What's the first thing you look for in the next must-have fashion accessory? It's probably not where, how or in which factory it is made, or even the brand, but what it looks like hanging off your arm. Ethical arts and crafts and fair trade products have been around for some time, but high-end fashion rarely fits the genre - at least until Fashion Compassion, the brainchild of the UK-based entrepreneur Ayesha Mustafa, came to fruition. The ethical fashion retailer stocks only fair trade, eco-friendly and ethical high-end items. This weekend, the company makes its first foray into the Middle East with an open house organised in collaboration with the Bambah Boutique, Jumeirah.
"The whole idea is to have a range of products that have a social and eco-friendly aspect, but that are as luxurious as mainstream fashion," Mustafa says. The retailer sources the items from developing countries including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Palestine.
"In these areas there is a discrepancy between men and women. Women are not educated and they don't have access to education, but they do have skill. The idea is to recognise this skill, guide them … make sure they're paid fairly and they get flexible hours of work. It's not like they are machines that are just creating stuff," she says.
Mustafa is originally from Pakistan and her parents live in Dubai, where she attended high school for a year. Travelling in and out of the UAE inspired her to set up the open house.
"Dubai is a fashion hub … every big brand is coming to Dubai. I feel that Dubai is in such a good position to bring change, to really make people aware that fashion can be positive, fashion can give back, that it can be sustainable," she says.
Items for sale include the New York vegan label Gunas's red Rockstar handbag, as sported by Anne Hathaway, and the silk recycled burqa dress by Beshtar, as worn by Livia Firth. All Fashion Compassion products are handmade, including intricate jewellery made by craftsmen in Rajasthan.
Bambah Boutique in Jumeirah, a vintage clothing and accessories store that has been selling one-off pieces since January 2011, was chosen for the event because of its link with Fashion Compassion's sustainability ethos. The self-confessed "vintage fanatic" Maha Abdul Rasheed set up the boutique after recognising the lack of vintage stores in Dubai. She says she became interested in vintage about seven years ago.
"There was no vintage in Dubai, and there still isn't really vintage in the region. But it's slowly becoming a trend and people are starting to appreciate it. People weren't too comfortable with the concept of vintage, but it wasn't really readily available," she says.
Rasheed, an Egyptian expatriate who has lived throughout the region, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, says she noticed a lack of "quirky" boutiques and believed that UAE shoppers would appreciate a different kind of shop. She also believes that owning one-off pieces is something that appeals widely to the Dubai fashion audience. Since vintage clothing and accessories also promote sustainability, she decided to team up with Fashion Compassion to bring the ethical products to the Emirates.
"Ethical fashion in the world is growing and people are talking about it. It would be great for Dubai to embrace that and to be the first city in the Middle East to talk about it on a bigger platform," Mustafa says.
The ethical brands that will be showcased are new to Dubai and have been sourced from brands and suppliers in New York, Chicago, Rajasthan and Lahore (among others). Local socially conscious brands will also be showcased, including Palestyle, Nawa and Beshtar.
The open house will be held at Bambah Boutique, 142 Jumeirah Beach Road (opposite Dubai Zoo) on Saturday from 4pm to 8pm. For more information contact Bambah Boutique on 04 349 5585, or visit www.fashioncompassion.co.uk