Why teaching sustainability in fashion is important
– Alessandro Brun is the Director of the Masters in Global Luxury Management at Politecnico di Milano School of Management
– Hakan Karaosman is a Researcher at Politecnico di Milano School of Management & Project Expert at United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
The fashion industry has changed dramatically in the last decade, and the whole sector is now characterised by critical issues and challenging trade-offs, including question marks around its sustainability.
Fashion is one of the most polluting industries that generates a substantial environmental and social impact.
In order to deal with the interdependent social, cultural, ecological and financial issues within the fashion industry, education at all levels needs to play a key role in encouraging urgent change.
It is vitally important to integrate responsible fashion with higher education, so that greater awareness can lead to collaboration, innovation and coordination at all levels.
At MIP, we are reflecting this notion in our teaching and wider school initiatives, and we think it’s crucial that all of our sustainability research relates to the framework of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
This is important as educating others on the issues the industry faces encourages informed conversation, which of course leads to positive action and change.
Consumers as well as brands are now more conscious of sustainability in fashion
Traditionally, fashion has always been a private affair, with secrecy defining its exclusive and illusory nature.
However, in recent years, the outlook of not only luxury brands themselves, but also the consumers, has shifted dramatically; people are making more informed decisions and becoming increasingly aware of the ethical issues surrounding fashion, including sustainability.
At the very top level, academic institutions and luxury companies are now working together so that they can share their knowledge and collaborate with each other.
An example of this is the International Master in Luxury Management (IMLux), a double degree course dedicated to training professionals in the luxury sector, that has been developed in partnership between MIP Politecnico di Milano, NEOMA Business School, and Prada.
Collaborations such as this between international fashion brands and academic institutions are exciting new initiatives that will ultimately help to train the fashion managers of the future to adapt for a more sustainable world.
However, the problem also stems from the bottom, as one of the core problems within the industry is the complexity of fashion supply chains.
These logistics networks are fragmented and globally dispersed, and social sustainability is yet to be ensured throughout.
Business priorities need to be merged with moral principles to spread social sustainability across all levels, thus business schools and universities should also teach students with skills so that they can go on to provide the supply chain partners with knowledge, tools, and methodologies in order to encourage change at all stages.
Ethical fashion is the future
Although we have a long way to go, the future is optimistic for sustainability and ethics in fashion.
People are now realising that fashion isn’t just about the product, its about the whole process, and the more educated people become regarding these issues within the sector, the more people will continue to make informed decisions.
Indeed, it is evident that more people are now also wanting to specialise in luxury, especially the younger generation.
This is important as the whole industry can learn from younger people’s new attitudes and perspectives. As well as this, a new phenomenon is the fact that an impressive number of engineers are now also joining the luxury industry.
Fashion companies have realised that they need engineers in order to stay ahead of the game, as they make high-tech materials, analyse trends and devise how new styles are made and sold.
Crucially, this has added a whole new dimension to the sector, which is in turn encouraging companies to re-think their traditional models.
In the last decade, doors have been opened and conversations have initiated action that would have been previously unheard of.
‘Sustainable fashion’ is now being seen as a topic that should be discussed within business schools and higher education institutions, as they have a responsibility to educate others about how to tackle the embedded ethical problems within the industry.
Indeed, as young consumers in particular become more educated, they will use their influence for the better, and universities and business schools have a crucial role in providing this knowledge and expertise.
Pic: Alena Koval