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We Asked the World’s Top Fashion Schools: How Are You Teaching Sustainability to Tomorrow’s Designers?

San Francisco Academy of Art University

Academy of Art University Fall 2014 Collections / Image: IMAXtree

Academy of Art University Fall 2014 Collections / Image: IMAXtree

Answers provided by Simon Ungless, Director of the School of Fashion at Academy of Art University

What year did you start to incorporate sustainability into your curriculum? In 1998, the School of Fashion at Academy of Art University implemented a program of environmental and sustainable design options into the curriculum.  “Our goal is to educate the next generation of fashion designers and merchandisers in terms of the impact that the fashion industry has on the environment and upon society at a global level,” said Simon Ungless, Director of the School of Fashion. “By placing educated and aware graduates into the industry, we can help drive and prepare the way for the transition to design and produce with a conscious.”

How do you classify ‘sustainability’ as a practice within your school? The School of Fashion at Academy of Art University offers courses in sustainable fashion, hosts guest lectures with experts and visionaries in the field, and organizes tours to local farms and manufacturers using sustainable practices. Instructors promote responsible practices by encouraging students to source environmentally conscious materials and dyes, and use creative cutting techniques for zero waste, as well as participate in industry collaboration projects, such as the Sustainable Cotton Project in 2002.

By educating students on these issues, the School of Fashion hopes to provoke them to find solutions, be responsible, think as innovative designers, adopt sustainable practices as part of their design philosophy, and help share this awareness to find solutions and continue to facilitate the transition to ‘green’ long after the trend fades.

There are many examples, but most recently for the Fall 2014 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week show, a MFA Fashion Design student and a MFA Textile Design student collaborated on a womenswear collection using recycled materials such as an army tent, a parachute, wool blankets and canvas using eco-friendly dyes (pictured below).

Academy of Art University Fall 2014 Collections / Image: IMAXtree

Academy of Art University Fall 2014 Collections / Image: IMAXtree

The School of Fashion also encourages projects that encourage sustainable practices. One examples would be Design Ignites Change. As part of Design Ignites Change, an initiative to “promote and encourage students across the country to use design and innovation to create messages for, and solutions to, pressing social problems,” four student design teams in the School of Fashion created sustainable collections. Kaiser Permanente, Landau Uniforms, Weston Wear, Iris Glass Designs, Isda & Co. and Vermont Organic Fiber Co. sponsored the students in this effort. One of the teams used discarded hospital scrubs donated by Kaiser Permanente and Landau Uniforms.  The students treated, dyed and pleated the fabric working with local businesses committed to sustainable practices and dubbed their effort 1o.a.k. one of a kind.

Are there textbooks that specifically address ethics and sustainability in your school? 

  • Required book (available at University library): Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (Bantam 1995)
  • Required viewing (available at University library): The Corporation (2004 documentary) directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott
  • Required viewing (available at University library): Blue Vinyl (2002 documentary) directed by Judith Helfand and Daniel B. Gold

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Central Saint Martins | ESMOD Berlin | Kent State | London College of Fashion 

Parsons | Pratt | San Francisco Academy of Art University