When Amy McCranor got her first job in fashion, she didn’t like what she saw. During a trial period at an e-commerce fashion brand, she witnessed a rapid turnover of unhappy staff, garments sewn with competitors’ labels entered into the inventory, and stock priced at impossibly low figures. So exploitative were overseas manufacturing costs that anything priced over £5 ($6.44) brought in a comfortable profit for the company.
It all caused her to question whether she had a place in the fashion industry at all. “I think it’s wrong,” McCranor says. “It’s a minefield for fashion graduates because you just think, how can I do what I want without feeling like a hypocrite? And I really did feel like one being there.” McCranor left the brand and sought opportunities beyond fashion. “I’ve worked out what I stand for morally, ethically, creatively,” she says. “I can now take a stand early on in my career.”
Despite assumptions that Generations Y and Z are poised to save the planet, many students — like McCranor — embark upon their degrees unaware of the harm fast fashion does. They have little knowledge of the excessive water usage, or the many deaths of garment workers. Campaigns for industry reform, such as Fashion Revolution, deploy Instagram-friendly fact graphics and hashtags, yet the message doesn’t seem to be getting through.
It’s down to universities, then, to educate them on sustainability. The U.K. is the world’s top destination for fashion students, readying thousands of young people to enter into the £66bn ($85bn) industry each year. But as sustainability shifts into the spotlight, are universities ready to lead the charge for a healthier, fairer industry?
There is no curriculum that dictates the content of fashion degrees. While freedom in teaching at universities is important, the variation between fashion courses can create a stumbling block where sustainability is concerned. While one lecturer may consider it vital to educate students on child labour or water pollution, another may choose to skip it entirely.
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