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A series in which SGI members discuss their approach to their profession

An Eye for Fashion

[Alice Whitby]

Noorin Khamisani was born in London, UK, and is a sustainable fabric consultant at a design company in London, as well as an associate lecturer at London College of Fashion. She is also the creative director of her own label.






Sakina M'Sa is a fashion designer who was born in the Comoros. Her studio is in Barbès, an area in Paris, France, that is home to many immigrants. She employs local women in her studio. In 2010, she was awarded the Social Entrepreneur Award from the PPR Foundation for Women's Dignity and Rights.



What does your work entail, and why did you choose fashion as a field?

Noorin: I run my own ethical and sustainable fashion label--designing, pattern cutting and selling my own designs. I also work with students to raise awareness of responsible and sustainable design approaches. I knew from a young age that I wanted to do something creative. I've always been fascinated by the connection we can make with items of clothing and how important they can become to us because of the confidence they give us or the memories they evoke.

Sakina: Fashion is a barometer of society. It shows the culture and behavior of a civilization, and it epitomizes a particular period. I chose fashion for these reasons, and also because of the notions of self-esteem--taking care of one's life and oneself--that it involves. Fashion also communicates our identity, our strengths and our fragility.

How did you get the idea of using fabrics from sustainable sources and recycled fabrics?

Noorin: I started practicing Buddhism while working for conventional fashion brands. I started to question the way in which garments are produced. Many companies do not seem to realize that people on the other side of the world who stitch our garments are human beings just like us and deserve to be paid a fair wage for their skills and their hard work. Conventional cotton farming harms the environment and farmers. Many other common fabrics will never biodegrade. As my awareness of cause and effect took hold, I wanted to prove that there is another way to make fashion.

Sakina: I've always learned to make do with what I have. My collections are made with recycled fabrics we keep in stock as basic materials, such as good crêpe or Duchess satin bought from the haute couture houses. It's a case of arranging everything around a politics of "eco-conception." There is enough for everyone on this planet.

My aim is to create beautiful collections and to thereby "explain" to the consumer how to buy in a way that is both sexy and responsible.

How does your approach differ from that of a typical fashion designer?

Sakina: I am the director of a social enterprise that is also a business: My work must serve human beings. Through the words of SGI President Ikeda, I have come to understand the values of "gain and good." Placing human beings, productivity and creativity at the center is the most effective way.

In 2007, Sakina worked with 13 disadvantaged women from around Paris on a project to create clothes inspired by the lives of 19th-century women. The results were displayed at the Musée du Petit Palais.

I take a real interest in the women who are working with me, where they are living, if they need help with literacy, for instance, and a social integration counselor comes to the workshop from time to time. The women are then happier to come to work, and they become more productive.

Noorin: There are many differences, but I aim to make them almost invisible in the final product. The first difference is the fabrics I use and the way in which I select them. I only work with organic or sustainable fabrics that have minimal impact on the environment. But I also feel the "limitation" of the fabrics I use actually pushes the creativity in a different way. Plus it is worth it when people comment on the quality and feel of the fabrics.

Secondly, I look at where to get my clothing manufactured. I will only work with ethically-run factories, and take time to visit them. Lastly, I do not follow trends. At most, I aim for a gentle nod to trends and a timeless feel so my designs can be worn season after season.

What are you hoping to contribute to society through your work?

Noorin: I aim to offer an alternative to the throwaway culture of mainstream fashion. I want to inspire people to give their clothing more thought by showing them it can be sustainable, ethically made and beautiful. We must also remember the human connection within all the products we create and consume--from the farmer who grew the cotton, to the person who stitched the garment--this is a valuable contribution and should be treated with respect.

Working with students is also important to ensure the next generation of designers is informed and able to design responsibly and create value in the fashion industry.

Recent design by Sakina [© Sébastien Jardini]

Sakina: I always want to create collections that contribute to people's happiness. I would like the public and buyers from manufacturers' brands and department stores to choose my collections for their style and modernity, the quality of the materials and the finishing. I also feel it is very important to achieve real success in terms of financial results, as this helps convince other people of the importance of social integration and the value of employing the most vulnerable people. I try to ensure that beauty is linked to happiness and the creation of value.

Can you describe a recent project or collection?

Sakina: A project that means a lot to me involves a fashion show held at a women's prison. The inmates have their own television program within the prison, and I had the opportunity to be one of their guests. When we were talking after the show, they told me that their dream was to hold a fashion show. This dream first came true in June 2011. The inmates modeled the clothes, showing a collection in front of 120 detainees. There were great moments of joy, enthusiasm and, above all, self-worth. I will return soon for a second show, together with beauty and hairdressing workshops. I am happy and grateful to be able to do this!

Noorin: I have recently produced an autumn/winter collection using a variety of luxurious and long-lasting sustainable fabrics--merino wool, hemp silk and regenerated carbon-neutral wool. It is a range of essential items for the modern woman.

My aim is that my dresses can be worn to work and then, with a new pair of shoes or statement necklace, take you straight out for the evening.

Recent design by Noorin

How does your Buddhist practice influence your approach to work?

Noorin: My practice has given me courage: to believe in my dream and then take the action to follow it and start my own ethical fashion label. I use my practice on a daily basis to deal with the inevitable challenges of running my own business. I also feel the Buddhist teaching of our interconnectedness with our environment is in rhythm with the sustainable approach I adopt in my work.

Sakina: My Buddhist practice inspires everything I do. Putting human values at the center of my business, thinking of new approaches to my work, sharing with those furthest from employment and from society . . . I'm also inspired by Nichiren Daishonin's encouragement that, when obstacles arise, "the wise will rejoice while the foolish will retreat."

In your view, how does fashion create value?

Noorin: Ethical and sustainable fashion creates value as it takes into account the whole life cycle of the garments. It's something we must consider from start to finish: fiber to fabric, design to manufacture, aftercare, and that the finished item be recyclable or biodegradable. Working with farmers and factory workers in a fair and respectful way can create immense value on a practical level, where previously farmers may have been paid poorly or a seamstress was paid less than the living wage. Once we reconnect with the items in our wardrobes and where they came from, we start to appreciate the value in them.

Sakina: Value can be created in any field of work. Let's allow ourselves to be inspired by the infinite potential of our heart. It is truly the heart that is most important.

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