Rethinking sustainability – resources for all in uncertain times
The verdict is in: if we are to coexist together on earth, we need to radically challenge and transform our anthropocentric attitudes and behaviours1. Combine this fact with the current climate, and we can see the practices and competencies of students, academics and professionals alike having to flex and transform, practically overnight, with unprecedented speed and agility.
Before we can feasibly develop our thinking and practice, we will need a navigation system, and the tools with which to follow said system, in order to grasp fashion’s multiple dimensions in an ever-changing world. The framework, online resources and tools referenced in this post have been developed to support those who are rethinking their fashion sustainability teaching, business practice, studies or personal habits in these uncertain times.
Developed by Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), the framework below acknowledges that sustainability involves a wide range of concerns, activities, approaches and discussions. The framework has been developed to support transformational approaches to fashion sustainability, informed by CSF’s research, education and knowledge exchange projects.
CSF Framework (Prof. Dilys Williams, Director at CSF, 2018)
The framework opens up considerations of fashion’s macro context from ecological and equity viewpoints as well as the tensions between them. Reflections on the context are then applied into a set of agendas to highlight our values in a tangible way. These critical and cross-cutting agendas are mapped out in order to identify potential intervention points. Having explored these wider systemic elements, we can then approach current issues. Whilst presented as critical considerations, it is important to see these issues as symptoms, rather than as underlying causes of our current climate. Having observed the overwhelm that can be felt by many who take on sustainability thinking, a range of mindsets were developed. Each mindset is linked to methods and practices that can be adopted to tackle these (often overwhelming) issues.
In order to open up the framework to a broader audience and to elicit feedback, it was adapted into a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) format. In 2018, CSF launched University of the Arts London (UAL)’s first MOOC – Fashion & Sustainability: Understanding Luxury Fashion in a Changing World. This free six-week course is available to all and offers a comprehensive introduction to fashion and sustainability. It was awarded a Green Gown Award in 2018 and has so far attracted over 50,000 learners worldwide.
“This online course offers the perfect balance of context – rich, gutsy resources to empower you to frame your thinking about sustainable fashion – and practical tools for applying these learnings in real life. Solid gold for designers or indeed anyone working in the fashion industry or in fashion education.” – Claire Press, Sustainability Editor at Vogue Australia
In bringing the framework’s context, agendas, issues and mindsets to life, the course helps learners to navigate the complexity of fashion and sustainability. It visualises ways in which fashion interacts with wider socio-political and cultural systems, within an ecological and equity context. By connecting their values with actions, learners find their own ways through complex and sometimes uncomfortable considerations in real-world terms.
“What I like most is the holistic approach of all this analysis. Every step and issue are interconnected and you can’t work on one without considering the impact on the other… This could be so powerful both for the workers and for the society” – Learner
‘This course has given me a framework to understand what is wrong, and how to fix it in a real, tangible way… While the problem is overwhelming, you have framed it in a way that makes it digestable, and makes it feel like we can tackle this problem if we face it.’ – Learner
Empowered by the potential of open-source frameworks and resources, in 2019, CSF developed a range of free online toolkits, Fashion Futures 2030, funded by C&A Foundation. Fashion Futures 2030 is designed to help educators, industry professionals and students engage in critical thought and discourse of fashion and nature through the exploration of four possible future scenarios.
Graphic: Therese Vandling
By engaging with these future scenarios, we can develop visions, interventions and commitments to guide strategy for design, business and communication. The toolkits explore topics such as climate change, resource shortages, population growth and other factors that will shape the world of 2030 and the future of the fashion industry. They explore every aspect of the industry, from production of raw materials, manufacturing and retail, to use and end of life.
Fashion Futures 2030 toolkits are varied, aimed at fashion businesses as well as those teaching and learning in the fashion education space. The toolkits are free to access and download, offering resources which have been designed for flexible planning and delivery as hour-long ideation sessions, one-day workshops, or course modules.
Fashion Societal, Economic & Environmental Design-led Sustainability (FashionSEEDS) aims to develop a holistic framework that embeds fashion sustainability into a transformed higher education system worldwide.
Fashion SEEDS workshop in action at London College of Fashion
The FashionSEEDS framework, funded through the Erasmus+ programme, will include course content, methodologies, learning environments, teaching materials and sector engagement in a fashion education system that seeks to nurture graduates with the skills, capabilities and knowledge of fashion design for sustainability. By 2021, the website and tools will be freely available worldwide for fashion educators to access.
“Education is the leverage point for change in societies, cultures and economies – and radical individual and systemic change is needed now more than ever. As world-leading fashion educators it is our responsibility to design learning experiences that challenge the damaging and outdated practices we see around us, and cultivate the critical skills, knowledge and mindsets of sustainability in LCF’s fashion designers, communicators and strategists.” – Nina Stevenson, Education for Sustainability Leader at CSF
There has never been a more urgent and critical opportunity to engage our peers in a radical transformation of the fashion system. It is hoped that sharing the CSF framework and resources can contribute towards a re-defining of what it means to be human, to live together on earth, and to move forwards in solidarity during these uncertain times.
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