Sustainability ingrained in the modern fashion tertiary curriculum

It is no surprise that with ongoing research and the current scientific outlook on our environment and climate change, international tertiary providers would include sustainability and ethics in their curriculums. With the textile and fashion industries listed amongst the top polluters globally, it is interesting to see the changes to the way we teach our future designers, buyers, stylists and  developers. This has the potential to shape the future of fashion, with research and innovation focused on lessening waste and having closed loop cycles for water and other resources. What’s more, the students legitimately care for these values and with dedicated passion the fashion industry will see effective solutions.

Top fashion design schools hold sustainability as a core value

The world’s most prestigious fashion design universities including Parson’s The New School for Design, Central Saint Martin’s and London College of Fashion all have sustainability incorporated in their courses. These courses may give graduating students an edge in the fashion industry as sustainable sectors and departments pop up throughout the design and supply chain. With courses encouraging thought and design leadership in zero waste design, sustainable solutions, eco-design, responsible product design and sustainable marketing, these schools are setting their students up to change the fashion industry.

Melissa Joy Manning, co-chair of the CFDA’s sustainable commitee is quoted by Fashionista (Fashion industry news source); “As our population continues to grow, sustainability will only become more important, learning to incorporate sustainable practices at process inception will add both a competitive advantage and encourage smart design.” Therefore, the likelihood for more sustainability based jobs is only likely to increase. Due to consumer need for transparency and improvement of supply systems, fashion brands are now employing teams to work towards and manage sustainable practices. Brands such as Patagonia, The Kering Group and even fast fashion giant H&M all have sustainability sectors to monitor and revise their practices, encouraging an improved fashion future.

Students care as the benefactors of the future fashion industry

Perhaps the strongest driving factor towards sustainability in the fashion industry, is the drive from new designers and students due to them sincerely caring about these issues. In New Zealand for example, children are taught from primary to secondary education, to think about environmental and social issues. The internet has increased accessibility of information between cultures and countries – we now see more photos and videos of pollution and labour conditions in the places that our clothing and products are made which encourages responsibility and thought over consumer choices. As the first generation taught these ideals at school, naturally this influence will lead to more designers focused on sustainability.

A busy studio space at the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator, a hub for ethical design. Image Source:

The Youth Fashion Summit is a platform and resource, for students from 40 different nations to collaborate and discuss ways in which sustainable fashion can move forward. In 2016, the Youth Fashion Summit had students from 40 countries share ideas and discuss solutions for the international fashion industry. In a powerful presentation to policy makers and industry leaders at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, the students listed their demands based on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN General Assembly to be reached by 2030. These demands included:

The 2016 Youth Fashion Summit developed seven demands for positive change:

-Empowerment and education of employees and consumers

-Implementing closed-loop water systems

-Fair wages, improving infrastructure and food security

-Capital, profit and success redifined and measured by more than monetary value

-Less pollutions from the fashion industry

-Development of a circular system

-Rewarding sustainability and consequences for companies that are not sustainable

Response from Mogens Lykketoft, President of the 70th session of the united Nations General Assembly, urged the industry to heed the words of these students stating “You’re industry can play a major role in achieving the sustainable development”, listing more and better jobs, improved lives, water, energy and raw materials, and encouraging consumers to consider their own lifestyles and consumption as ways the industry can utilise its power for global good. The full video can be found in our further learning section, at the bottom of this page.

Zero waste fashion concepts could drastically lessen the impact of the international fashion industry

Zero waste fashion refers to a patternmaking technique with very little or no waste created. There are various ways to create zero waste garments, including draping, knitting and smart patternmaking that uses every piece of the fabric like a puzzle. This concept of zero waste, could drastically change the outputs of a currently unsustainable fashion system. Holly McQuillan, a lecturer and researcher at Massey University, Wellington, has been a major contributor to this movement internationally creating website resource including free zero-waste patterns, several publications and travelling to various universities to host workshops and lectures on this movement. A lot of her work is available on online platforms, and is accessible to the public for free – this encourages discussion and education for implementation of the research.

Yield: Making Fashion Without Making Waste opened in The Dowse Art Museum in Wellington and at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn New York. Image Source: photography by Thomas McQuillan

Another factor to consider is to not only have sustainability at the forefront of design, but to also consider aesthetics and practicality. There is no point in creating a zero waste product, if the finished design is not appealing to the consumer. Scott Mackinlay Hahn of organic cotton fashion label Loomstate says simply “If it doesn’t look good, it’s not going to sell”.

Zero waste is very easily achieved through knitting technology. Piece knitting and full garment knitting allows minimal waste as there is no cut waste. Innovations in athleisure knitwear is proving limitless options for knit where there is minimal waste as only the fabric needed is created. A perfect example is the  Nike Flyknit sneakers shown below. The knitted upper is created using flatbed knitting machines, and are approached by a concept similar to that of 3D printing. The pieces that come out of the knitting machine are almost seamless, adding to a lighter more streamlined shoe with minimal waste.

The future of sustainable fashion is in good hands

With passion, dedication and genuine interest in sustainable practices,  the future inheritors of the fashion industry are positive about the possibility of changing the currently unsustainable systems, for a better future. Implementing better systems throughout the supply chain and education for both employees within the fashion industry and consumers can lessen emissions of the international fashion industry and make the world a better place to live in for everyone.

Further learning:

This short film by Space Between is a great resource about textile waste and talks about what Space Between does. Another film from space between, this film is an interesting look into the process of upcycling obsolete corporate uniforms into a new fashion forward collection.

Interview with the Outgoing Programme Director of Fashion at London’s Central Saint Martins; Willie Walters.

The full presentation from the 2016 Youth Fashion Summit, at Copenhagen Fashion Summit, this year. The student representitives list their demands for change by 2030, as the inheritors of the fashion industry.

Massey University Wellington Lecturer, Holly McQuillan’s chapter: “Using design practice to negotiate the awkward space between sustainability and fashion consumption”, published in Fashion and Wellbeing? By the London College of Fashion.

An article about 11 things learnt about zero-waste fashion design by the Gaurdian.