A new program aims to address the gaps in fashion sustainability education

When people talk about “sustainable fashion,” they often refer to a type of clothing that is made in response to a small number of problems in the industry. Of course, many of them need to be addressed: overproduction, toxic dyes, water use, and abusive labor practices are just some of the issues that regularly crop up. However, most of the current solutions we have are used to sell more clothes without addressing the fundamental and overlooked issue of what happens at the end of a garment’s life – to which the answer isn’t so simple. is like buying or even making less clothes. It should also put sustainability at the heart of it before a garment is even born.

Slow Factory founder Céline Semaan believes that an education gap in the industry may be why this crucial piece is often overlooked. That’s why she’s now partnering with New York City to bring her organizations’ free sustainability courses to more people—and personally.

This week, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced that the Slow Factory’s Open Education program, which is currently hosting classes teaching sustainability principles to the fashion industry online, will have a new, in-person home in the Made in New York- factory in Sunset Park, Brooklyn – the first IRL outpost for what will be called the Slow Factory Institute.

“In New York, we are leading the way, showing that prioritizing sustainability can go hand in hand with the fashion industry,” the mayor said in a statement.

According to a press release, Semaan’s organization will help bring 460 fashion jobs to the site and train 500 people, generating approximately $57 million in economic output. Classes range from materials science and bio-design to disassembly and upcycling, with the aim of teaching designers and garment workers how to make work from pre-existing fabrics. The school will receive 10,000 tons of textile waste that will be used to teach designers techniques for reassembly.

Image 1 - Slow Institute (created by Céline Semaan)

“The way the [fashion] education system designed now mimics the way our system was built. We teach people how to sell for a very immediate use and an instant throwaway culture,” Semaan tells Fashionista. “There are no classes focused on design for disassembly unless it’s in a crafty, kind of fun way. It’s not designed to scale – it’s designed like a craft, but this craft is very important. We need to find ways to scale that and culturally, to extend that into something that’s accessible.”

In New York City alone, the average person creates about 46 pounds of clothing waste each year, totaling about 200,000 tons of textiles that end up in landfills around the world. The sad irony, Semaan emphasizes, is that in countries like Ghana, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Chile, where our discarded clothing often ends up, techniques and principles for upcycling have been defended for centuries. Most designers just haven’t paid attention.

“That’s why the [current] program is taught primarily by people of the global majority,” she says, explaining how essential it is to raise the voices of teachers who understand the global impact of fashion, because their collective knowledge is how we move forward. “At this Currently this knowledge of the global majority is overlooked and exploited. If it’s defended, it’s by designers who are white, not people of color.”

As a result, the Slow Factory’s most popular lesson on cultural appropriation will also be delivered in person. “We don’t necessarily invent new solutions, but we express the concerns that the global majority has about fashion and normalize the conversation by giving people a vocabulary about cultural appropriation. This helps them to look further into their design strategies.”

Image 3 - Slow Institute (created by Céline Semaan)

Literacy in sustainable fashion is extremely important. Problems are so often talked about without real, accurate data or historical knowledge. A prime example might be an oft-used but unverified claim that fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world – there is no data to back this up, and repeating it reveals the real facts about the pollution problems of the world. fashion overshadowed. Semaan believes that helping designers make a connection between this science, manufacturing techniques and their cultural origins before anything is created is one way to decolonize the fashion industry and thus make it more sustainable.

“We are focused on all aspects of design before making clothes, because pollution is inherent in the design. Waste is inherent in the design,” she says.

Although the full curriculum for the new in-person program is not yet known, the teachers of the current online classes reiterate the importance of the school.

“One of the biggest gaps in fashion education is that we spend too much time on the individualistic aspect of the industry,” said Akilah Stewart, founder of FATRA, a creative waste management company, and upcycling teacher at Slow Factory. The glamorous side of fashion often exists for the individual, she explains, hiding the fact that fashion has a global impact: “Fashion also needs historians, scientists, community organizers and more to help with wicked problems within the industry.” Stewart also emphasized that what she wants her students to understand is that we can’t separate sustainability as a category of its own — instead, we need to incorporate it into the design.

The Slow Factory Institute will open in October 2022 and classes will be available to everyone, including design students and existing employees at the Made in New York hub.

“Communities are the backbone of every revolution and every movement,” says Semaan. “We are a community-oriented organization. We work for and with our community to drive change.”

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This post A new program aims to address the gaps in fashion sustainability education was original published at “https://fashionista.com/2022/02/sustainable-fashion-education-slow-factory-institute”

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