Sustainability in fashion has been a trending topic for the past couple of years, although the idea has been around for over a decade. Professionals, enthusiasts and activists have, and continue, to challenge the notion in one of the biggest and most evolving industries. The ugly truth however, has been exposed many a time. Brands have been criticised for their production processes, and held accountable for their undeniable effect on the environment caused by the improper disposal of excess material and waste.
The capitalistic nature of the industry exploits, and profits, off the poor and vulnerable. One example took place in 2014: The Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, an eight-story commercial building responsible for producing garments for first world countries, with more than five clothing factories, tragically collapsed killing 1,110 labourers and left many more with debilitating high-risk injuries. The case was regarded as a human right crisis and a response action plan came into effect to combat the damage moving forward and more importantly, to create and sustain better and safer working conditions.
It’s stories such as this that have caused the rise of ethical brands and conscious fashion designers, and they are at an all-time high. I spoke to Engy Mahdy, the founder and designer behind Dubai-based ONE AND FOUR STUDIO: a sustainable unisex streetwear brand with elegant and high-end tailoring.
Were you always an advocate for sustainability in fashion?
I was always aware of it and was always mostly focused on staying ethical and socially responsible. However, in the last year I felt the need to take it a step further and produce in a fully sustainable matter if I am to continue to work in the fashion realm.
At what point did you know that being a fashion designer was your calling?
At a very young age. Around 11 or 12 I was already drawing endless amounts every day and this is when I realised I needed to be more creative and was introduced to design. From there on it was constant until I was able to go to university and actually learn the history and develop the craft.
Being a one woman powerhouse, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced so far? Always new and evolving problems. One of them being a woman to begin with. Having to work primarily with men in production, there is always the issue of not being taken seriously and having them miss deadlines because of it. There are also issues on the retail end where men get prioritised to be talked about, championed and supported. I’ve had to really, metaphorically speaking, raise my voice to be seen and heard in our society. There is also of course the struggle of having to do everything yourself, in a couple of years I went from being a designer, to also being project and production manager, salesperson, marketeer and accountant all at once. It’s definitely been a whirlwind of an experience but I wouldn’t change a thing.
What inspires your designs?
Usually people and my surroundings. The human body in particular and what it requires from clothing. I believe in design for purpose, functionality and practicality – and that it goes hand in hand with aesthetic.
What do you dislike the most about the fashion industry and what would you personally like to change?
The excess and the lack of transparency. There have been so many lies about what really goes on behind the scenes of creating this apparent luxury. The state of the workers who actually create everything and how they are treated. And the overproduction of things just to be able to get better deals and increase the margin on sales. And in turn, creating so much waste.
How do you deal with failure?
I have this thing where I don’t really like to label experiences as failures and I don’t like to say I have regrets. We can take an experience and allow it to feel like a failure or turn it into a learning curve.
What has been your proudest moment so far?
I think the moment I fully decided to go sustainable. It gave me a lot more work to do but it felt so satisfying and gave me a whole new vision for myself and brand.
Lastly, where do you see One&Four Studio in the next 5 years?
I would love for it to have reached a wider audience of consumers but also within the fashion industry itself and have created some sort of noise to change and develop the way that fashion is being produced and even presented. I think the status quo with this global pandemic will accelerate a worldwide change in a lot of industries moving forward.
Shop and support ONE AND FOUR STUDIO HERE.