I know you are currently working on your final major project, and so for you this is an important year. As you begin a new semester, you have been thinking whether sustainability is relevant to your work, your career and your future. Can I tell you … it is.

Over the holidays you have developed some early ideas for your collection of work, many of which show great promise. The work in your sketchbook indicates that you are trying to design an innovative collection, one that reflects your creative and experimental skills.  You think carefully about colour, texture and drape, and your textile sampling reflects your enthusiasm to try new processes and techniques. In fact your work shows that you have a range of attributes that will help you become a successful designer in today’s industry. But this work – and your design practice – could be so much more.

Your work could challenge our understanding of what fashion design is … it could inspire other designers to explore new concepts in design innovation … it could ‘stand out from the crowd’ and be something ‘different’ … it could demonstrate, above all, your ability to design for sustainability.

As I prepare for our next class I am thinking of the ways in which I can inspire you – and at the same time I also want to understand why you feel that this is something not of your concern.

I know you have heard there are negative consequences associated with the production and consumption of fashion, but I am not really sure that you know how this impacts on the planet and people. Do you know that fossil fuels are used to make the energy to produce garments, and that this type of energy releases toxic emissions into the atmosphere? And are you aware that up to 350,000 tonnes of discarded clothing, much of which is still wearable, ends up in UK landfills every year?

I know that you love wearing new clothes but do you think about where they are made, who makes them and what their life is like? There are lots of people working in the fashion industry all around the world, and while you might think of sustainability as an environmental issue it is also important that we think of the lives of people who make our clothes. To make cheaper clothes some parts of the fashion industry rely on the use of child labour and a low or unskilled workforce, and provide poor pay and employment conditions for employees. Please think: couldn’t I use my design practice to challenge this system?

At the moment the issues alone do not seem to be persuading you to do anything differently in your own design practice. Do you feel that you need to know more about how to tackle the issues through design for sustainability?  If so I, and other staff can help point you to some good resources. Perhaps it’s a problem with how you perceive sustainable fashion; do you think it is dull, and lacking in creativity?  If so I can also show you some very exciting examples of designers, makers and consumers all doing new and interesting things that I know will excite you.

Although I can help to inspire you, at the end of the day it is you that will need to make a choice; you that can bring about change; and you that can make a difference. Be part of a new generation, one where designers positively shape the future fashion industry.

Please, be pro-active and creative – and engage.  

In solidarity,

A fellow traveller.

[Submitted by an anonymous group of fashion educators for the co-operative inquiry project, 2017]