Next Gen: Education as a Tool for Action

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This article is a contribution from Next Gen Assembly 2023 Members, Ikeoluwa Adebisi and Indira Varma.

 

 

Understanding how to make positive changes in the fashion industry starts with learning more about sustainable fashion. A simple saying captures this well: the more you know, the better you can do. As people immersed in a self-guided exploration of fashion sustainability, we have come to recognise the pivotal role of education in this journey—tapping into resources like books, journals, podcasts, and online courses to gain the necessary knowledge. So, if you are on a journey to grasp what sustainable fashion is and how to apply it in your daily life, education is your go-to guide.

 

Educational Gaps in Sustainable Fashion

But here is the catch—there is a significant gap in our education system when it comes to sustainable fashion. Are schools teaching it? How are they teaching it? Is it something you can learn beyond the classroom? These are the important questions we need to ask if we want to see real changes in the fashion industry.

Sustainable fashion education needs to be available to everyone, not just a select few.

According to a UN report, “Education was deemed to be one of the most powerful tools at hand to drive the transformational changes necessary for sustainable development, but to realise this potential, education systems need to be flexible, culturally sensitive, relevant, and suited to changing people’s values and behaviours.”

 

Foundations in Climate Education

If children understand climate change early on, it is easier to teach them about sustainable fashion and how to reduce their impact later. Many youths view sustainable fashion as an integral part of their upbringing, advocating for early education on the value and impact of clothing. Aditi Mayer, 2023 Next Gen Assembly Ambassador highlights how the current system of fast fashion is based on the “process of alienation” from the makers and underscores the importance of understanding the making process to cultivate mindfulness towards consumption. By instilling these values from childhood, individuals develop a profound appreciation for clothing, fostering responsible consumption habits.

Igniting curiosity from an early age empowers individuals to take action, driving meaningful change through informed choices and advocacy.

 

 

Global Disparities in Fashion Education

Fashion education must be available all around the world, in a way that is adapted to nuanced cultural contexts. According to Monika Murzyn-Kupisz and Dominika Holuj, globally, contemporary fashion education needs a multi-dimensional adjustment to the curricula to reflect the complex nature of sustainability problems. There is work to be done to make sure everyone can learn about sustainable fashion.

 

Shaping Informal Learning Experiences

Access to formal education is not universal, but informal learning avenues are abound within communities. Parents, neighbours, and local artisans serve as sources of invaluable knowledge on sustainable practices. By tapping into these informal networks, individuals can gain insights into traditional techniques, resourcefulness, and holistic approaches to fashion. Opening our minds to these experiences fosters a deeper understanding of sustainability beyond conventional education systems. This allows us to consider how we, as individuals, can play a vital role in alleviating harm caused due to irresponsible consumption, production, and waste generation. At this juncture, it is essential that we understand our position and roles as a changemakers.

 

The Collective Responsibility of Unsustainable Fashion

The problem of waste in the fashion industry transcends business and design; it is a collective responsibility. Producers and consumers alike wear clothes daily, making sustainable fashion a concern for everyone.

Learning that this is a universal concern that demands every individual’s contribution is the first step towards sustainability action in fashion.

 

Improving Sustainable Fashion Education

How can we make things better? Here are some ideas:

  1. Transform the curriculum: Instead of just adding a few elements regarding sustainable fashion, let us re-evaluate the overall curriculum and focus on learning about new systems that centre people and planet.
  2. Make it practical: Let’s not just talk about it—let’s do it! Make learning about sustainable fashion hands-on and useful in real life.
  3. Tell it like it is: The fashion world is not always glamorous. Let us be honest in our lessons about what’s really going on.
  4. Open for everyone: Sustainable fashion education should be for everyone, not just a lucky few.
  5. Start early, go big: Teach the basics of climate education from the beginning, and slowly introduce more about sustainable fashion as people get older.

Toolkit for Starting Your Sustainable Fashion Journey

Understanding sustainable fashion can be quite overwhelming and intimidating with the influx of information. Embarking on this journey requires a multifaceted approach, hence, here is a framework of actionable steps you can implement right away.

 

  1. Utilise Online Resources: Engage with educational platforms, blogs, and social media channels dedicated to sustainable fashion to deepen your understanding.

 

  1. Contextualize Sustainability: Explore how sustainability aligns with your cultural values and heritage, integrating traditional practices into modern lifestyles. For instance, fundamental sustainability practices like handwashing clothes may be overlooked in formal education, however, these solutions can address various pressing environmental challenges. Simple habits like handwashing not only conserve water and energy but also reduce the carbon footprint associated with machine washing. Recognising and amplifying these practices can significantly contribute to sustainable fashion action.

 

  1. Community Engagement: Collaborate with local initiatives, organise workshops, and share knowledge within your community to promote sustainable fashion. You can join the local chapters of international advocacy movements such as: Fashion Revolution, Slow Fashion Movement, and Remake. You can also find local organisations and start community initiatives with your friends.

 

  1. Question Consumption Patterns: Adopt a critical mindset towards consumption, questioning the origins, materials, and impacts of clothing before making purchasing decisions. Here are some questions to ask yourself before making fashion purchases:
  • Who made it?
  • What is it made out of?
  • How was is made?
  • Do I need it?
  • Is this a style that will last and not a passing trend?
  • Is it durable and will I wear this piece at least 30 times?
  • Can I repair it if it tears/is damaged?
  • What will I do with it when I no longer use it?

 

  1. Storytelling and Advocacy: Share your sustainable fashion journey, inspire others through storytelling, and advocate for systemic change within the fashion industry. The Next Gen Assembly 2023 members have shared our stories championing sustainable fashion in our report published by Global Fashion Agenda – ‘Interwoven: Fashion Storytelling in the time of a Climate Crisis’ – that can be downloaded here.

 

Education serves as a potent catalyst for driving sustainable fashion action, empowering individuals to adopt mindful consumption habits and advocate for systemic change. By leveraging existing practices, embracing informal learning experiences, and initiating actionable steps, we can collectively shape a more sustainable future for the fashion industry and the planet.

 

The 2023 Next Gen Assembly cohort came together from across the globe and disciplines to reflect on what change within the fashion industry can look like.
Interwoven is for students curious to learn more about sustainable fashion; creatives looking to co-create solutions for an industry in crisis; and commercial leaders eager to work with the next generation.

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