EcoLookbook recently caught up with Dubai-based Hanne Ripsaluoma, founder of slow fashion boho chic brand Dunesi, to talk about her passion for the planet, what makes a brand sustainable, and making a difference.
Tell us about your journey to sustainability. Why is it important to you to produce sustainable and ethical clothing?
It’s me doing my bit for the environment. I have always been an eco-conscious person and sustainability is an important part of my personal life. I do think that everyone can and should be finding a way to make more mindful decisions, so if I can make a difference with the way my company produces clothes that is important to me.
Also, Dunesi is my second clothing venture. When I started the brand I really felt there needed to be another level of meaning for me, that with Dunesi we had the opportunity to be pioneers in this market.
What does sustainable fashion mean to you and would you describe Dunesi as a sustainable and ethical fashion brand?
I do believe that Dunesi is an ethical fashion brand. Ethical manufacturing has always been important to me and I want to take good care of anyone who is involved in the production of Dunesi garments. Our production is in-house and we really look after our team. We pay them well above the industry wage for this region, they work fewer hours than the industry average and we give them one month annual leave, which they can take flexibly over the course of the year. We are also completely cruelty free.
As for sustainable, I would love to say yes, but we have to understand that when it comes to fashion sustainability can be a very broad term. What Dunesi definitely is, is locally produced in the UAE, limited collections, zero waste (we design to use all the fabric and anything we can’t use we donate to Rags to Riches), no plastic in any part of the process or packaging, and we encourage recycling our clothes – on our washing label it says: ‘when no longer needed please recycle’.
And we give back. We are proud to be one of only two companies in the UAE participating in 1% For The Planet, a global organisation that connects dollars and doers to accelerate smart environmental giving.
How Sustainable Are Dunesi’s fabrics and how do you source them?
We would love to use 100% sustainable materials but it is difficult. And it is expensive.
Most of our fabrics are handprinted from Indonesia. We try to work with family-run businesses when sourcing our stock. We have visited the factories and met their families and workers and we are happy with what we have seen, but the reality is that Dunesi is not a big enough business to have any real influence on their supply chains.
Where possible, we buy deadstock from bigger designers and we have recently started working with DGrade. We hope to do more with DGrade as we really like what they are doing.
With our fabrics we do often ask ourselves the question, to which we don’t have an answer: is it better to use organic cotton, knowing that the production of organic cotton still involves huge water consumption? Or is it better to use fabrics made from recycled plastic, which typically come with high energy consumption?
Have you faced many challenges in establishing a sustainable mindset and working processes in Dubai?
While a lot of customers here see Dunesi as resort wear brand, we do increasingly find that we have customers who want to buy from a small company with a transparent ethical and sustainable story.
If I compare this market to Europe it is definitely still in the early stages in terms of sustainability. People are interested in the concept of sustainable fashion, but it hasn’t become a mainstream focus yet unfortunately, probably partly because of the higher prices.
We take on the extra cost of producing ethical and sustainable clothing – it makes me sleep better at night – but hopefully the industry will change soon, bringing down some of the costs involved in sustainable fashion.
It’s true that not everything about ethical and sustainable fashion needs to cost more, however if you really want to do it properly it does become more expensive. Recycled or recyclable packaging, local production, a fair salary and decent working conditions do bring with them a higher price tag for the manufacturer.
Where’s the best country in the world to buy sustainable fashion in my opinion? I don’t know but I would probably say Germany? There is a perception that Germany has always been green ahead of others and they really do seem to have a lot of edgy ethical and sustainable brands. A number of excellent brands also seem to be coming out of Byron Bay in Australia.
Actually, many of my sustainable ideas come from Finland, where I’m from. For example we send all our international shipments in shredded recycled paper, an idea I picked up in Finland where it is the norm to use recycled packaging.
What’s next for Dunesi?
I’d like to think that we are one of the unique local sustainable, ethical brands in Dubai. We are definitely one of the few producing garments locally. Hopefully this is the start of a growing trend and more businesses here will begin to take steps towards sustainability.
As for what’s next for Dunesi… I can tell you that I am excited for the future and there are changes on the horizon. Let’s just say, watch this space!