On Teaching: SXStyle and Sustainability

This year I had the opportunity to attend South by Southwest SXStyle Convention. It was a whirlwind few days! I crisscrossed all over downtown Austin from official to unofficial events (and of course stopped at a few fabulous places to eat!). I spent several days mapping out what panels and presentations I wanted to see and was rarely disappointed in the content or credentials of the people speaking. For those that are unfamiliar, South by Southwest (SXSW) is a several-week long convention predicated on the importance of technology in various industries. Conversations and content vary from panels, movies, music performances, trade shows and guest key notes, such as President Obama. SXStyle has grown quickly since its inception last year. This convergence track ties fashion, art, culture and technology. Topics of this year’s panels included Wearable Technology and Functional Garments, Queer Style: Visual Activism and Fashion’s Frontier, Robotic Manufacturing will Deliver Customization, and The New Branders: A New Class of Retailers (http://schedule.sxsw.com/tags/SXstyle?_ga=1.7537585.282933141.1458609763).


Photo courtesy of SXSW SXStyle

A major topic of several panels I attended was sustainability. Some of the panels were specifically geared toward this conversation while others were under another title, but the discussion and/or panel members brought the aspect forward while I was there. It was amazing how varying the conversations were! A major influencer that resounded with me was the representatives from Glasgow Caledonia University in New York and the Fair Fashion Center. They approached the topic from a perspective of how sustainable fashion can be profitable for a business. They have interesting initiatives, which could get major retailers on board with the idea of “eco-friendly” practices (http://www.fairfashioncenter.org/). Another conversation opened up with other business leaders about how to market sustainable business concepts to consumers; is it better to lead with the story of how a business is helping a person, family or community, or to lead with the facts and product adding “oh by the way, you’re also helping someone else with this purchase?” Regardless of how the conversation is being had or why, it still was a pervasive topic during this conference. This spun my wheels again; how can I get this topic more on our campus and in our classes?


Photo courtesy of Glasgow Caledonia University

An Associate Professor in my Fashion department is passionate about this topic already and has opened this dialogue up with students in various classes. While this is fabulous, is it enough? She encourages students to consider their purchasing power and use it wisely. She creates projects that meet the curriculum competencies but with a sustainable focus. She reads the articles and books, watches the movies and will be attending conferences about the topic and will bring this to the classroom and other faculty. But can and should I be pushing this further in our programs?


Photo courtesy of Fashion Chick

In response to the students increased demand for this information and this faculty member’s passion, I have been reaching out to various businesses to establish relationships and start a new conversation; how can we include sustainability in our curriculum? Some of the businesses I have contacted include magazines, re-used clothing websites, and sustainable organizations, designers and businesses.

Some of the concepts I have preliminarily proposed include;

  • Pick up clothing donations from facilities that would normally throw away dirty, stained or torn clothing to have student re-purpose them into functional items.
  • Provide alternative project options to faculty to encourage the conversation and application in the classroom.
  • Organize and market a local sustainable “conference” to give the Associate Professor a platform for sharing their passion and educate the students and other faculty.

I would like to open this question up to you; how can sustainability be integrated into the classroom in a unique and valuable way?

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