On Teaching: Incorporating Ethics in Fashion Education Curriculum- A Request for Dialogue

Last week a student made an interesting revelation in a workshop regarding the concept of ethics and responsibility taught in fashion education. This student voiced that as he studied more about the fashion industry, the more dissatisfied he became with the way the industry in general does business. He highlighted “hot topics” within the industry such as child models, unhealthy body images, and poor manufacturing labor practices, amongst other issues. While these concepts are being discussed in the industry, he felt there was not enough focus within his courses to truly explore and contribute meaningfully to this dialogue. But, does current fashion curriculum have room to explore these topics?

Die for Fashion

Picture Provided by CNBC

In Austin, Texas, South by Southwest is an innovative event with the segment SXStyle taking a larger role in this upcoming year’s lineup of presentations. Several of the topics for the 2016 segment center around some of these issues. For example, Cara Smyth, the VP of GCU New York and Director of the Fair Fashion Center, will be discussing the role of sustainability in the fashion industry, and Kendra Scott, President and CEO of her namesake Austin-based jewelry company, will be highlighting how giving back to the community is part of her business plan (SXSW 2016 Events). Books such as Fashion and Ethics edited by Efrat Tseelon, The Responsible Fashion Company: Integrating Ethics and Aesthetics in the Value Chain by Francesca Rinaldi and Salvo Testa, Sustainable Fashion by Jennifer Farley and Colleen Hill, and articles such as A New Philosophy of Clothes: Brunello Cucinelli’s Neohumanistic Business Ethics by David LaRocca also discuss these industry issues. Obviously fashion and design professionals are concerned about these topics, so why is fashion curriculum not focusing more of its course offerings on such discussions? Or, is this just something not occurring in my programs?

Made Clothes

Picture Provided by The Good Shopping Guide

Looking into competitive curriculums in the area, it appears other colleges are not including the concepts of ethics and sustainability as a focus of a single course or series of courses either. Similar to how it is approached in my current curriculum, these topics may be introduced throughout several courses; however, they are not a central point (University of Texas Undergraduate Curriculum; Texas State Advising). But like competitive programs reviewed, courses cover a special segment within the industry, such as buying or textile manufacturing, however, these ethical issues span a range of fields. How can one course or even a series of courses adequately address several of these concerns? Would it be better to ensure certain “special segments” receive more attention about these industry “pitfalls?”

Attractive and Fat

Picture Provided by Runway Baby

When trying to research this topic, I found surprisingly few articles written about fashion education and ethic courses. There are resources about ethical and sustainable concerns in the fashion industry and separately about ethical education in general business programs but nothing combining the two. This circles back to my original question; does current fashion curriculum have room for focusing students on these issues?

No Fish

Picture Provided by Ethical Fashion Forum

This question appears to be larger than this article; therefore, this is just a beginning to the discussion. Because of the lack of resources available to reference, I would like to open this to the readership for your opinion;

  • Do you think there is room in fashion education to focus on these topics?
  • What do you think would be a wise way to incorporate these topics in the classroom?
  • Do you agree with the likes of Danny Lanier, Jr., Assistant Professor at Elon University, who believes that the only way ethics education can be effective is if it is fully integrated across the curriculum, or do you agree with common business ethics education curriculum which is being taught as a single or series of stand-alone courses (Pope, 2015)?


I plan on exploring this discussion further. Your opinion would be extremely valuable on this topic of integrating ethical concerns of the fashion industry into the fashion college curriculum.


Farley, J., & Hill, C. (2015). Sustainable Fashion: Past, Present, andFuture. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

LaRocca, D. (2015). A New Philosophy of Clothes: Brunello Cucinelli’s Neohumanistic Business Ethics. Journal of Religion and Business Ethics, 3(3), 1-26. Retrieved from: http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=36c62609-6b7e-4419-9ff3-2bbc24f1afce%40sessionmgr111&vid=1&hid=111

Pope, K.R. (2015). Overhauling Ethics Education. Strategic Finance, 97(8), 40-47. Retrieved from: http://eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=9d1da966-77bc-44f3-b7c0-614f9606bb58%40sessionmgr110&vid=0&hid=111

Rinaldi, F.R. & Testa, S. (2015). The Responsible Fashion Company: Integrating Ethics and Aesthetics in the Value Chain. Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing, (2015).

South By Southwest 2016 Schedule of Events, Cara Smyth, Retrieved from: http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_PP57897?_ga=1.162541052.1164673011.1445980069

South By Southwest 2016 Schedule of Events, Kendra Scott, Retrieved from: http://schedule.sxsw.com/2016/events/event_PP48034?_ga=1.162541052.1164673011.1445980069

Tseelon, E. ed. (2014). Fashion Ethics. Bristol, UK; Chicago, USA: Intellect, 2014.

Texas State Advising, Fashion Merchandising Curriculum, Retrieved from: http://advising.appliedarts.txstate.edu/degrees/majors/FCS/contentParagraph/01111111111110/document/2015%20BSFCS%20FM%20CHECKSHEET.pdf

University of Texas Undergraduate Curriculum, Fashion Design, Retrieved from: https://he.utexas.edu/txa/academics/undergraduate-tracks/curriculum

Related Articles

1 Comment

  • Amy Weaver-Kaulis November 06, 2015 06.43 pm

    I think you raise some great questions here. As chair of an undergraduate fashion merchandising department, I personally think departments should offer at least one course that addresses the wide array of ethical issues that have been associated with our industry for decades (or longer in some instances). Our department offers a course titled, Global Trends in Fashion. I suppose that the word “trends” may be a bit misleading with individuals thinking it is about trend forecasting or the like. However, I think it serves as a better course name than “The Dark Side of Fashion,” which would probably be more accurate. I should mention though that our Global Trends in Fashion course is one of our elective course offerings.

    In addition to this optional course, I must say that my colleagues do an excellent job of addressing ethical topics in the majority of our other required courses. Whether discussing counterfeit goods, child labor, overtly sexualized imagery in fashion advertisements, pollutant byproducts of textile and apparel manufacturing, etc., these topics (among others) are discussed in various courses.

    I would also like to mention that our fashion merchandising department is aligned under our University’s business school. However, I do not think that requiring fashion students to complete a general business ethics course would be quite as effective due to the fact that there are so many ethical issues that are unique to our industry.


Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive


Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at : Amazon.com, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.