There are a lot of different ways to change the society around you, and Rita Kamel believes that changing a cultural mindset requires a change in incentives, not rhetoric. Rita has seen the pragmatic side working in Human Resources, and she’s delved into the idealistic end of the pool with her blogging and her work at Beirut Street Photographers . Pulling together these two ends of the spectrum, Rita has a business idea that doesn’t tell people to be activists; it shows them that it is the most sensible thing to do.
Rita came up with the idea while attending workshops at AltCity that were put on by the British Council for creative entrepreneurs. Rita’s focus, eco-fashion, came directly out of the workshops, which trained its participants to find the middle ground between meaning and money in making products in a market. The program, which focuses intensely on defining ideas and mapping out business plans, declares that selling a creative product is no different than selling anything else: it’s all about finding what people want and giving it to them.
The same thing goes for activism, Rita thinks, and eco-design is exactly the sort of product that can provide both high quality and high social impact. Eco-fashion is based on many of the same principles of organic foods, which started to enter the mainstream consciousness around 10 years ago. The style aims to reduce human impact on the environment by promoting sustainable practices in clothing production such as using organic raw materials and sustainable land use practices.
Things like organic farming, fair trade employment, and cruelty free ranching come at a certain cost, but when asked if eco-fashion prices can reach the mainstream, Rita retorts, “so, healthy is only [within] the reach of the rich?” That may have been the case, but she argues that science has evolved, and today the problem isn’t just cost, but marketing alternatives to consumers and getting the government to promote healthier life styles.
Furthermore, it could be that the cutting-edge styles in eco-fashion are environmentally conscious because they are cheaper and produce less waste. Manufacturing locally and using recycled materials – or even plastic – to make new, high quality textiles cuts down on industrial waste and, potentially, costs as recycling technology improves. Simply producing more durable clothing to reduce waste comes with higher initial costs for consumers, but long-term savings. Here, Kamel’s background in visual arts is a plus that can help compensate for the aesthetic challenges of a product that is made from old water bottles.
In the end, the potential for eco-fashion in Lebanon relies on the ability of designers to make appealing products and for people like Rita to make sure that they are accessible. “I think the community exists,” she says regarding socially conscious consumers, “it’s a matter of giving an affordable alternative to the choices they currently have”.