Responsible Education


We’re happy to feature the following guest post from Mary Hanlon, Founder of Social Alterations, an education lab for responsible fashion design.

It is no secret that human rights violations run rampant behind the seams of the mainstream apparel industry, while environmental destruction remains unchecked (alongside unchecked environmental degradation). Seeing responsible education as the first point of intervention, at Social Alterations (SA) we’ve set out to design interdisciplinary learning resources and tools that strive to mitigate these wrongs; SA is a transdisciplinary, service-based learning organization, an education lab for responsible fashion design.

SA Co-Founder, Nadira Lamrad, on what organic cotton means to her at the 2010 Fashioning an Ethical Industry Conference in London, England

We deliver key insights into the social, cultural, environmental and economic impact (both positive and/or negative) of fashion products and systems. At SA, we argue that designers and design educators have a responsibility to consider the social, cultural, environmental, and economic consequence and impact (positive or negative) of fashion products and systems. They can do this during the design process by understanding the way in which their product interacts with each of these categories through every phase of that products life. This is arguably the toughest design brief out there, so our team works to develop educational tools and resources that hope not only to facilitate transformative learning, research and writing, but also to internationalize responsible fashion education.

SA Founder, Mary Hanlon, delivering the Fashion High workshop to grade 10 students in North Vancouver

We’re working on developing a 12-week interdisciplinary educational program built specifically to target fashion design and fashion marketing students. Responsible education translates also to the ways in which information is shared and exchanged. In order to ensure both educators and students have clear access to information they need to understand impact, and to make responsible choices, all of our resources are published and made available through the Creative Commons, an organization working internationally to encourage responsible knowledge and resource sharing. While you’ll have to wait to see our entire 12-week curricula, you can view and download our Fibre Analysis, as well as our introductory lecture [Lesson 1] Sifting through the ‘Ecofashion Lexicon’ in the meantime.

Beyond research into the nature of responsible fashion/textile/apparel design, manufacturing and marketing, supply chain evaluation, and impact assessment, supporting systems for life-cycle analysis, we also work to educate learners on responsible fashion consumption by providing learners with information on best practices in responsible laundry habits, as well as responsible garment collection and disposal.

Grade 10 students working on the activity “All Together Now: Piecework on an Assembly Line”.

Somewhere along the way, we realized we could scale back some of our research and re-package it to fit specific target audiences. As a result, we developed [Fashion High] Understanding the Impact of your Clothing. We designed the high school workshops to introduce the value of a responsible fashion industry to pre-16 students/participants. Our objective was to engage, educate, encourage and empower students to better understanding the impact our clothing has on both people and planet. The workshops can be downloaded, and we have even provided an instructional video, so that educators may visualize how our workshops might play out in their own classroom. Inspired by the positive reception of the high school program, we’re also now working on elementary and primary workshops, activities and readers.

With all of the content we develop, the basic idea is to provide educators with the resources they need to embed responsible design into their own curricula. When we consider that 80% of the environmental consequence of a product alone, in this case a garment, can be determined at the design stage (Chapman and Grant, Ed., xvi), it becomes clear that we must embed a new standard of ethics into design education. At SA, we’re simply hoping to get the ball rolling.

Mary Hanlon is the Founder of Social Alterations: An Education Lab for Responsible Fashion Design. In 2009 Mary won the international award Fashioning the Future through the London College of Fashion for her research and work investigating “Systems for a Sustainable Fashion Industry”. She holds an MA in Integrated Studies through Athabasca University and a BA in International Development Studies through Dalhousie University.

*Work Cited: Chapman, Jonathan and Nick Grant, Ed. Designers, Visionaries and Other Stories: A Collection of Sustainable Design Stories. London, UK:  Earthscan, 2007.

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2 Responses to “Responsible Education”

  1. Min Chauvette Says:

    You need to add a facebook button to your blog. I just tweeted this post, but had to do it manually. Just my $.02 :)

  2. fairwarepromo Says:

    Min – thanks we’re on it!! Definitely worth $0.02.

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