Sustainability and the Fashion Industry

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Kathryn Reiley
Lecturer, Apparel Studies, College of Design, University of Minnesota


Introduction: What Is This Unit About?
What Will Students Learn?
Unit Outline
Further Reading
Enrichment Materials

 Lesson 1
Introduction to Sustainability

Core texts to be read before the lesson:

Discussion questions:

  • In your own words, define the terms “sustainability,” “fashion paradox,” “ethical fashion,” and “eco-fashion.”
  • What are the similarities among the four terms defined above? What are the differences? Are these terms that are clearly understood by most consumers?
  • Define the term “fast fashion.” Explain the impact that fast fashion has had on the apparel industry in regard to sustainability.
  • Research two eco-friendly and ethical apparel companies. Visit the companies’ Web sites. What are the companies’ claims with regard to sustainability? What types of products do they make and how are the products sustainable? What types of customer feedback can you find on the Web site or on blogs? Is the feedback positive or negative? Write a six-page paper discussing your findings. Make sure your paper has a proper introduction and conclusion.
 Lesson 2
Sustainability and Ecological Issues
 Core texts to be read before the lesson: Discussion questions:
  • In your own words, describe the term “ecological pipeline,” as discussed by Jana Hawley.
  • What are the types of organic textiles, eco-friendly textiles, and biodegradable textiles, as discussed by Sara Kadolf and Sara Marcketti?
  • Describe the difference between textile recycling and clothing recycling, as discussed in the readings.
  • Explain the sorting process for donated secondhand garments. Give examples of popular donated items. Where are those items shipped and who are the consumers that buy them? What are the negative aspects of clothing recycling, as discussed by Hansen?
  • Homework:
  • Write and distribute a short survey asking clothing consumers questions about how sustainability affects their clothing choices and purchases, and how they get rid of clothing they no longer want. Do they buy products that are made from organic, eco-friendly, or biodegradable textiles? Do they buy garments that are secondhand or made from recycled fibers? Do they recycle or throw away unwanted garments?
 Lesson 3
Vintage and Secondhand Clothing
 Core texts to be read before the lesson: Discussion questions:
In your own words, define the terms “vintage,” “secondhand,” and “consignment.”
  • Why do some consumers buy and wear vintage clothing instead of new clothing? What are the main motivations?
  • Do you buy and wear new clothing, secondhand clothing, or vintage clothing? Or do you buy and wear all three? What are your motivations for the clothing that you buy and wear?
  • Homework:
  • Explore different types of secondhand clothing sources such as vintage stores, consignment stores, resale stores, thrift stores, estate sales, and online sources such as eBay. Describe your experience at each, including the atmosphere and layout of the store, the types of garments for sale, the condition of the garments, and the price range of the garments. Which type of store do you prefer and why?
 Lesson 4
Sustainability and the Retail Market
 Core texts to be read before the lesson: Discussion questions:
  • For each assigned reading, describe who you think the target customer is who would buy products from the different retail stores and companies. For example, is he or she highly educated? From a middle-income or high-income bracket? A fashion leader or fashion follower?
  • How are the retail stores and companies discussed in the assigned readings changing consumers’ views on sustainability?
  • What is the future for apparel companies? Do you think the majority of apparel companies will follow in this direction and begin to use more sustainable practices? Why or why not?
  • Research three sustainable clothing or accessory brands from different countries.
  • Discuss the sustainable practices used by each of the companies.
  • Explore the products available from each company and any customer feedback that you can find online.
  • What is your reaction to each of these companies? What do you think of their views on sustainability? Which company would you purchase sustainable products from and why?
 Lesson 5
Sustainability and Apparel Design
 Core texts to be read before the lesson: Discussion questions:
  • In a group or individually, explore who you think will be the instigator for continued change regarding sustainability and the fashion industry—the designer or the consumer?
  • Identify and define the different sustainable apparel design methods that were discussed in the readings. Would you be willing to try any of these methods or buy and wear garments produced using these methods?
  • Explore museum Web sites and find three apparel or costume exhibitions with a focus on sustainable design. These could be current or past exhibitions.
  • Write a one-page reaction paper to each exhibition and the apparel designs.
  • Which exhibition is your favorite and which the least favorite, and why?
  • Which designs are your favorite and least favorite and why? Is your answer based on your aesthetic response, your views on sustainability, or the wearability of the design?
  • Which designs do you think most consumers would prefer? Would those consumers buy and wear the designs?

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