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Expert opinion: Sian-Kate Mooney
Putting ethics at the heart of fashion.



13 January 2014

On 24 April 2013 images appeared in the world’s press of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, causing thousands of garment workers to lose their lives. This disaster – the worst to hit the clothing industry for many years – brought into the spotlight again the fact that the world’s constant desire for cheaper and cheaper fashion not only brings misery to thousands of innocent people, but is also one of the main contributors to the destruction of the environment.

Mass manufacturing in the fashion industry has got a poor reputation for environmental issues as well as the treatment of its labour force. In Xintang, China, where 15,000 factories produce around 200 million pairs of jeans per annum, the fallout for the once sparkly Pear River means that it is now so congested with the debris of manufacturing to the extent that its water has turned dark, indigo blue, something that is shockingly visible on satellite images.

Wastewater from textile industry processes and dyeing is difficult to recycle and, despite government restrictions, cowboy companies still secretly dump the toxic water containing heavy metals as well as other pollutants into the rivers resulting in both ecological disaster and health problems for the local population. For example, in India Endosulfan, the primary pesticide used in the production of cotton produces $150m a year in exports, yet it causes cancer, sight loss and joint pain in humans. It is in fact turning all the local children's hair grey.

Fashion consumers are now becoming more aware of the impact manufacturing processes are having on their workforce, local population and environment, and this will have a negative impact on the reputation and bottom line of fashion designers and retailers at all levels of the market as consumers begin to make more savvy choices.

There is a clear demand in industry for fashion designers who have a thorough understanding of the ethics and sustainability concerns and who can apply this understanding to their work. Last year, Buckinghamshire New University launched a new fashion programme – the UK's first undergraduate fashion design degree to embed ethics and sustainability in all stages of the curriculum.

Students will be taught how to source and design for the future wellbeing of the planet while maintaining the well-renowned innovation of the British fashion scene. Areas to be covered in the curriculum include the ethical and environmental impact of mass fashion production, child labour, global supply chains and corporate social responsibility. Alongside this, students will also learn how the trend and forecasting industry works, how to research and develop ideas to produce exciting designs, how to explore materials and processes, and will develop vital hand-skills such as pattern cutting.

I designed the new curriculum to ensure that our graduates have the skills needed by industry to further the UK’s fashion sector. Students will benefit from strong industry support and build the skills to not only thrive in this competitive industry, but also have an edge as “green collar” graduates equipped with the tools and knowledge to help create a more sustainable fashion industry; something that is now more than ever an urgent focus.

Sian-Kate Mooney
Course leader, BA (Hons) Fashion Design
Buckinghamshire New University


 
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