Influencer Combines Sustainability with Modest Fashion

      Hawa Patel is  a fashion writer, researcher, social media influencer,  and  advocate for sustainable and ethical fashion. She spreads her message through her Instagram posts and her work as a Sustainability Leader at Seeds Platform, an organization focuses on educating others on the importance of sustainable fashion consumption. 

“Sustainable fashion, the way I define it, is fashion that is not detrimental to the environment or to society.  So,  you  can’t have ethics without sustainability. You  can’t  have sustainability without ethics,” Patel said in a recent interview. “I realize that there’s a problem in the fashion industry. I am contributing to it as a consumer of the fashion industry, and anyone who wears clothing is also contributing to this cycle of fashion.” 

It was this realization that held Patel, who holds a master’s degree in global affairs with a concentration in sustainable and ethical fashion, to her mission.

“Even if you buy slow fashion, you’re still, you know,  you’re  creating a demand for more production,” she said. I was like,  there’s  a problem with this thing that I love, and I  don’t  want to be doing something that’s hurting people and the environment. So how can I help?”

She sees an opportunity to inform women who wear modest fashion, as she does, about the importance of making fashion choices that minimize harm to the environment.

The following are excerpts from our interview:

    Tell me more about your position with Seeds Platform. What are the roles and responsibilities attached to your position in this company? 

     “Seeds approached me, I guess, – a year ago now to join their board as a leader. They call us sustainability leaders and these are basically people who are in certain fields in the Middle East that are not doing what’s already been done. No one is really doing ethical and sustainable at the fashion level in the Middle East and I’m based in Texas and they’re like we’d love for you to join our platform and advise people who have questions about this issue. So whenever there’s a question, they’ll come to me. So far what I’ve been doing is I’ve developed an online course for brands that want to become more sustain or ethical and for entrepreneurs who want to build their own brand and the course is launching in a few months inshallah – soon.

  What do you want your followers and viewers to learn from your content? 

“Consume responsibly”

     How does your message relate to modest fashion? I feel like we’re not having conversations about sustainability because we see so many modest fashion brands coming up but they also contribute to fast fashion. 

     “Exactly. Viscose, the fabric used to make hijabs. They come from the tree that contributes to  environmental degradation. Haute Hijab, the company, make hijabs out of recycled water bottles so I have a few of those. But they’re chiffon scarves – and I like satin silk better.  So it’s like how many hijabs do you buy ? How many abayas do you buy? And where do you buy them from? Modest clothing is beautiful. I’ve seen the brands and websites but where are they getting the material from? How can I purchase them? “ 

    I’m originally from Bangladesh and like usually whenever my family and I go to Bangladesh for vacation,  we would always purchase fabric, and then we would head to the tailors there and  make our own clothes there because the textile industry is like so much more advanced and also is like very cheap too at the same time. However, it’s  concerning because like if you ever go to Bangladesh, everywhere you go, you  just see pollution specifically like fabric pollution.  

“That’s what I talk about in some of my pieces.  Specifically how – the environmental degradation and the cost the cost of creating fashion and  the environmental costs of it affects black indigenous people of color communities especially in the global South. It’s  just not the water pollution from the dyes. It’s the air pollution, the effects it has on people’s health and well-being. Every single aspect of the fashion industry affects somebody somewhere and its usually in the Global South.”

 

     During our first conversation, you talked about how you don’t see yourself as an influencer but others see you as an influencer. What is your definition of being an influencer?  

      After our conversation,  I texted my cousin and I was like someone thinks I’m an influencer what do  you guys think? They told me, ‘Well, you’re an advocate and  that makes an influencer because you’re trying to influence a  movement or start a movement through your thought, through ideology, and  through your writing so maybe you are an influencer.   I was like OK mind blown.  For me, an influencer is someone that sells product nonstop or someone that models nonstop on Instagram trying to  get a product out there and trying to sell an idea versus I’m trying to educate. I don’t want you to buy anything.  I did like one partnership with the brand that makes like sustainably sourced necklaces which I was really skeptical about even accepting that. But they  are a Muslim brand and they’re doing some really cool thing.  But I was like this is probably the only partnership I’m ever going to do.  

    What makes you hesitant to do collaborations with brands?

     “I don’t know where they’re sourcing their materials from. I don’t want to be a part of that “buy buy buy”  mindset. You must buy the latest things.  You must buy the latest diet tea, you must buy the latest  hijab. To me it’s like buy secondhand, buy local, buy less, swap, mend your clothes.  

   I don’t know if you know this but I was a consultant for an app called MendIt. I consulted on all parts of the circular economy and sustainable and ethical fashion. They service in the Houston area. What they do is they take in your clothing that needs to be mended. They take in clothes that are ripped, old, and tattered. They take it in and they have a group of women, muslim minority women that know how to sow and mend. They patch up the clothing and give it back to you. They donate the clothing if it can’t be fixed. Im super excited for their growth and that’s the kind of stuff I’m going to be working on encouraging. “

 

     Inclusion and diversity haves become an important goal for many brands due to our country’s recent social issues. How do you feel about the global fashion brands attempt at representing Muslim women?    

     That’s a  really good question because I had a conversation with a recruiter last week, about two weeks ago actually about a brand that wants to recruit me and I said well you just had a big scandal about the type of women who you want to sell your clothing to and diversity and  inclusion to is very important cause first of all  there’s not a lot of people in sustainable fashion space. Period.  It’s growing but there’s not a lot of people. There’s not a lot of women in any space.  I mean, it is predominantly women filled spaces at grassroots level,  at the local levels, sure. But all the way up, I mean who owns Kerring  and who owns  LVMH?  But who owns them and who’s running them. Both houses have great sustainability strategies. LMVH has  approached me before and I don’t speak French and they want someone French speaking.  But what I’m saying is,  it’s very important to me as a Muslim woman, you know visibly wearing hijab, women of color. But there are some really cool women who are doing things like Céline Semaan, Aja Barber, Dominique Drakeford,   who are all Muslim. I dont know about  Aja Barber. But I know Dominque Drakeford and Celine Semaan are both Muslim. They are trailblazing this space. Celine Semaan used to host study hall in annual summit on sustainable and ethical fashion. Thats when I met everyone but we need top-down. Like the white man can’t own  everything.  

     

   What made you interested in modest fashion and connecting that industry to your work in sustainability 

     So I never consciously did that connection.  It’s just..  that I’ve worn the hijab for many, many, many years and I’ve always dressed modestly and then I was like OK I would need to stop shopping at ASOS, Forever 21,  H&M, Zara which have a lot of modest fashion options. So I was  like shit, where do I shop now? Then I found local thrift stores.My friends,  cousins and I started swapping our clothing which I wrote a piece on recently. It was like taking things I already own. I  tuned into the modest fashion movement  on Instagram.  It’s a part of your faith to take care of the earth and to take care of society and that’s through all aspects.  I don’t mean just by giving zakah – but its also about asking important questions like  “Where do your  clothes come from? Who makes them? How much would they pay? Where do your clothes go when you’re done with them. What is your impact on these people and on this earth? That’s part of Islam too so I’m trying to do my part through my faith. Faith is my  moral compass. 

 

(Photo Provided by: Hawa Patel)