I would like to start this post by posing a question; with manufacturing processes changing very little since the industrial revolution, is it realistic to teach students sustainable practices when, in reality, they may end up working within traditional manufacturing or product development?
A faculty member in my department recently recommended I watch a movie, True Cost, which discusses the environmental problems created by traditional fashion product development (Ross & Morgan, 2015). It is a very eye-opening documentary! If you have not seen it, I would highly recommend taking the time to watch it. This documentary aligns with an article I wrote a few months back regarding ethics in fashion education and it brought up the same questions I had then; to what level should we be teaching this in our classrooms?
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Today a professional friend and I met for coffee and discussed the future of the fashion industry here in Austin, Texas. This conversation led to the discussion of the evolution of fashion in the United States and globally which led to the subject of sustainability. During this conversation something became clear to me; fashion production is clearly on the verge of a revolution. You can see this in the advancements of technology for fashion production through equipment developed by Stoll (Stoll Becomes, 2013) and Gerber (Gerber Technology, Inc., 2016) and the introduction of companies such as Am4U. This company produces clothing only when a customer places an order by printing on fabrics using little to no water. In fact, their manufacturing facility is estimated to have the same environmental impact as a desktop printer (Am4u.com)! In addition, wearable technology is increasing in interest with the development of the Apple watch and Nano-fiber technology in clothing developed by companies such as Under Armour (Barrabi, 2016).
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With these advancements in the field and the growing attention and concern over poor production practices of the industry, it seems that this is going to occur sooner rather than later. With changes definitely on the horizon, why would we not want to “jump” on the opportunity to prepares students to leave college and become a part of this revolution?
The devil’s advocate began to chime in while I considered this question. While the shift to different practices may be occurring in the industry, this field is historically slow in adopting changes. In fact, many of us probably know successful designers who prefer the “old school” way of various processes, avoiding the integration of computers and technology, if at all possible. Does this mean that colleges should still teach how traditional fashion is produced and only introduce the concept of sustainability? Or should the focus be more on the advancements occurring? Should colleges choose what manufacturing and production process to teach and avoid the other?
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While I think there needs to be instruction about how the industry currently operates, it is also important to talk about how it is changing and encourage dialogue with students about how it will continue to evolve. In my world, at least, it now becomes a question of what is the focus of instruction and how can I integrate both sides properly into the curriculum.
How do you feel about teaching sustainability in fashion production? To what extent should we be teaching this to our students?
Am4u. (n.d.) In Am4u.com. Retrieved from http://am4u.com/.
Barrabi, T. (2016). Under Armour Best Big on Wearable Tech. Fox Business.com. Retrieved from http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2016/01/11/under-armour-bets-big-on-wearable-tech.html.
Gerber Technology, Inc. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.gerbertechnology.com/fashion-apparel/.
Ross, M. (Producer),& Morgan, A. (Director). (2015). True Cost (Documentary). United States: retrieved from http://truecostmovie.com/.
Stoll Becomes Partner of the VDMA’s “Blue Competence” sustainability Initiative. (2013). In Stoll.com. Retrieved from http://www.stoll.com/stoll-aktuelles/blue_competence-2/6_1.