The Guardian reports that the clothing industry can harm people and the environment. But schools are in a position to help bring about change.
How much did your outfit cost? Chances are, much more than you think. The clothing industry is the second-largest global polluter – after oil – and its complex production techniques and supply chains create a myriad of environmental issues. It takes 2,700 litres of water to make one t-shirt, and an estimated £140m worth of clothing goes to landfill sites in the UK annually.
The need for change is urgent – and education can play a key role in championing new attitudes towards clothing. Some schools are now working with organisations to explore the impact of the fast fashion industry.
“The clothing business model is built on volume and getting the clothes produced as cheaply and quickly as possible – buy cheap, wear a few times and then throw away. This is not a sustainable model for our environment,” says Sarah Klymkiw, head of education at Traid, a UK charity working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of clothing waste.
Traid runs programmes at primary and secondary levels. It reaches 10,000 students per year and provides in-depth, interactive workshops on issues such as the lifecycle of clothing, upcycling and mending, to citizenship, geography and technology for older students.
“We have free downloadable resources for teachers on our website, which include lesson plans and presentations to use in the classroom. We also have useful videos on our Traidfilms YouTube channel.”
Programmes at Haggerston School, east London, were aimed at years 10 and 11. Aurora Thompson teaches design and technology, “The workshop promoted group work and developed students ability to work well in teams, while the lectures consolidated the year 11’s understanding of sustainability.”
For some pupils, the course has been inspiring: “It has given them a new insight into their own consumption of fashion. A few students from this class have subsequently volunteered to help run a Fairtrade week at school.”
Fashion Revolution offers a selection of educational resources through its website, and its areas of outreach include 2015’s Fashion Revolution Arts and Speaker Tour, which visited universities to raise awareness of issues in the fashion industry. It also hosts regular talks and exhibitions in colleges around the UK.
“Most schools and universities are beginning to see education in sustainability as essential to the formation of the next generations, and not just in fashion,” says founder and creative director Orsola Carey. “In fact, perhaps in fashion we lag behind.”
The organisation uses case studies, such as one detailing the impact of the lifecycle of a pair of jeans. Carey says this exemplifies “the full social and environmental impact, from farming cotton through to the dyeing and making processes.
The Leys, Cambridge, has worked with Fashion Revolution on education programmes. Andrew Harmsworth, a coordinator for World AIMS (a project to help learners find out more about the world around them) at the school, highlights the practical impacts of discussing fashion in the classroom.
He says their conversations have had a “profound influence on pupils, as it revealed to them what most of us only had a vague idea about: that the things we buy are made by people far away and that our choices can greatly influence whether the purchase is associated with heaps of negatives, or is a purchase that causes positive change.”
Projects such as these highlight exactly why teaching about fashion and its impacts is essential: it can provide an entry point into some of the most important and wide-ranging issues we face today, while bringing a relatable touchstone to students’ everyday lives.
Will programmes like these really change children’s attitudes to what they wear? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter ~ Tamsin