Moral fibre: integrating ethics and sustainability into fashion curriculum
Fashion is powerful; if you do not think it is important, look down at what you are wearing. Every person on this planet wears clothes or adorns their body in some way. 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced in a year (Siegle, 2011); 9.3% of the world’s employees are employed in the fashion industry; totalling 40 million workers and constituting 4% of global exports (Caniato et al 2012: 659; Hurley & Miller 2008) and consumers spent one trillion on clothes in a single year (Allwood et al., 2006 in Obregon 2013). How those clothes are designed, produced, manufactured and distributed has a massive global impact. There are brightly coloured rivers in Asia that correspond to the trendy hues of the upcoming season’s fast-fashion offerings, or look to the collapse of Rana Plaza1 in Bangladesh: the modern incarnation of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that claimed ten times as many lives as the original disaster2
Clothing is also not being held onto and valued anymore, as a result of cheap, poor-quality goods flooding the marketplace; the life cycle of a consumer product dropped 50% between 1992 and 2002 (Niinimäki & Hassi 2011: 1878). In addition to all of this, fashion also disseminates didactic toxic images and messages around body and class in an ongoing way. In fact, there seems to be no sector of contemporary life that it does not currently impact negatively. Truly, the global fashion industry can be identified as one of the dirtiest and most destructive forces on the earth.
The fashion classroom is a logical place for teaching both social justice and responsible practices in fashion to counter these negative impacts (Fletcher et al 2015; Armstrong & LeHew 2014; Obregon 2013; Orr 2000; Pilatowicz 2000). At the moment however, the structure and content of fashion education is largely a reflection of existing industry practices; where sustainability is taught, it is presented as a stand-alone subject or an extra-curricular add on (Armstrong & LeHew 2014: 68). This research explores pedagogical opportunities for social justice, as they relate to fashion education at the higher education level, and also potential larger applications of these ideas either at the departmental, institutional or for governmental policy generation.