ON-THE-GROUND: INTEGRATING SUSTAINABILITY INTO THE HIGHER LEARNING CURRICULUM THROUGH FACTORY-FLOOR EXPERIENCES
Kelly Cobb, MFA. University of Delawar – USA
“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” – Confucius
On the most intimate scale, we can view our clothing as our second skin and portable shelter, our “cloth familiar.” However, the wide view of clothing is complex: a highly globalized industry with a supply chain that stretches around the world, almost completely disengaged from the consumer. A significant challenge we face as educators is how best to prepare students to communicate and apply their understanding of ethical, labor and environmental issues from a fashion industry perspective.
As my contribution, I will provide models of engagement geared toward cultivating the students’ global and cultural understanding of apparel manufacturing via “on the ground” experiences. It is imperative that we provide meaningful engaged learning opportunities for students by immersion in the realities of industry. I will show how teaching and learning activities can involve industry partners, from small entrepreneurial startups of sustainable fashion brands to large multinational corporations. In collaborating with external partners we raise the bar for fashion design education, mining new potentials for students by providing on-the-ground research experiences that deepen the level in which students engage in the industry.
In this work “fashion” is viewed as a socially-engaged practice, a forum for communication, and a site in which new models can be imagined and created. The industry partners I have drawn into my projects and who students have learned from have also learned from the students in deeply meaningful and tangible ways, as a form of fashion collaboration. As activists, we can view collectivity as a means to decentralize production and consumption, providing creative agency to the wearers of clothing, if not to make clothing, to understand the process from which clothing is created. Given the agency, our students (future industry leaders) will “change the game” of fashion.
The goal of 21st century fashion education must be to engage students as change agents and global citizens. This breed of student is articulate in its unique perspective of the concepts of sustainability, practicality, empathy and confidence are embedded in their approach. But how is this taught? I would love to share my experiences in asking this question, I would like to connect and to learn what others are doing and align through vision. Thank you for this opportunity.
Project examples are listed below, please follow links for more information on each project.
From the Ground Up, 2012. A collaboration between design and apparel management students from The University of Delaware and Philadelphia University “on the ground” in Delaware, Texas and Guatemala with Denimatrix, a vertically integrated producer of fashion denim.
Cotton Lab 2010. Fashion design students from The University of Delaware and technical design students at Instituto Polytecnico-Centomericano (IPC), Honduras combined talents to develop and produce innovative and cotton ensembles geared toward emerging target markets that embody a meshing of culture, tradition and innovation. https://cottonlab2010.wordpress.com/.
Ethical Fashion Project, 2009. A collaboration with Gildan, The Fair Labor Association and the Central American Polytechnic Institute (IPC) wherein, students examined the range of considerations that should go into the design and production of an ethical garment, such as selecting materials that support a healthy environment, examining labor practices to identify suppliers with verifiable and good standards, and conducting responsible interactions and exchanges between apparel firms and suppliers. https://ethicalfashionproject.wordpress.com/.
Kelly Cobb is a Philadelphia (USA) based designer and Instructor of Fashion and Apparel Studies at The University of Delaware, where she teaches CAD, Product Development and Management Studio and Creative Design Methods. In collaboration with her design students, Gildan Activewear, the Fair Labor Association, and the Instituto Politecnico Centroamericano in Honduras, Cobb carried out an “ethical fashion” project that demonstrated ground-up thinking about sustainability in the product development process.
Cobb has designed functional prototypes for children’s wear and women’s RTW. As well, she has developed and coordinated sample production of surface designs for Couture and RTW markets. She holds a BFA in Fiber from The Maryland Institute, College of Art and an MFA from The University of Florida.
Clothing is our second skin and portable shelter, our cloth familiar. Cobb unravels the disconnect in our most immediate of daily interactions, that of the wearer with his or her clothing. Psychologically, clothing is the wearers’ pliable context, a tangible imprint of individual and relational identities. As a designer, she is compelled to engage dialogue through design in order to quicken an awareness of accountability in this field toward real-world issues.
Currently, her research focuses on three main topics: (1) Fashion and Social Practice through collective design (2) Enhancing Apparel Design Education through the development of external partnerships with Government, Industry and Community that emphasize participatory design approaches to practice-based projects and (3) Crafting Innovation: Tactile + Technical. Designers are most essentially problem-solvers. Through design we have the potential to activate the phenomenological power of the relationship people have to their clothing and initiate better and best-case scenarios.