Zakat and Eco-fashion

By Randi Swandaru

As the fashion business grows and as the interminable need of human beings to respond to fast fashion continuously thrives, the clothing industry has become the second largest pollutants releasing industry in the world – it leaves tremendous amount of fashion carbon footprint that causes unimaginable harm to the environment. This article talks about how Zakat, a Moslem faith pillar will help shape not just the fashion world anew, but how it essentially helps restore harmony in how we perceive our roles as nature’s stewards.

Have you ever imagined where do our clothes come from and who made it in the first place? Does the process harm the environment and does the trade fairly compensate each actor? These questions are some reasons that initiate the idea of eco-fashion. This notion emerges alongside with the awareness of people to the fact that clothing is one of the most wastes that people produce. For instance, the average waste of Americans reaches up to 82 pounds of textile each year, which sums up to 11 million tons annually. Moreover, textile dyeing is the second largest polluter of clean water globally, after agriculture. In addition, the Tragedy of Rana Plaza has opened millions of eyes around the globe on how the capitalistic fashion industry has exploited workers in Bangladesh. It represents how the glamour and fancy fashion in the western world has shed blood and induced poverty in third world countries.

There are a lot of efforts taken to bring the pendulum on fashion industry toward a just economy and eco-friendly business. The True Cost, a documentary film, was one of the most staggering efforts that depict how fast fashion has bolstered a structural poverty and poisoned Mother Nature in underdeveloped countries. Another effort by Greenpeace under the Detox Campaign has pressured the fashion brands to eliminate toxic chemicals from their supply chain; nonetheless, there is still an urgent and genuine need to fix this situation especially in the underdeveloped countries where the impact is perceived the most and the lack of funds and awareness on this matter are explicit.

Zakat and eco-fashion embody the spirit of the moral economy as opposed to the market economy.

Regarding this, zakat actually could be an innovative financing facility to establish a just and eco-friendly fashion business. Zakat is one of the five pillars in Islam that requires Moslem to set aside 2.5% of their idle wealth for the less fortunate annually. The potential zakat fund in the Moslem-populated countries is imminent. For Indonesia alone, the potential zakat is up to 3.4% of its GDP. This fund can be channelled to promote eco-fashion socio-economic empowerment programme because zakat and eco-fashion have several profound alignments.

First, both zakat and eco-fashion embody the spirit of the moral economy as opposed to the market economy. Moral economy refers to a just and fair economy where economic activity is submerged into the social formation and determined by non-economic factors. In this sense, this system promotes mutuality and reciprocity in the community. It believes that the fulfilment of one’s utility function should respect others. In this context, eco-fashion clearly concerns on mutual benefit between the consumers and the producers. It endorses fair wages and fair trades in the fashion supply chain. It prohibits exploitative practises while fairly compensating the actors involved in the business process. Likewise, zakat represents the idea of sharing and moral economy, as it enables a wealth redistribution mechanism to the less fortunate to enable justice and harmony in the society.

Secondly, zakat and eco-fashion have a common moral filter for consumption and production. Both of them prohibit the single-minded pursuit of wealth creation and not allowing squandering consumption. They believe that the utilisation of resources by a private entity must align and recognise the public interest. They repel the excessive exploitation of public resources in the business process. In this framework, eco-fashion promotes the preservation of nature by prohibiting toxic chemical substance and reducing the consumption of water in the production process. It also advocates limited consumption by endorsing durable fashion, recycled fabrics, plant-based dyeing, and clothes sharing.

Having such noble commonalities, it is necessary to do community empowerment that is based on the spirit and model of zakat and eco-fashion.

Similarly, zakat as part of Islamic practice hinders spendthrift consumption (israf), wastage, and wrong or unethical production. The Quran and the history of the Prophets have abundant examples of how Islam perceived and respect nature and frequently elaborate how human has damaged the nature due to the greediness in business. Few of these examples are when Muhammad PBUH asks his companion not to overuse water for cleaning (thaharah), and when Prophet Sulaiman holds his soldier to give space for a kingdom of ant to cross a road while his army is on a parade for an expedition. In addition, Islam also prohibits any destruction to a tree in every combat and war.

Specifically on zakat, in regard to public resource consumption, the rate of zakat on agriculture is different based on the usage and impact on natural resources. The farm that depends on the rain for watering is penalised with higher rate than the farm that uses mechanistic irrigation. Moreover, the rate for mining is the highest one with up to 20% of the total wealth as it directly impacts the balance of the environment. Another point, zakat is aligned with the concept of limited consumption as zakat is only levied to wealth that is excessed of the basic needs. In this manner, Islam appreciates those who use durable goods for their daily activities by not penalising zakat on to those goods. The usage of durable goods will directly limit the use of natural resources and preserve nature. Moreover, zakat cannot be levied from unlawful wealth and business. The implementation of zakat induces people to not hoard their wealth but invest it into prospective and lawful business.

Zakat and Eco-Fashion Based Empowerment

Having such noble commonalities, it is necessary to do community empowerment that is based on the spirit and model of zakat and eco-fashion. BAZNAS, the Indonesia-zakat agency has started this initiative under the zakat community development program in three provinces namely: Ende, East Nusa Tenggara; Jirak, West Kalimantan; and Tuban, East Java. This program targets the poor by promoting eco-fashion as the core model of empowerment with two main products such as batik and weaving (tenun). There are three main interventions in this poverty alleviation program, such as capital support, production enhancement, and market penetration.

Eco-Fashion Week held in Jakarta, Indonesia in 2018.

The first intervention is capital support that channels zakat funds to the targeted zakat-eligible recipient community. Unlike the cash transfer program that gives money to individuals, this program channels funds to the targeted group who managed and utilised the funds based on their own aspirations and common goals. By having group intervention, this model shapes a social collateral among the group members that is considered as one of motivation source to push the member towards the goal of the program. The fund can be used to buy assets, tools, and raw materials for production and the group member supervises it. Second intervention is production enhancement that is not limited to the incremental production rate but also refers to capacity building and behaviour betterment of the community. In this context, BAZNAS, together with Sahabat Pulau and local BAZNAS provide training on eco-fashion production such as natural dyeing process, introduction of various contemporary patterns, and financial literacy. There is also one programme supervisor who guides, assists, and lives together with the community. In addition, this programme provides spiritual support to help the group members increase their knowledge and faith in Islam. The third intervention is market penetration by showcasing their product in several fashion events. There are at least two events that have been exposed in this product empowerment, namely the Eco-Fashion Week in Jakarta which was held last November 30 to December 2, 2018, and the 5th Indonesia’s Sharia Economic Festival in Surabaya which happened last December 11 to 15, 2018. During these events, the professional models on the catwalk wear the batik and weaving products. Some designers and fashion houses are also involved in the events to expand the network of the programme beneficiaries.

After three years, this zakat and eco-fashion programme will help achieve the poverty alleviation target and will bolster the emergence of sustainable communities as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Therefore, by implementing those interventions, it is expected that 75 families in this programme will be independent in three sectors. First, they will be economically independent by producing and trading the batik and weaving products. Second, it is expected that they can later form a local institution such as cooperation so that they can institutionally be independent. Having this institution is essential so that they will have legal standing to make contracts in a legal business and transactions and to raise their bargaining positions to the market and with the upper supplier. Lastly, it is hoped they will have behavioural betterment so that they become a community who knows how to run a business that sustains not only the nature, but also become a cohesive community who are solid in their faith. After three years, this zakat and eco-fashion programme will help achieve the poverty alleviation target and will bolster the emergence of sustainable communities as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.

About the Author

Randi Swandaru is a Durham Business School Alumni and the division head of Zakat Empowerment at Badan Amil Zakat Nasional (BAZNAS).


The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.