While the fashion industry might mean luxury for many around the world, it has become part of the solution for the over 16 million refugees in the Middle East and North Africa. A number of clothing companies have recently popped up in Dubai and decided to share their revenues with refugees in the region.
Launched by Arab millennials in December 2021, Ducklife Collection is a start-up online fashion line with a unisex streetwear brand that produces T-shirts in nine different designs. About 25 percent of the revenue generated by the clothing line sale goes to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“Our core mission and purpose is to have a positive impact on the society that we participate in,” said Christian Eid, the founder and CEO of Ducklife. “For us, the global refugee crisis is even more critical in the Middle East and we’re determined to drive the conversation and awareness about the impacts it’s having on the region’s people and communities.” To maximize benefit for refugees, the brand delivers its collection globally through its website. According to Ducklife’s estimations, the company has supported more than 300 families through this program.
The organization has faced obstacles while launching the collection since the team had little to no experience with apparel. “Sourcing fabrics, learning cuts, tailoring, packaging was all new to us! But like most things in life, when you care enough, you can learn anything,” Eid said. As Ducklife develops more collections, they hope to become better at it.
Ducklife, as a brand name, was inspired by an American musician of the 90s, Tupac Shakur, who coined the term “THUGLIFE,” which stands for being unapologetic and action-oriented. “THUGLIFE, for him and us [the team], means to stand up for what you believe in, even when nobody else will stand with you,” Eid said. The team replaced ‘thug’ with ‘duck’ since a duck symbolizes refugees. “Ducks constantly migrate and go wherever they please. No visas and no approvals are needed. Total freedom of mobility, which we believe is a human right,” he explained. “For us, the region’s growing refugee crisis is something we’d like to support and raise awareness for continuously.”
According to UNHCR 2022 figures, the population of refugees and displaced people is rising in the Middle East and North Africa. There are 12.4 million internally displaced people and 2.3 million refugees. In the Middle East, Syria has the largest number of refugees, exceeding 7 million. The UAE has around 10,000 refugees.
“I wanted to create a brand that I love and also be able to give back to society,” said Zeynab El-Helw, founder of Reborn Society. Established in 2019, Reborn Society is a Dubai-based fashion brand that has also partnered with the UNHCR to support refugees. With every item sold from the collection, 3 USD (11 AED) is donated to the UNHCR. “The idea of the donation is to have each item serve a meaning as a purpose, and remind us that there are many different ways in our day to day to contribute to people who are suffering,” El-Helw said.
Reborn Society’s collection is currently available through its online site, showcased in Tryano Shop (Abu Dhabi), and has recently launched in Egypt. “I’m half Egyptian, so it means a lot to me to have it there,” said El-Helw. “I recently created a bigger vendor ground, and it was highly successful.”
El-Helw described Reborn’s collection as ‘a laid-back, comfortable clothing line which can be worn in a very relaxed environment.’ “We are available for women, men, and kids. Many other styles overlap, which lets us give a gender-fluid style,” she explained. The collection offers dresses, hoodies, shorts, socks, tops, and sweatpants. Reborn is an eco-positive brand – all items are produced from 100 percent high quality certified organic cotton. Prices range from 54 USD (198 AED) to 136 USD (499 AED).
Currently, El-Helw is in the process of potentially partnering with refugees on designs to give them a chance to express themselves and their talents.
Nadia Jbour, Head of the UNHCR office in the UAE, is proud to partner with some of the world’s leading brands. These actions help the UNHCR make a difference to millions of refugees and IDPs. “As the number of people forced to flee their homes due to war, persecution, and conflict is reaching the highest levels in recent years, we believe that partnerships from the private sector are essential to support our efforts in providing humanitarian assistance” Jbour added.
“Over the years, we’ve been working with many different partners in the UAE who are committing and helping us in advocating for the displaced populations around the world, and we invite more supporters to join our humanitarian efforts,” she said.
Jbour said the UAE has supported their efforts in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen, Bangladesh and other UNHCR operations with total contributions of US$ 168 million both from the government and the private sector based in the country. “With the logistical support provided by the government of Dubai and the UAE, we are able to deliver life-saving support within 72 hours,” she said.