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How Can We Educate Our Youth About Fast Fashion’s Harmful Effects?

by , 05/09/12   filed under: Ask a Designer, Featured, Features

Julia Roebuck, Ask a Designer, fast fashion, sustainability education, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, consumerism, materialism

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Thanks to a combination of technological innovation and developing global economies, “fast fashion” is now ubiquitous on the high street. A one-two punch of low prices and targeted advertising, in particular, has stimulated the boom of a teenage market, one that can stay up to date with the latest runway trends at “pocket money” prices. Today’s youth views shopping as a necessary and exciting task. And unlike previous generations, this emerging demographic has learned that “fast” is the only way to consume clothing.

Julia Roebuck, Ask a Designer, fast fashion, sustainability education, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, consumerism, materialism

Photo by Shutterstock

THE NEW CONSUMER

Many young people are ignorant of the damage the fast-fashion industry has on the environment. Terms such as “organic” and “fair trade” are familiar, to be sure, but they’re more widely associated with food rather than retail. If we’re to move towards a sustainable fashion industry, the future consumer needs to not only be aware of the responsibility and influence he or she wields but also the wherewithal to use that right to promote a more sustainable garment supply chain.

Many young people are ignorant of the damage the fast-fashion industry has on the environment.

Someone once questioned Mary Portas, one of London’s leading retail marketing consultants, about the decline of the British textile-manufacturing industry. Her passion for change was clear: “We thought cheap was value,” she answered, “but what was the value to our communities and people in this country we lost?”

Julia Roebuck, Ask a Designer, fast fashion, sustainability education, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, consumerism, materialism

Photo by Shutterstock

QUESTION EVERYTHING

Encouraging young shoppers to ask questions of what they buy is the first step in communicating overconsumption’s damaging effects, from the pollution of drinking-water supplies to human-rights violations.

Encouraging young shoppers to ask questions is the first step in communicating overconsumption’s impact.

The upcoming generation needs to understand the value of our planet’s resources, both environmental and social, not only because they’re potential workers and professionals but also because their consumer influence can only increase. Manufacturers are becoming increasingly reliant on their customers to engage fulfill the sustainability potential of a product. Without active and informed consumers who value the process behind the product, the efforts of brands and retailers can only be in vain.

But raising awareness is not enough on its own. There remains a large gap between knowledge and action, particularly when you involve distant issues or concepts like the vanishing Aral Sea, fires in Bangladeshi garment factories, or child slavery.

Julia Roebuck, Ask a Designer, fast fashion, sustainability education, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, consumerism, materialism

Photo by Shutterstock

SKILL-SHARING

It’s essential to bring these subjects to the surface, of course, but we can—and should—open the eyes of our youth even further by helping them explore the role they can play in evolving a more responsible industry. It’s only through the practical application of this knowledge that attitudes will change and opportunities for sustainable consumption develop in their own communities.

Today’s young face a future fraught with challenges, both environmental and financial.

Today’s young face a future fraught with challenges, both environmental and financial. There is an urgent need to prepare the young generation for a responsible lifestyle, to communicate the complexities inherent in many industries, and address how these challenges may be overcome.

Teaching these issues with particular relevance to the fashion and textiles industry provides a fun, creative, and engaging approach to future innovation, one that could bring manufacturing back to domestic shores after decades of outsourcing to the developing world.

Whether it’s teaching sustainable design in schools or work placements and apprenticeship at responsible businesses, there are a variety of approaches, both academic and practical, to equip our youth with a practical understanding of materials and skills.

For many young people, learning to invest in the clothing they buy, wear, and repair requires more than a formal education. It also requires an opportunity to connect their knowledge and values with practical skills, action, and enterprise to make a difference both locally and globally.

+ Julia Roebuck

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One Response to “How Can We Educate Our Youth About Fast Fashion’s Harmful Effects?”

  1. COUTTSview says:

    Great article highlighting some major concerns but also an opportunity for the education sector to increase awareness and be more proactive in spreading awareness of cheap fashion and opportunities to embrace ethical and sustainable fashion, bringing manufacturing closer to home and replacing lost skills. I hope the FE and HE education sectors will take up the challenge!

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