Dressing for a Hotter Planet: In Dubai, Sustainable Fashion Designers Face an Uncertain Future With Creativity

For all of the “slowing down” we did last year, our impact on the planet hasn’t really changed. NASA confirmed 2020 was the hottest year on record, tied with 2016. The global temperature averaged 1.84 degrees Fahrenheit (1.02 degrees Celsius) higher, contributing to ongoing issues like warming oceans, melting sea ice, and, perhaps most obviously, longer and hotter summers. Every degree increase in the global average temperature results in roughly 1 billion people living in borderline uninhabitable conditions, many without the means to afford cooling technology. By 2070, that could be roughly a third of the global population.

In parts of Africa and the Middle East, some days feel like a preview of what’s to come. In Dubai, summer temperatures hover around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), though with humidity it can feel more like 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius). The city has been designed almost entirely around cars as a result, with retail developments focused on air-conditioned public spaces, like sprawling malls, museums, and apartment buildings with markets, restaurants, and other amenities built-in (so residents almost never need to step outside).

None of this has bearing on why people love living in Dubai: When it isn’t exceedingly hot, it’s paradise, drawing tourists year-round for its breathtaking architecture, sumptuous resorts, and diverse art and culture scene. Dubai is also home to a growing class of young designers, many of whom grew up in the city or throughout the Middle East. They’re building a fashion community from the ground up, one that’s happily untethered from the trends and “rules” of New York and Paris. Merging Dubai’s innovative present with its rich past and cultural heritage, their collections reflect the city’s vibrancy with an undeniable global appeal.

Reemami’s Reema Al Banna, All Things Mochi’s Aya Tabari, Precious Trust’s Wathek Allal, and The Cap Project (whose designers prefer to remain anonymous) also have no intention of leaving Dubai, so reconciling the city’s futuristic landscape with its uncertain fate is top of mind. Its glittering developments and growing economic power exist at odds with the city’s unique vulnerability to climate change: Within decades, Dubai could face both scorching heat and catastrophic floods if we don’t dramatically reduce our global carbon emissions.

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