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Image: The Kering Award for Sustainable Fashion
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There is a clear opportunity to transition to a more conscious approach to fashion, and up-and-coming designers have great potential to help influence this shift.
Increasingly, over the last several years, sustainability has become a major
buzzword in the fashion industry. Entire organizations and related
have been created to discuss and work to find solutions to the industry’s
challenging environmental issues. Yet even with all the innovative conversations
surrounding this hot-button topic, as an industry, fashion still has a great
deal of work ahead of it. In fact, for the second year in a row, the Global
Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group examined the “Pulse of
Industry” and rated
fashion’s sustainable pulse at just 38 out of 100. The report also estimated
that approximately one-third of the industry has yet to take any meaningful
action towards improving environmental or social performance.
There is a clear opportunity to transition to a more environmentally and
socially conscious approach to fashion, and up-and-coming designers have great
potential to help influence this shift. So, the question becomes, how can the
industry today help support and build the sustainable brands and pioneers of
Moving towards a socially and eco-conscious fashion industry starts in the
classroom — by advising and sharing real-world knowledge directly with students,
as well as collaborating with schools and programs to build practical curricula,
brands across the supply chain can and should play a critical role in shaping
Utah State University already engages apparel brand leaders in an effective
way. Through the School’s Outdoor Product Design and Development
program, students learn various technical
skills to prototype hard product, apparel, gear and other outdoor items. In
2016, Utah State formed an advisory board made up of industry leaders including
Burton, W.L. Gore, the Outdoor Industry Association, Patagonia and
DuPont™ Sorona®, to guide the program by developing
curriculum, creating design challenges for students and connecting students with
internship opportunities. By directly engaging industry leaders, the program
ensures that it can prepare its students for success as product designers and
developers in today’s outdoor industry.
New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology also offers a variety of
practical courses that focus specifically on designing sustainably across the
entire supply chain — including sourcing, manufacturing, design; and finally,
marketing a product. The school’s Sustainable Design Entrepreneur Certificate
gives young design entrepreneurs the tools and resources necessary to build
agile businesses in today’s evolving industry. Similarly, the Parsons School of
offers the option for students to specialize in sustainability. Both programs
are ideal for brands and companies to engage with and directly influence
students as they begin to venture out into the industry.
As many emerging designers today can attest to, starting a career in fashion is
challenging and can be financially straining, especially when advanced schooling
is necessary. By providing young designers with funding and internship
opportunities, brands can enable them to drive their careers forward while
placing an early emphasis on sustainability.
For the last five years, Kering has partnered with the London College of
Fashion to offer The Kering Award for Sustainable
— an award and scholarship program for students studying sustainable luxury
fashion. To be considered for the award, BA and MA students must respond to a
brief that focuses on real-life industry challenges faced by two of Kering’s
luxury fashion brands, which include Gucci and Alexander McQueen, among
others. By responding to the brief, students receive feedback and support from a
variety of industry partners and have the opportunity to present their ideas to
some of the most influential leaders in sustainable luxury. For their innovation
and vision for sustainability, Kering selects two students to receive cash
awards of €10,000 and two students to receive a three-month paid internship to
build their resumes.
Levi Strauss & Co. is also paving the future for the next generation of
apparel leaders through its LS&Co.
and grant program. A fellowship program for entrepreneurs working towards a more
sustainable fashion industry, the Collaboratory provides an opportunity to
pursue “big and bold ideas” with support from sustainability experts and
mentors. Every year, the Collaboratory selects a different social and
environmental challenge facing the industry, with the inaugural program focusing
on water-saving projects and the current focusing on climate change. The brand
launched a grants program that awarded $350,000
to its inaugural program class to fund new approaches and innovations in the
apparel supply chain.
These types of programs not only celebrate new designers for their commitment to
sustainable fashion, but set them up for a bright future to help transform the
As they launch their careers, designers and other apparel entrepreneurs have
much to offer, with ambition and optimism driving their creative ideas forward.
But many lack the funding and direction to truly kick start their business
operationally, leaving a huge void that brands can help fill. Accelerators,
funded and guided by brands and other industry players, can offer excellent
opportunities for sustainable fashion entrepreneurs to gain access to funding,
mentoring and other services to start their careers on solid footing.
For example, Fashion for Good–Plug and
is a 12-week, free startup accelerator focused on social and environmental
impact in the fashion industry. With core brand partners including adidas,
Kering, PVH and Target, Plug and Play’s objective is to identify, invest
in and accelerate 10-15 startups over a three-month period, to drive transition
to a sustainable and circular apparel industry. The selected startups benefit
from a team of dedicated mentors and introductions to industry leaders and
investors. Past startups launched by Plug and Play include
a reusable packaging service with the potential to reduce a company’s carbon
footprint by 80 percent; and
Texloop, a recycling and yarn
platform focused on creating closed-loop resource efficiency in synthetic and
complex blended fabrics.
Similarly, the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator is “building a pipeline
to the future of apparel in New York.” Its Sustainability
Lab is an onsite resource center
boasting an extensive physical resource library of sustainable textiles,
offering consultative solutions to designers creating practical roadmaps to
optimize the complete lifecycle of their designs. The Accelerator also developed
the Sustainable Fashion Roadmap — an online,
interactive tool allowing designers to explore research and life cycle analysis.
By providing funding and mentoring services via accelerators, brands can offer
the necessary resources for emerging designers to build their business and
support the next generation of fashion leaders.
Emerging designers and entrepreneurs are the future of sustainable apparel, and
between acquiring the knowledge and the funding necessary to get a new company
off the ground, launching a sustainable fashion business is no small feat.
Existing fashion leaders — from brands to manufacturers to non-profit
organizations — have an amazing opportunity to make investments in the future
and offer young designers and apparel entrepreneurs the resources they need to
help drive a shift to a more circular, sustainable industry.
Published Jan 14, 2019 7pm EST / 4pm PST / 12am GMT / 1am CET
Renee Henze is the Global Marketing Director at DuPont Sorona.
This article, produced in cooperation with the Sustainable Brands editorial team, has been paid for by one of our sponsors.