From handicrafts to artificial intelligence... "DEDI" initiative promotes sustainable fashion

Writer: Salma Arafa - Translator: Amira Gawdat
السبت 24 فبراير 2024 | 06:17 مساءً

Behind each piece of clothing that you include in your room closet, there are many production steps that it has gone through, and it has increased the pressure on the environment's resources which is subsequently exacerbated when you decide to dispose of them to trash, to wait for their role in reaching garbage.

More than 100 billion pieces of clothing are produced in the world annually, after fast fashion thought dominated various countries to different degrees. Now, they must cooperate in order to turn the tide of this sector again towards sustainability.

Fast fashion focuses on producing large quantities of clothing at lower prices and quality, to the extent that the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the fashion sector has reached between 8: 10 % of global emissions, according to UN estimates.

Sustainable fashion was the subject of the second and third editions of the “Green Gate” program launched by the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Initiative “DEDI”, which succeeded in promoting this type of cooperation, linking between different parties in the world of sustainable fashion, including entrepreneurs, experts, researchers and environmental activists from both countries.

The founding of DEDI dates back to 2004, in cooperation between the Governments of Egypt and Denmark, with the aim of promoting cooperation and cultural exchange between the two countries.

Speaking to “Green in Arabic”, Rana Khamis, the Director of the Sustainability Program at the Initiative, says that the choice of sustainable fashion is due to the importance of the topic, and the lack of bodies interested in it, although there are many innovative projects that need support and inspiration, especially if the source of this inspiration is a country that has made progress in this area, namely Denmark.

Different cultures

Gathering participants from two countries with a different culture seems at first glance very difficult, but Rana says that each team's concerns were completely disappearing once they had their first remote meeting to get to know each other, before workshops and training sessions started in Denmark, and then Egypt.

According to her, Egyptians learn from Danes strong commitment, while on the other side Danes learn communication skills because the nature of their social interaction is quite different as many European countries.

During the preparation phase, the program's organizers discovered that there are many business incubators both in Egypt and Denmark that are still at the beginning of the road and want to communicate with young entrepreneurs, which the initiative has succeeded in doing.

The program's focused skills, trained by dual-nationality participants, varied between personal skills, how to present their ideas to the public and technical skills related to fashion itself, in collaboration with many partners and experts.

According to her opinion, each participant works with a whole society, and thus can bring about change in the development of this society and raise consumer awareness.

Rana Khamis pointed out that researchers from both countries joined the program to develop their skills, noting that their presence benefited the rest of the participants by introducing them to the challenges in the field and to aspects that needed greater cooperation.

Technology and sustainable fashion

One of the sessions of the first version of the program in Denmark dealt with the use of artificial intelligence tools at some stages, rather than using and wasting fabrics.

The director of the sustainability program of the initiative says that there was insistence on the technological aspect of the third edition in 2023, as well as interest in the economic aspect through sessions to familiarize participants with the European market's export procedures.

Another aspect of sustainability that Egypt excels in is the manual garment industry. Rana points out that the program included actual training on these crafts, a session on the history of the tent area, as well as a tour of Al-Azhar neighborhood of the capital, Cairo, for the fame of these neighborhoods with a limited impact on the environment, compared to the use of machines.

What about the next phase?

The director of the sustainability program at DEDI stresses the desire to continue working on the fashion theme during the next edition of the program, which is expected not only to help young people and support their ideas, but to help them raise funding, engage them with financiers, and help open export markets to Egyptians.

Another place in the Egyptian capital that drew the attention of Danish researcher “Trine Skoedt” who participated in the program is the Cairo (Al-Wekala) market, one of Egypt's most popular second-hand clothing markets.

Speaking to “Green in Arabic,” Skoedt, a PhD fellow at the KLOTHING: Center for Apparel, Textiles & Ecology Research at the Royal Danish Academy, recounts her visit to the market, which she described as full of all kinds of used and new clothing, including Danish branded clothing.

“Skoedt” says: "It was scary to see directly how Danish fashion production contributes to the problem of second-hand clothing markets overflooded with goods around the world."

According to “Statista” website, Denmark's export volumes rose markedly between 2010 and 2021, reaching over US $5 billion.

The beginnings of the second edition of the program in 2022 coincided with an important phase “Skoedt” was going through, which is defining the subject of her doctoral thesis more explicitly. She desired to look for historical techniques and practices of textile related to sustainability, and she was curious to learn more about the Egyptian textile industry, and its craft heritage that still exists today, around the time this almost disappeared from Denmark, according to her.

She continues that one of the activities that made a huge impression on her, was the visit of the Egyptian Clothing Bank, a non-profit clothing body for the unable, which partnered with DEDI in the program's activities.

The Danish researcher praised the size and inclusion of the Bank's activities, particularly with the repair of damaged clothing, and the implementation of recycling projects, in exchange for the scarcity of the idea of reform in Denmark's used clothing sector due to high labor costs, according to “Skoedt”.

Between the past and present

The researcher points out that there are many lessons learned from the way we used in the past to take care of clothes, such as repairing them, modifying them, or re-manufacturing them for other purposes, but they take time, require skills, and workforce.

Those practices are narrowed down by the quantities of clothes manufactured today, at cheap prices, and so maintaining clothes is not worth all that time, effort, and cost compared to buying new pieces.

“Skoedt” notes that one of the research aspects she works on includes the history of teaching handicrafts in Denmark's schools at the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, not only to prepare them as housewives who were expected to take care of clothes and fabrics, but also to prepare them for possible entry into the manufacturing sector.

To this day, however, women's relationship with the production of clothing still holds much controversy, and some aspects run counter to the achievement of sustainability linked to gender equality.

The Danish researcher says that not only are women buying more pieces of clothing, they are the primary party in production processes, but they often do so in poor working conditions.

In her view, in the future we need an equal focus on how to equip people -- regardless of their gender-- with technology skills and manual manufacturing, in a future in which business models should not rely on new raw materials, but rather prolong the use of existing materials.

She added:"I hope in the future we produce fewer clothing of higher quality, and they are distributed around the world in a more equal way.. We, in the Northern world, will have to learn again how to live with fewer clothes, while others will be able to improve their wardrobes in quality and number."