Lecture promotes sustainable fashion
Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Updated: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 05:11
In 2008, some memebers of the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, led by professor Marsha Dixon, realized that many clothing companies wanted to be environmentally sustainable, but were not sure where to begin.
To help designing companies reach their sustainability goals, the department created the University of Delaware Sustainable Apparel Initiative, or UDSAI, which includes 10 policies that address the meaning of sustainability and include guidelines for companies that want to become sustainable.
Contributors to UDSAI gathered for a presentation Nov. 3 in Mitchell Hall, called "Creating a More Environmentally Sustainable Apparel Business." The panel was part of the "Fashioning Social Responsibility" series at the university.
Panelist Huantian Cao, a professor of fashion and apparel studies and co-director of UDSAI, defined sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future.
"The mission of UDSAI is to promote environmental sustainability and social responsibility in the apparel retail industries," Cao said. "The goals of this project were to answer the following questions for the apparel industry: What does it mean to be a sustainable apparel business, and what must a company do to call itself sustainable?"
He said environmental sustainability is related to social responsibility and the issue of human rights.
"Lots of environmental and human health problems are related to the production of textile and apparel, such as toxic chemicals in production, carbon emissions and depleting resources," Cao said. "Professionals in the apparel industry could help solve the problems in both industry and consumer sides if they understand the problem and conduct the design and business accordingly."
Panelist Will Phillips, manager of corporate environmental strategy at Under Armour, Inc., said it is imperative for companies to understand their environmental impact, including deforestation and energy waste.
"We see it, first and foremost, as the right thing to do," Phillips said. "There is a great opportunity for companies and brands to not only reduce their environmental impact, but also to connect to customers and activate their customer base towards the goal of sustainability."
Panelist Stephen Lamar, executive vice president of the American Apparel and Footwear Association, said companies also need to consider the consumer's interaction with the garment.
"What the consumer does is often ignored. What happens when the consumer is done with it?" Lamar said. "Right now we're looking into recycling campaigns."
Cao said designers can play a central role in reaching the goal of sustainability.
"In the age of mass production, design is a powerful tool," Cao said.
Panelist Rick Horwitch, vice president of solutions business development and marketing for Bureau Veritas, a company that helps ensure sustainability, said he is impressed with the environmental and social responsibility efforts at the university.
"The University of Delaware is to be applauded for taking the initiative to do something that, frankly, to the best of my knowledge, I don't see too many other universities doing," Horwitch said. "This is an issue that's going to affect every person in every industry going forward, and I think it's great what the university's doing."
Freshman Dara Busman said students have an opportunity to help preserve the environment.
"Fashion will always be around. People will always need clothes — it's a necessity," Busman said. "Making fashionable clothes, shoes and accessories that won't harm the environment in the long run will benefit everyone, as well as the earth."
She said she hopes the initiative will lead to larger environmental changes within the industry.
"I think this initiative will make fashion studies here at UD ahead of the game," Busman said. "Since UD already is looking towards a more green fashion department, it will make its students care more about the environment. I think this could have a domino effect and hopefully let many more people know how important sustainability really is."