Talking Ethics and Aesthetics With Dara Hamarneh
© Dara Hamarneh
Dara Hamarneh is a designer and businesswoman, who launched her eponymous label of luxury handbags in 2019.
Being Jordanian-born, the Middle East is an important part of Dara’s own heritage, and she perfectly entangles this into her designs, creating bags that are both beautiful, and have a deep heritage themselves.
Sustainability, or ethics (the term she prefers to use), is of highest importance: Dara ensures that her bags have a positive impact throughout all aspects of their creation, from handmade crafting in Italy in accordance with all manufacturing regulations, to the use of ethically sourced fabrics, and supporting workers fairly.
Talking to Dara, it is clear she is passionate that her bags, and fashion products more generally, should not simply be aesthetic purchases, but should also bring meaning and relevance to their owner’s life.
Starting at the beginning, what inspired you to pursue a career in the fashion industry?
I studied the Business of Fashion, so I always knew I would somehow be pursuing a career in fashion. I have been obsessed with bags for as long as I can remember, and was a huge consumer of luxury bags before realising that many of them aren’t worth the price for many reasons. I always used to find a fault with what was available, so I decided to try putting my degree to use and creating my own. It’s been really rewarding using the different aspects of my degree under one job description.
Is it important to relate your designs to your Jordanian heritage?
It’s important to me for my designs to connect to me somehow. It doesn’t have to be in a very obvious way – I’m sure on a subconscious level the colours I choose and the silhouettes are inspired by the landscapes of my childhood growing up all over the Middle East. Jordan is very important to me, but so is the whole of the region as I did not grow up in one country.
© Dara Hamarneh
You also went to fashion school in Italy and now live in London. Do you take influences from these places as well?
I think Italy exposed me to a “way of life” more than fashion: everyone there is always dressed so well, in the simplest ways and not necessarily in a high fashion or branded way. You feel the way they dress is very educated.
In London you see everything depending on what part of the city you’re in, so I think it helped me curate what I like and don’t like.
Has ethical practice always been something that is important to you?
Yes, it always has been. When it comes to fashion, I believe you need to treat everything and everyone involved with the utmost respect because you are dealing with luxury. You cannot expect people to care about the quality of their work if they are not treated or rewarded in a way that reflects that quality.
You prefer the term “ethics” rather than “sustainability”. Do you think sustainability has become an overused term in the fashion industry?
I do think that sustainability has become an overused term, and there are so many different umbrellas. I prefer to use ethics as it puts everything in one category where there is respect and credibility for everything: the environment, the labour, the materials.
© Dara Hamarneh
Is it also important for yourself, and other brands, to be transparent about their ethical practices?
I think big luxury brands do have a lot of responsibility to be transparent about their ethical practices, while for emerging brands like myself, it can help become part of our story and our unique selling point.
Why do you think that non-sustainable brands are still so popular in an increasingly conscious society?
I think non-sustainable brands are still so popular because, although we believe sustainability has become a global term, spending more time in the Middle East has shown me that, in fact, it is still not a common concern when making purchase decisions.
There also isn’t a lot of access, and access can range from not being able to afford buying into certain brands, to access in terms of materials. There are a lot of exciting, innovative materials coming out but, from my experience, not a lot of it is ready to be used in the market. Also, as most of these innovations come from small companies, they’re trying to onboard bigger names as clients first. It’s a vicious cycle.
On the other hand, I think the popularity of content creators (at this point, whoever has anything public is a content creator) has normalised the overconsumption of clothes. I know that where I’m from, fashion still has a very disposable nature at any price point, because people are very influenced by what they see on the internet. To be honest, as long as trends and a fashion calendar exist, it makes it quite hard to have a genuine conversation about sustainability.
You hope to encourage consumers to make more conscious purchase decisions by giving them something “relevant that will last”. What do you think can be done to increase ethical consumption more broadly?
I think more brands should take a learning approach with their audiences. They have huge platforms – they should use them wisely.
In a perfect world, I believe there should be guidelines regarding materials and origins for import and exports but, of course, this would mean that, for once, we would prioritise people above profit.
© Dara Hamarneh
What inspired your latest collection, the 925 bag?
The 925 handbag was kind of a celebration of back-to-office life, as well as an homage to my mother’s vintage bag collection.
Does each of your collections have a different source of inspiration?
I try to think of it more as a story that is constantly evolving, always going back to the goal of creating something that is relevant and lasts. I want all the designs to be able to coexist and complete each other, while also solving different problems.
Which is your favourite collection (so far) and why?
So far, I’m really proud of the 925. It was a more mature style and I’m happy that I was able to use surplus stock to create it – but I love them all so much!
What are your future goals for yourself and your brand?
I think the main goal right now is to keep finding unique ways for people to find the brand. Once that’s happened, the possibilities are endless!
I just don’t want to lose sight of why I started Dara Hamarneh, so whatever I do, I will always have to have the same core values and make sense with the brand ethos.