August 12, 2022

FabricAID: affordable, sustainable clothing amidst Lebanon's worsening economic crisis

FabricAID is the largest second-hand clothing collector in the MENA region and recently received $1.6m investment. With the threads of society unravelling amid the economic crisis, this Lebanese social enterprise is proving that affordable, high-quality, sustainable fashion need not cost the Earth.

In 2017, 22-year-old Omar Itani, founded a social enterprise, FabricAID, to provide affordable clothing for the country’s most marginalised and poverty-stricken communities, including the 1.5 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon. 

FabricAID collects second-hand clothes, shoes and accessories through donations. Donations are then sorted, washed, ironed, repaired if needed and sold at micro prices (all under $2 USD) throughout the country at FabricAID’s Souk l Khlanj stores

In recent years, Lebanon’s middle class has lost its purchasing power due to the disastrous economic collapse in the country. Most Lebanese people were used to shopping at multinational brands but with the local currency at 90% of its pre-crisis rate two years ago, many people are turning to second-hand and cheaper options for clothing. 

“After the economic crisis,” says Mohamed Rida, Brand Manager at FabricAid, “we established ‘Souk Oukaz’, so these [middle class] people can sell their old clothes and buy new ones at affordable prices. The profits from the project go for supporting the continuity of Souk l Khlanj”. 

FabricAID: An opportunity out of a crisis © 2022, SPARK

SPARK supported FabricAID with funds to open its Souk Oukaz store in Beirut as part of the Tadamon programme, which supports small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Middle East affected by the COVID-19 crisis. With funds from the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development (ISFD), FabricAID renovated premises in Jounieh.

Store Manager of the new Souk Oukaz branch, Ibrahim Deeb, says: “‘Take and Give’ is our main strategy in this store. We buy clothes from clients and sell them also. At the same time, we give job opportunities during the economic crisis in Lebanon.”

To date, FabricAid has collected 400,000 items of clothing, sold 310,000 items, directly benefiting over 70,000 people and has hired 100 staff members. Clothing donation bins can now be spotted throughout the country’s main supermarkets, making FabricAid the largest second-hand clothing collector in the MENA region.

“We are aiming to develop and expand into other elements of the fashion industry because we want an industry that is more fair, more equitable and more sustainable for everyone”

The company recycles around 16% of damaged and scrap clothing that is unfit for resale through its brand, FabricBASE. Material is used by local designers, disadvantaged tailors and international brands and can end up as pillowcases, tote bags and pillow stuffing. Around 6% of high-end, unique and vintage garments that FabricAID receives goes to its Second Base boutique, which is aimed at wealthier clients. Sold at competitive prices, the revenue from all resales is pumped back into the social enterprise. 

The startup recently announced a $1.6 million seed funding investment from Wamda and Al Fanar: the biggest seed round for a social enterprise in the MENA region. The investment ensures they can boost their position in Lebanon, expand their operations in Jordan and launch in Egypt.

In a country that has been hit by one of the most severe global crises since the mid 19th century, FabricAID is putting social goals above profit. Their mission remains to reach people in the most vulnerable financial situations, protect the environment and create job opportunities along the way.