A well-designed product should be linked to the information behind how it was built. Fashion, which creates such beauty or emotional resonance within our personal lives, must mean it is made beautifully as well, no? Yet, fashion is the second biggest polluting industry in the world, and there are large loopholes about its realities. Developed countries are most responsible for the effects of climate change, while the poorest people in the world are most affected by its repercussions. What does this say about the knowledge and awareness of our industry culture? Is there a conversation in practice?
Fashion education has seen increased enrollment in the past decade, with more than 30 colleges and universities offering fashion degree courses. Consider the number of fashion graduates entering the workforce versus the current percentage of fashion education institutions which offer sustainable thinking in their curriculum. Then envision the possible volume of increased pollution if we all continue to practice fashion the way most current companies do. Everything begins with farming, and education is no short of planting the seeds.
While studying MA Fashion Futures at the London College of Fashion, I was selected as a Student Finalist for the Kering Award for Sustainability in its pilot year of collaboration with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. I was mentored by CSF and Kering on questions to ask in my design practice when reflecting on viable sustainable design. I studied all sorts of theories in the field, created and sourced several prototype variations, analysed statistical categories and drew multiple biodiversity diagrams. It was a process unlike the fashion design I had known in the past, and a unique experience to my education.
At that time, I felt very certain of the immediate possibility of my ambitious idea. Although my project generated excitement for its conceptual thinking, I was short of winning the competition because I was still faced with one big question: how will a company integrate this radical sustainable concept with the multiple facets and players involved? Sometimes the more you know, the less immediately decisive you can afford to be.
After graduating, I was fortunate to work with CSF on the Kering Award with a new group of students, experiencing the collaboration from the other side. Working at CSF helped highlight for me factors beyond design: the realistic timeframes of projects, the perpetual dialogue, the multiple strands involved within organizational frameworks when partnering with a top luxury business conglomerate such as Kering.
The Award is a free space where both parties commit themselves to the creative exchange of ideas: Kering provides students an understanding of the complexities of running a luxury fashion business that follows social, legal and environmental compliances to the best they can; in turn, students present fresh perspectives of creative and innovative research ideas to professionals. The Award recognizes the value of knowledge by introducing a diverse approach to sustainability thinking in the fashion education curriculum, germinating a culture of beliefs between students, academics, and professionals.
So here I am now sitting in a coffee shop with my post-MA reality, looking for the door to my “career” — a First-World term we’ve replaced “jobs” with because we’ve been conditioned to reach the self-actualization apex on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In addition to the currently difficult employment climate in the industry, it’s been challenging trying to find a work position within it that falls under the set of newfound convictions I picked up while studying my MA. As more of us graduate from higher-level education, there should be a moral code in which we practice our trade in a higher-level way, right? I’m wearing a shirt designed by my favourite luxury brand that’s “Made in Italy”, although who knows where the cotton came from, whether it was farmed organically, and how long I will love this shirt for. The average consumer is aware of asking these questions at a surface level, but as a professional I should be asking them more deeply. Still, a garment doesn’t have its life path sewn inside the seam, the same way I don’t have my CV and experiences tattooed on my neck.
Perhaps companies should look at employability in the form of content and context, and view graduates as a hub of people with research information representing newly generated, emerging values of resonance. Given the rates at which technology and innovative making processes are moving, technical skills now come and go more quickly anyway, requiring flux. Graduates can be the resources, who bring ideas to the table that need to be tempered down by those professionals with the experience of longevity. Only in this way can we truly breed cultures working towards a fashion industry that becomes more participatory in fighting climate change. (Side note: Kering Group is one of the few luxury fashion groups that offers Graduate Trainee programs over unpaid internships.)
This brings us back to the trickle-down effect. If graduate school is meant to be about the circulation of information, you could say there’s no better platform to express a set of beliefs than the Kering Award. A vision might take years to realize, but the very moment you exchange your set of ideas and beliefs, you could shift someone’s viewpoint on how they approach everything from business in a factory in Italy or agriculture in Bangladesh.
Amed, I. and Mellery-Pratt, R. (2015). Is fashion education selling a false dream? Business of Fashion. [online] [Accessed 30 March 2016].
Read Fiona’s interview in The Guardian here