The word sustainability is thrown around quite a bit in today’s fashion industry – but what does “sustainable fashion” really mean? According to Vogue, “it’s an umbrella term for clothes that are created and consumed in a way that can be, quite literally, sustained, while protecting both the environment and those producing garments.” As leaders in the fashion industry become increasingly aware of the serious environmental and ethical impact of mass manufacturing, it is becoming more important than ever for fashion professionals to be trained in sustainability practices.
New educational programs focused on sustainability are popping up at fashion schools around the country. Even the current rulers of fast fashion — think Forever 21, H&M, UNIQLO, Zara — feel the pressure to evolve their practices to a more conscious model. For decades, fast fashion has attempted to maximize on current trends by quickly, and cheaply, manufacturing new clothing. Thanks to the low price tags, consumers were left in a cycle of buying new and trashing old. Unsurprisingly, 85% of all textiles end up in landfills each year. However, a recent national awakening has led to consumers who are more interested in sustainably produced garments, and companies whose sustainability practices are more than just talk.
Fashion brands focused on sustainable production are popping up around the world, like Rothy’s, Reformation, and Everlane. Major brands are also embracing sustainability with initiatives such as Levi’s Water<Less Denim or Zara’s commitment to using 100% more sustainable materials by 2025. This move towards more sustainable practices is a positive change that is affecting the entire fashion industry, including its future leaders.
Sustainability Programs in Fashion Schools
The next generation of fashion professionals will have an enormous impact on whether sustainability practices are implemented. The job market is booming with new opportunities for sustainability-focused careers. For instance, schools are now encouraging this trend with more educational programs focused on sustainability and circular fashion. Having an education in sustainable design and production practices can set you apart from the competition as you search for a job post-graduation.
Some notable fashion sustainability programs include:
FIT – New York, NY
A few of FIT’s Sustainable Design Entrepreneur Certificate’s ten required courses include Sustainable Material Sourcing, Sustainable Manufacturing, Ethical Fashion, and Social Responsibility and the Apparel Industry.
California College of the Arts – San Francisco, CA
The West Coast has been a leader in initiating sustainable fashion practices. California College of the Arts has the longest-running sustainable fashion design program in the country. Sustainability is a common theme in all of their design degrees, emphasizing the “total value creation” of the industry rather than profitability alone.
Pratt Institute – New York, NY
The Pratt Institute has its own Sustainable Design Certificate Program. This covers everything from sustainable design theory to sustainable processes and materials to address real-world challenges, plus courses in Biodesign and Biomimicry.
Otis College of Art and Design – Los Angeles, CA
As one of California’s best art schools, Otis College of Art and Design places a huge emphasis on sustainability across all programs, not just fashion. Their Sustainability Minor is open to all majors, and their Otis Sustainability Alliance brings together industry leaders from fashion, art, design, and higher education who are actively working to increase and advocate for sustainability efforts through their work. Partners of the program include notable brands like Nike, Patagonia, Under Armour, and Eddie Bauer.
Jobs in Sustainable Fashion
The changing landscape of the fashion industry has opened up dozens of new career paths for fashion professionals trained in sustainability, from creative to corporate. As the demand for sustainable fashion increases, more and more of these opportunities will arise.
Circular Fashion Designer
The dream job of many fashion students, designers have the ability to turn their creative vision into a reality. There is a new need for fashion designers who are trained in circular fashion design – meaning waste is designed out of the loop and every step of the process is considered, from material sourcing to production all with an emphasis on sustainability. Designers like Stella McCartney are leading the way when it comes to circular fashion design by reusing materials, considering restorative farming practices, and designing garments that will last longer. Green practices like these are entering the design mainstream, and there is a need for more eco-conscious designers!
Corporate Social Responsibility Manager
This is an excellent career path for more business-minded professionals entering the fashion industry. You’d be in charge of spearheading sustainability practices and strategies along with initiatives to protect garment worker’s rights. You would communicate with stakeholders every step of the way, playing a highly influential and visible role within the company.
Ethical Trade / Sustainable Sourcing Manager
If you love research, this might be a perfect match! With a focus on Ethical Trade and Sustainable Sourcing, you will be researching the latest sustainable materials and then figuring out where to source them from. You may also partner with factories, suppliers, or farmers to make sure they are adhering to your company’s guiding principles of ethical production. You should understand both the legal aspects of sourcing domestically and internationally, as well the ethical and sustainable criteria.
Sustainability Managers will strategize, design, and help implement programs to promote more ethical and sustainable practices across the company. It wouldn’t hurt to know a wide range of sustainability-related subject matter. Think about sustainable apparel, accessories, materials sourcing, animal welfare rights, raw materials policies, and fabric management.
Fashion’s Next Leaders Should Think Sustainably
These are many sustainable career paths for fashion professionals entering the job market. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a career shift and have a background in sustainability, the fashion industry could use your talents!
There is a rapidly expanding demand for sustainably made products. We will see more educational programs and careers become available for aspiring fashion professionals entering the job market. Fashion’s future leaders should think sustainably because you will work in an industry you love and make a positive impact on our planet.
If you’re searching for a career in sustainable fashion, let us help! Our Fourth Floor recruiters place fashion professionals in some of the leading brands in the industry. Click here to view our current opportunities.