. This achingly hip boutique has long been a favourite of the CD Traveller team when in Dubai, but now we have an excuse (as if we needed one) to flex the plastic. The trendy Jumeirah store stocks eco themed t-shirts designed by DVF, Missoni, Mossy and co to raise funds for Al Gore’s The Climate Project.
Children aren’t entirely neglected at ½ Pint; the brain-child of Dubai based fashion designer Mariam El-Accad. The clothes range (which caters for children from six months to seven years) isn’t organic as yet, but Mariam does her bit for the environment through her packaging and presentation. The brightly coloured clothes – guaranteed to lift little ones spirits – are displayed on wooden hangers rather than plastic ones and come in cotton pouches which can be used by the consumer to store shoes etc in. Elsewhere bags and business cards are made from recycled paper and designed to look like gift bags. Says Mariam: ‘I encourage customers to re-use them to give gifts in, so that the packaging is at least used again preventing more from being purchased.’ Furthermore all the clothes have been made in Mariam’s Satwa workshop, helping to reduce the UAE’s ecological footprint.
Of course your going to have to make room in your wardrobe for your new eco chic purchases, so why not invite family and friends around for a wardrobe swap – the so called ‘switch and bitch’ trend has swept New York. The premise is disarmingly simple; everyone brings a few unwanted items they want to trade be they Mango or Marc Jacobs. With a bit of luck one person’s junk will be another’s fashion booty and everyone will leave happy – hopefully with an outfit for free. At the end of the party, send the unclaimed clothing to a charity shop. CD Traveller is an ardent supporter of these so-called ‘switch and bitch’ parties. Easy on the environment and your wallet, what’s not to love?
However ethical consumerism isn’t limited solely to fashion. The glitzy emirate has an eco friendly holiday retreat on the doorstep in Al Maha, www.al-maha.com (checking in for a long week-end here, will grant you more kudos than taking a carbon flight to the Maldives), and on the food front, there’s the institution that is the Organic Food café (www.organicfoodsandcafe.com). Not only is all food organic, but the store has a conscious food miles policy and refuses to import goods from say the States. Instead produce is bought from India and Egypt – in other words closer to home. Nils, the owner, also uses ‘biodegradable trays for meat and veg as opposed to plastic ones’ (helping to reduce the estimated 40kg of plastic consumption per capita per year across the Gulf) and rewards conscientious customers. For instance, the company sells cotton bags and customers who reuse them during future shopping sprees, see Dhs2 shaved off bills of more than Dhs100.
A caffeine fiend? Next time you’re in a coffee bar, ask for your latte to be served in a mug rather than a Styrofoam cup. The mug can be easily washed and used again by another customer, whereas the polystyrene packaging will most likely end up in a landfill site.
Meanwhile beauty queens can stock up on Shiffa – a lavish, all natural, organic skin care and body line range – at spas such as Amara (http://dubai.park.hyatt.com/hyatt/pure/spas/) and Madinat Jumeirah (http://www.jumeirah.com/hotels-and-resorts/destinations/dubai/madinat-jumeirah/) and Harvey Nichols and Saks Fifth Avenue at the Mall of the Emirates (www.malloftheemirates.com).
Elsewhere those looking for authentic Dubai gifts to give to friends and family back home, should try the Trucial Coast line (available at the Organic store) which sells goods such as unbleached cotton t-shirts depicting the UAE coastline, that come in cute drawstring bags.
Yes Dubai’s rampant consumerism – if channelled correctly – could actually be part of the solution to environmental concerns rather than the problem, for arguably one of the easiest ways that we can build a better world is through our purchases and choices as consumers. With a little thought we can shop ourselves, as well as the planet, to a brighter future. Green is evidently en vogue – and fingers crossed, this is one trend that’s here to stay.