Random Thoughts

Where to Study Sustainable Fashion?

In the fashion universe, designer is king. That’s why the only way to get the fashion industry to embrace sustainability is by teaching future designers how to do it. A couple of years ago, New York-based designer Timo Rissanen summed up his personal sustainable fashion challenge as follows: “I basically had to learn to design again.” Sustainable fashion really starts at school. In recent years, some leading fashion and design school across the globe have added sustainability to their portfolios–a most welcome development.

During my recent trip to Berlin, I had an opportunity to catch up with Lizzie Delfs who manages communications for the International Master’s Programme – Sustainability in Fashion at the prestigious ESMOD Berlin International University of Art for Fashion. I asked her about how the programme came about, what kind of skills its students can acquire, and how ESMOD sees its contribution to a more sustainable future for the fashion industry overall.

Lizzie Delfs, communications manager for the International Master's Programme - Sustainability in Fashion, ESMOD Berlin. Photo via Berlin Art LInk.

Lizzie Delfs, communications manager for the International Master’s Programme – Sustainability in Fashion, ESMOD Berlin. Photo via Berlin Art LInk.

Green Stilettos: Lizzie, ESMOD Berlin is one of the few schools around the world to offer a master’s programme in sustainable fashion, which has received international acclaim. Could you tell me how it all started and what was the vision of its founders?

Lizzie Delfs: It was the idea of  Silvia Kadolsky, President of the ESMOD Berlin school. She, together with the Director of the Programme, Prof. Friederike von Wedel-Parlow and Rolf Heimann from Hess Natur, decided that it would be an important addition to the education system in fashion and that ESMOD Berlin was well placed to do it being an established fashion school with international recognition and also because Berlin is a global hub for sustainable fashion.

GS: And what does the sustainability component of the master’s programme in ESMOD Berlin consist of?

LD: The Programme is a one-year intensive course about sustainability in fashion. It is made up of four core modules: sustainable marketing & business strategies, sustainable design, sustainable textiles and production, and sustainable knowledge and critical theory. It is split into two semesters: the first is a series of hands-on workshops where students can learn about these different concepts. For example, the Hess Natur upcycling project is one of them. The second semester is an opportunity for students to identify the area they are passionate about to later pursue as their master’s project. What is unique and exciting about the programme is that it has its finger on the pulse of the mainstream fashion industry, as well as the latest developments in the eco-fashion industry, such as the ‘cradle to cradle’ concept.

Upcycling Project by Ralf Schuchmann Photography by Jago Li, 2013

Upcycling Project by Ralf Schuchmann
Photography by Jago Li, 2013

GS: I am glad that you brought up the connection to the mainstream fashion industry, because one criticism of eco-fashion is that it is very ‘eco’ but not enough ‘fashion’. What do you get over that? How do you get people to create something that would sell but at the same time satisfy the sustainability criteria?

LD: The is a key part of the programme. This is the main problem with eco-fashion: esthetics! For sustainable practices to become standard industry practices is all about making a product that appeals to the design-led fashion consumers and meets the core ideals of fashion ideology. That’s why the Programme seeks to raise the level of design in sustainable fashion – to meet the needs of consumers and educate the designers at the same time. Fashion designers make 80% of choices regarding the product, so it is really about getting the them on board to reflect about these choices as we do not live on a planet of infinite resources.

“Fashion designers make 80% of choices regarding the product: how it is produced, how it is consumed and what happens to it afterwards.” – Lizzie Delfs, ESMOD Berlin 

ESMOD Berlin believes that designers have greater responsibility for sustainability in fashion. Photo via ESMOD Berlin.

ESMOD Berlin believes that designers have greater responsibility for sustainability in fashion. Photo via ESMOD Berlin.

GS: Are you starting to see a greater interest from the commercial side of the industry in the kind of skills you are offering?

LD: Yes, indeed. Fashion houses are increasingly hearing the voices of consumers who what to buy more sustainable products. When our students graduate, they are specialists and there’s a variety of things they can do: they can be researchers, or designers, or work on textiles and fabrications. They acquire unique skills for which jobs may not even exist today but will do so in the future.

GS: What do you see as the biggest challenge for sustainable fashion?

LD: The biggest challenge is that the brief for the designer has changed over the past 10-15 years. It is not just about making the product: the designer is now responsible for how it is produced, how it is used, how it is marketed, and what happens to it afterwards. The second challenge is getting the consumer out of the fast fashion cycle: fashion has been cheap for so long, it can be hard to convince people to pay a little bit more so that the person who made their clothes can be paid fairly.

“The brief for the designer has changed over the past 10-15 years.”

Vida Ipektchi, Masters Alumni 2012, Photography by Linn Kuhlmann. Photo via ESMOD Berlin.

Vida Ipektchi, Masters Alumni 2012, Photography by Linn Kuhlmann. Photo via ESMOD Berlin.

GS: And one final question: what kind of students are you looking for? Who should apply to study sustainability in fashion at ESMOD Berlin?

LD: The students who are attracted to the programme are usually people who have some work experience in the fashion industry, or an academic degree in design, or both. We are looking for students who are pioneers of sustainable fashion. This is an industry without history: what was innovative last year is out of date this year. We want to attract positive thinkers, people who are not scared of failure and passionate about all aspects of sustainable fashion.

To apply for the International Masters Programme – Sustainability in Fashion at ESMOD Berlin, click here. To learn more about the top 10 sustainable fashion programmes and courses, read this article from the Ethical Fashion Forum’s SOURCE Magazine.

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