Fashion students think green
Lecture encourages students to think about sustainabilty when they design
Published: Monday, May 2, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 00:05
Creating an adaptable dress with buttons that clasp together to form different outfits, some students are beginning to take note of the importance of sustainable fashion and fair labor practices.
As part of the Fashion and Apparel Studies' "Fashioning Social Responsibility" lecture series, Marsha Dickson, the dean of the program, along with seniors Heather Starner and Jennifer McCord, invited Marcela Manubens, senior vice president of Global Human Rights and Social Responsibility for Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., to speak to the university's fashion community about the state of sustainability in the fashion industry.
Manubens, who was born and raised in Argentina, says she came to America to work for Philips-Van Heusen when her manager, Bruce Klatsky, needed someone to identify claims and abuses in the company. Manubens says she wrote a report about workers' claims and that became the foundation of the program she created to implement fair labor practices at PVH.
"I had the early opportunity to create this job," Manubens says. "I'm responsible for a culture of social responsibility in our company."
Manubens says sustainability and the idea of a sustainable evolution is a hot topic in fashion circles, but people throw the word around without knowing what it means.
"What I'm all about is sustainable business," Manubens says. "What is better than having a business, making money and being responsible at the same time?"
Starner, an honors student in the Fashion Merchandising program, helped bring Manubens to the university. She says some students were not aware of the sustainability courses offered at the university or do not have room for them in their schedules, so the school created the event in order to bring awareness to this area of fashion.
McCord, a fashion merchandising Dean's Scholar and Honor student with a graduate certificate in socially responsible and sustainable apparel business, also helped plan the event. McCord says she had been interested in fashion for a long time before she attended the university, but wrote it off as frivolous and not academic enough for her taste, until her advisor introduced her to the certificate in socially responsible and sustainable apparel business.
"The graduate certificate was intellectually complex and certainly added one layer of value to what I was doing at the university," McCord says. "The more I learned about sustainability, the more it became inherent."
She says when she shops, she reads the tags to see what fibers are used in each garment. McCord says she tries to choose brands that use sustainable materials, but it's not always easy.
"It's like I can't win," McCord says. "I went through a phase where I shopped at secondhand clothing stores for a year."
Starner is also the coordinator of BlueFash Hens, a group of fashion students who plan to run a socially responsible and sustainable store. She says she got the idea for the concept store after visiting a secondhand store in Antwerp, Belgium. Starner says she wanted to create a store on campus similar to HRIM's Vita Nova that would be run by both fashion merchandising and apparel design students.
"I kind of felt that our major is unique in the fact that we're being trained for a specific industry, but Newark, Delaware is very limited in what fashion resources it has," Starner says. "I thought that by offering a student-run store you'd get educational experience in a monitored setting where students could be the buyers, could work in a retail setting, could do visual merchandising and gain that real life experience that they could put on their resumes while still attending school."
Senior Jenna Shaw, an apparel design major, says she was part of a group of fashion design and merchandising students and professors that created and presented a convertible design that combated the idea of fast fashion in Washington, D.C. at the P3 Awards, a national student design competition for sustainability focusing on people, prosperity and the planet.
"We decided that we wanted to make an actual project that people could use to help the environment. And so, after doing some research on how much fabric and chemicals were wasted on the industry and in every step of the process of creating a garment from beginning to end, we decided we wanted it to be adaptable so people would buy less and keep it longer," Shaw says. "You could adjust for size on the side and then there was a removable hood, a removable skirt and removable sleeves and you could turn the skirt into a shirt or a cape with many other different combinations."
Starner says she's hopeful about the future in sustainable fashion.
"I think people do care about the environment, it's getting them to apply that feeling and sentiment into their everyday lives and actually make a difference in choosing the right clothes and being conscious of their shopping habits." Creating an adaptable dress with buttons that clasp together to form different outfits, some students are beginning to take note of the importance of sustainable fashion and fair labor practices.