Sep 27th, 2021, 02:36 PM

How Sustainability is Redefining Careers in Fashion

By Michelle Doyle
Image credit: Unsplashed
With growing demand for sustainable solutions to social and environmental challenges, opportunities are opening up for meaningful careers in fashion sustainability.

If you have an interest in fighting climate change and advancing human rights, you may want to look to fashion as the next frontier.

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, making it one of the most polluting industries on the planet. It’s also one of the worlds largest employers, with about 1 in 8 people working in fashion and textiles globally. With a growing demand for sustainable solutions to our social and environmental challenges, opportunities are starting to open up for meaningful careers in fashion sustainability.

While the word ‘sustainable’ has become a familiar buzzword, its meaning is complex, and even more so its execution. Essentially, sustainable means meeting our needs without compromising those of future generations. In practice, sustainability encompasses initiatives and actions aimed at the preservation of resources. The four main areas are environmental, human, social, and economic. 

Image credit: Fashion for Good

To understand how this applies within the fashion industry, we can break up these four areas of sustainability into smaller pieces to see how they connect to one another, and how these connections are shaping the future of the job market. There is an advancing web of sustainability methods redefining the fashion industry, cutting across the environmental, social, textile technology and non-profit sectors, just to name a few. This means new opportunities for careers and impact. Let's have a look at what exactly the emerging careers are in this space, and the type of impact they can make on a larger scale.

Let's start with the raw materials. Advancements in technology and research around material production is changing the way clothes are made, whether or not they release microplastics during washing cycles, and their potential to degrade if they reach a landfill. These are the matters that environmental and chemical engineers are creating solutions for. Positions such as Life Cycle Assessment EngineersTextile Engineers, and Agricultural Consultants are beginning to broaden in the fashion industry with increasing demand from designers and brands to redesign textiles for a lower environmental impact.

On the social end of the spectrum, fashion companies are increasingly contacting consultants and NGO’s focused on workers rights and labor policies to develop social sustainability standards across their supply chains. Organizations like Fair Wear and Ethical Trading Initiative  work between brands, networks of NGO’s, trade unions, factories and government officials to establish best practices for ethical trade for companies while supporting workers in negotiating fair rights within their workspace in sourcing countries. If your goal is to address sustainability from a human rights angle, you can find positions in impact teams and business consulting to develop innovative ways of improving working conditions for garment workers. There are also non-profits like Fashion for Good and Sustainable Apparel Coalition who provide a crossroads between connecting designers and brands with education and innovative solutions for environmental practices such as waste reduction, energy solutions, and circular business models, while also addressing workers rights across the supply chain. Positions in organizations like these range from managerial positions  to communications roles, both of which are increasing in demand as non-profits work to expand their networks between innovators in environmental solutions and human rights organizations to provide resources for designers and fashion houses.  

Image credit: Fashion for Good

Even though positions within the material and social areas of fashion require specific training and expertise, those looking into corporate responsibility positions (CSR) can benefit from overall knowledge in these areas and how they converge. In larger companies, the need for Sustainability Managers to oversee strategy between raw materials solutions, product innovation, and social impact is growing, and each company will have slightly different needs. Management positions can include Product Innovation Managers, Supply Chain Managers and Sustainable Sourcing Managers.

The role of communications professionals are also expanding within CSR. The responsibility of communication specialists is evolving from getting the message, image, and identity of a brand across, to creating a following and movement around the larger social and environmental causes which a brand aligns themselves with. The responsibility of facilitating dialogue with consumers about the issues they care about, such as transparency and education on sustainability initiatives is expanding communications roles into mediums for education and accountability.

As fashion makes progress with sustainability, the different fields of expertise that create sustainable solutions within the environmental sector, human rights sectors, and technology will increasingly intersect with fashion. As more brands start to adopt collaborative approaches to sustainability, and consumers continue to expect more transparency, the possibilities for the fashion industry to redesign the systems that are causing harm to our planet and people are only beginning to widen. The potential of this space and the opportunities within it, however, are dependent on the demand for sustainable options, which comes down to values-based consumer choices to hold the door open for innovation and keep change trending.