Incorporating sustainability in fashion demands a radical rethinking of systems of consumption, distribution, and production, so much so that the very topic of sustainable fashion can be in and of itself somewhat controversial and, in a sense, oppositional to traditional fashion education. One of the hurdles to integrating sustainability in fashion education is that fashion design, perhaps more so in the States than in Europe, has traditionally been taught apart from other art-and-design practices. As a result, students are not asked to be as critical and questioning of fashion-industry practices—and of their own—as they would be within other areas of design or the visual arts. That’s not to say they don’t, of course. Some certainly do and in quite sophisticated ways.
THE NEXT GENERATION
In fact, it’s a rewarding experience whenever I notice my students imaginatively incorporating sustainable practices in their own work. One of them, Seung Yeon Jee, who attended a senior seminar of mine at Parsons this past spring, was inspired by Kurt Schwitters’ collage techniques to include notions of modularity in her work.
it’s rewarding for me whenever my students incorporate sustainable practices in their own work.
Through complex pattern-making techniques, Jee created garments that could be worn in a number of different ways—all of which were at the same time experimental, functional, and visually engaging.
TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE
Ultimately, if sustainable-fashion education is to be successful, there needs to be three main components in place:
1. Integration of fashion education in design/art education
If fashion and sustainability are to be taught in tandem, it is important for fashion education to be fully integrated into other design disciplines. This lack of integration is probably one of the reasons fashion education is lagging behind other areas of design education, such as architecture, when it comes to incorporating sustainability in its curriculum.
2. Full commitment to sustainable-fashion education
Ideally, sustainability should be integrated from the very beginning, so that it’s not something which is added on, but is at the core of the program. For instance, the London College of Fashion recently started an M.F.A. program in fashion and the environment, which has sustainability at its nucleus. Ideally, there will come a time when schools won’t have to explicate the sustainability angle of a particular course. Rather, it will be expected that all fashion programs, at least from the education point of view, will have a sustainable component.
3. A theoretical approach
Although it’s essential to have people who focus on the technical aspects of fashion, such as textiles and pattern-making, it is equally important to have people who engage in a critical rethinking of our relationship with clothes (along with the ethical dimension of fashion production). Again, students should be taught to develop a critical stance toward their own methods, as well as those of the fashion industry at large.
In an ideal world, all fashion teaching would integrate and take sustainability into account, but this does require a radical rethinking and intervention within fashion-design education—something which is certainly exciting for people involved, but a tall order nonetheless.