Global Symposium Explores Ethics of Fast Fashion

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Global Symposium Explores Ethics of Fast Fashion

March 31, 2017 - 09:39

Global Symposium Explores Ethics of Fast Fashion

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NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The exciting topic at our 4th annual Global Education & Serviam Symposium on March 22, 2017 was "Fashioning Global Change."

The globalization and sheer scale of the fashion industry has created the new consumer norm of disposable, "fast fashion." It has resulted in a number of ethical issues which we explored as a school community.

We heard from women who are global change-makers in the industry. Our first keynote speaker was Elizabeth L. Cline, journalist and author of "Overdressed – The Shockingly High Cost of Fast Fashion." (Pictured below, center.) Ms Cline described the incredibly labor intensive nature of the fashion industry. Every single seam is sewn by a person sitting at a sewing machine. And the manufacture of clothing has moved to low wage countries where 80% of garment workers are females, often working long hours under pressure to meet production deadlines.

Americans buy $20 billion of garments each year, and the same amount goes to waste. When we shop, do we think, "Is this something I really love and will keep?" Ms. Cline invited us to accept the Unshopping Challenge. This means not buying clothes for 30 days. It involves a shift away from consumerism and waste to a more sustainable, less expensive lifestyle.

Ms. Cline also invited us to join the Fashion Revolution. The week of April 24 is Fashion Revolution Week, in commemoration of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 when 1,138 garment workers were killed. The associated social media campaign encourages people to ask fashion brands #whomademyclothes and under what conditions?

Our second keynote speaker, pictured above at left, presented a different perspective. Ms. Rebecca Magee, Manager of Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Eileen Fisher, Inc. shared some of the company's social consciousness and manufacturing improvement initiatives. These include the Green Eileen initiative. Under this program, customers can bring their Eileen Fisher garments back to the store for a $5 credit. Approximately half of those clothes are then cleaned and put back on the shelves of two special Green Eileen stores. In the Question & Answer session, Ms. Magee talked with students about the human rights question of what is the fair wage to pay garment workers.

Our third keynote speaker, pictured above at right, was Ms. Jane Mosbacher Morris, CEO & Founder of TO THE MARKET, an online marketplace of fashionable, artisan goods. The goal of this social enterprise is to help women survivors of abuse, conflict and disaster in 20 countries around the world to find sustainable economic empowerment and financial independence.

Ms. Morris enlightened us about the importance of economic independence and changing lives through the dignity of work. She encouraged the students to discover how they can make a difference by first considering their own talents, then deciding on their focus, and keeping in mind the needs of others. She reminded the girls that no positive action is too small.

During the break-out sessions, our students gathered in small groups and pursued a variety of projects.

The middle school students repurposed cloth, yarn, and other materials into art objects. The 9th and 10th grades watched the video "True Cost" and then conducted team discussions on various human rights issues from the perspective of different constituencies in the clothing manufacturing industry.

Juniors worked in teams with Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute on a creative Marketing project. Our girls were joined by a group of students from our sister school, Academy of Mt. Saint Ursula. Seniors spent time with Ms. Morris and then, in teams, created a "go-to-market" strategy for the country they were assigned.

By the end of this Symposium, we had all learned about fair trade wages in the fashion industry, poor working conditions, and human rights in the supply chain as well as the environmental impact of excess consumption.