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Ethics, Sustainability, & The True Cost of Clothing – The HH Perspective
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Posted on Jul 24, 2018
Erin Smith

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Some of the most common questions we get at Haute Hijab have to do with what goes into making our hijabs. 

As the Merchandise Planner on the team, it's my job to work directly with the manufacturers who make our hijabs. Melanie and I work closely to choose the perfect colors and prints, and we're always on the lookout for the latest in sustainability and innovation as we develop our products. We’re not always where we want to be in terms of completely ethically-produced products across all our hijab categories, but we are trying to learn more and figure out how we can do better as our company grows and more information becomes available about how to improve all areas of our company with a more eco-friendly business model.

As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about the ethics of the way we consume clothing, and it's an issue that's very close to my heart. 

The True Cost of Clothing

Every item of clothing we purchase has a fairly fixed cost with a simple formula – one that suspiciously doesn't make any mention of retail value:

Raw materials + Time and labor + Margins = Garment

Before clothing was mass-produced, I'd wager that most people felt a lot closer to this reality because they literally bought (or created, or recycled or found) fabric and made their own clothes by hand.

Now, in the age of instant gratification through purchasing and after a lifetime of fast fashion, I think a lot of us – myself included – have a distorted sense of what clothing really costs. The truth of what a person's time costs has been distorted by unfair labor practices, and the reality of what raw materials cost has been distorted by unwise stewardship of natural resources and the development of those resources.

The result of this is that the "cheap" option, once you break it down, is actually far more expensive as well as harmful to the environment in a multitude of ways.

That suspiciously low price tag often means that  raw materials were harvested in a manner harmful to the earth, used in a careless way that will break down and be thrown away much more quickly and developed in factories with substandard labor practices. It often means that the person who made it was not compensated fairly for their time.

No single person is to blame for the fast fashion trend, of course, and no single person can solve it alone. The silver lining is that, while fashion can be an incredibly wasteful industry, it actually has the power to create a lot of positive change, too. With intention and careful investment in sustainable strategies, "just clothes" can become meaningful garments in more ways than one.

What does Haute Hijab do to create a culture of sustainability?

At Haute Hijab, our mission is to empower Muslim women by producing beautiful hijabs for them and supporting them in a variety of manners – so treating people well and using resources wisely is at the core of our company's identity. Here are some of the measures we take to make sure it stays that way:

  • We scour the market to find great fabrics, and then we test them vigorously to make sure they'll last. Because what's the point of a cute hijab if it doesn't also feel great to wear? Or quality construction if the materials themselves fall apart after a few washes? Part of the problem with “fast fashion” is that clothing becomes worn out after a few wears and washes and potentially get tossed. Not the case with our hijabs.
  • We source deadstock fabrics to create our hijabs. That gorgeous print you've been eyeing? It's fabric that would otherwise end up in the trash – instead, we give it new life. Deadstock fabrics have drawn the notice of the fashion industry in the past few years, but we've been using them since Melanie first established relationships with cloth suppliers in Dubai. (This is also the reason that so many of our prints sell out so quickly!)
  • We work closely with our manufacturers and have their back. Part of ethical fashion is ethical work being done in factories and with manufacturers, meaning fair and equitable labor practices. We consistently check in with them and their teams to address their needs, and we have contractual agreements guaranteeing that they will provide fair pay, reasonable hours, and clean, safe working conditions to their employees.
  • We use polybags that are made of biodegradable, recyclable plastic. Polybags are one of the reliable ways to protect products until they get to the consumer, ensuring that whole garments aren't wasted by damage sustained in shipping. Unfortunately, they're also often a major contributor to plastic waste that ends up in landfills. At Haute Hijab we use polybags that are recyclable as well as biodegradable to keep your hijabs safe in transport – so be kind to the earth and please recycle!Our vendor from whom we receive our polybags assures of that it made of biodegradable, recyclable plastic, however I do want to be clear that we haven't had the bandwith to independently test our bags ourselves to verify this information. We hope to keep revisiting our packaging and how eco-friendly it is in the future.
  • We set price points that enable us to fairly compensate the individuals who create each hijab by hand, and to invest in materials that last longer, making their efforts all the more worthwhile. Whether it's one of our handmade Luxury Collection or our go-to everyday options, you can rest assured it's been fairly made and designed to last.

And this is only the beginning! We are constantly looking for other ways to use more sustainable fabrics and improve our processes because we know there are a LOT of other ways we can improve our products and business practices to meet a higher standard of ethical fashion. It’s a slow journey, but we’re determined to keep progressing in the right direction. 

One thing you'll continue to see more of from us is an increased emphasis on natural and eco-friendly fibers. From our light-as-air Essential Silk collection to our brand-new Ultimate Underscarves made with a high-tech bamboo viscose fiber you have to touch to believe, we are working to assess all our fabrics and figure out ways to transition to more sustainable ones in the coming months.

Photo Credit: The True Cost Movie

What we can do as consumers

No one person and no one choice is one-size-fits-all perfect – that's a given. But every little bit of positive change that we can make, makes a difference. As a company, we obviously have that much more responsibility towards others to make sure our practices are as sustainable as possible, and certainly we have a long journey to make towards this.

When it comes to our responsibilities as individuals, however, we should first and foremost be accountable to ourselves. 

One of the biggest steps we can take as consumers when it comes to clothing is to buy less and buy better. As tempting as those fast fashion steals can be, how many of us have bought something cute only for it to fall apart after one wash? Also, we should take the time to research the companies from which we buy. It takes a mindset shift, but if you encourage yourself to invest in high-quality, ethically-made pieces that make you feel truly awesome, you'll never be without something to wear, and you'll know that it was made in a way that's better for the environment, for the people who made it, and ultimately for you too.

I am *constantly* thinking about ways to continue to provide you with beautiful, comfortable, ethically made, sustainable hijabs – and I'd love to hear your ideas! If you ever have questions or suggestions about our production and practices, don't hesitate to drop me a line at erin@hautehijab.com!

Love this post? Don't be selfish – share it with your friends!  As a consumer, how do you feel about this topic? Share in the comments below! 

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