How can fashion education equip students for a new reality?

Key opportunity areas emerge from a month-long crowdsourcing initiative on Circle Lab

Circle Economy


In the past couple of months, we crowdsourced over 400 contributions that highlighted key areas of opportunity, barriers to overcome, inspirational case studies, facts and figures and other key insights from four challenges on Circle Lab. These challenges focused on access over ownership in the household, organic waste in the city, fashion education, and single-use plastics.

We analysed and clustered all submissions into five key areas of opportunity that we believe are worth digging into deeper. By publishing the substance of these discussions, we hope that you too can find inspiration and examples to lead the transition to a circular economy.

Part Two: this post is the second in a series of four. Read Part One.

The “Beyond Education” challenge looked at opportunities for fashion education to better equip its students for a new reality that is uncertain, ecologically precarious, and highly digitised. We hope these ideas will help to nudge you in the right direction, and to inspire your own circular solutions, wherever you are in the world!

1 | The missing link in the chain

Fashion school students are often thrown into the deep end in their first year of school, having to emulate the pace of the industry with matching speed. But, sometimes these experiences of the fashion world are disconnected from the actual supply and production of the garments they learn to create. Allowing students insight and an active part in the entire value chain of modern clothing production will equip them with the knowledge they need to enter the industry confidently.

How might we better connect students to the textiles value chain?

Sustainable operating business module

“One of the best ways for students to understand a sustainable business would be to operate one.” Kate Rushton

Internships in apparel design and production

“In order to grasp the magnitude and fragmented nature of the fashion supply chain, students should intern in manufacturing units in prime production countries like China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and India as well as the brands where design decisions are made. By doing so, they should realise the environmental impact that clothing carries and could hopefully work towards finding solutions.” Tanvi Karambelkar, Dhafer Ben Khalifa

Build repair & reuse into into education

“Engage students with existing communities or organisations that repair and reuse.” Mark Phillips

2 | Choose your own adventure

A recent study indicated a discrepancy between fashion students’ expectations before entering fashion school, during their course, and after having completed their degree. Less than half of students surveyed were satisfied with their sustainability course work, and only a slight majority were satisfied with their practical business training. But not every student has the same needs within their fashion education. Developing a flexible or personalised curriculum with a foundation in a few key areas may give students the support they are looking for.

How might we cater to the individual needs of students to enable them to achieve their own goals and still prepare them for a new future?

Mentor teams

Based on a submission by Kate Rushton

“Providing students an academic mentor as well as a mentor from the field who are able to give an array of perspectives, and create a holistic viewpoint.”

Finnish to get started

Based on a submission by Yasmina Lembachar

Consider transforming education so that it enables students to understand the world around them and the talents within them (Pasi Sahlberg). This includes moving from competition to collaboration; from standardisation to personalisation; from test-based accountability to trust-based professionalism; and from school choice to equity of outcomes. Finnish educational models have learnt this well.

3 | Use what you have

There’s industry, and then there’s industry. In recent years, we have seen fashion schools partner with clothing brands with positive results. Partnering with third party organisations that develop certifications, develop impact measurement tools, or recycle clothing might have similar effects, equipping students with real knowledge of industry obstacles and the tools to solve them.

How might we partner with third party organisations in the fashion industry to help students harness sustainable strategies from the outset of their learning career?

Source: Sustainable Apparel Coalition

Masterclass from SAC & Kering

“As designers and educators we find that without an ability to calculate the carbon footprint of our work in industry, it is extremely hard to know that we are making the right decisions in terms of design/sourcing/logistics etc. Impact assessment tools should be available within school, not just in the industry. Partnering with organisations that have already created industry leading tools like the Higg Index, or the methodology for an E P&L would give students the knowledge and experience to use the tools, and the real data to understand the results.” — Stephanie Lawson

Source: Circle Economy

Let them sort clothes!

Based on submissions by Iker Montes-Bageneta and Guy de Koninck

“Fashion education should partner and co-create with the textile collection industry. The students can live and learn surrounded by the collected textiles, and even participate in the sorting… Students will understand the obstacles present at the end of use phase of clothing, which should help to inform their design, branding and business decisions.”

4 | Ride on the coat-tails of technology

Circularity is not everyone’s cup of tea: it’s too vague sometimes; the language is too convoluted others. Developing a game or incorporating game-like elements into a field not related to gaming might increase students’ motivation to learn about it. Similarly, using design thinking tools in the dissemination of information might do the same.

How might we harness technology or design thinking methodologies in the uptake of circular strategies for students?

Fashion Open Innovation Platforms
“There has been a rise in the number of open innovation platforms for students to solve challenges for companies. Why not have a platform for fashion companies to post challenges for students to solve? In return, students could receive University credits for their submissions, internships and rewards. These challenges would be open to other students as well and students at the same University could be encouraged to form teams of students from different disciplines e.g. business, IT etc. It would be a great way to get students to collaborate and really understand the challenges for the fashion industry all over the world.” — Kate Rushton

5 | Lose yourself

With the increase of clothing bought, and the steep decline of its active use- new fashion designers seem to be “designing fashion for sales instead of use”
(Kate Fletcher, 2016). Creating immersive experiences for students in which they understand the implications of their design decisions, may change how they go about design in the first place.

How might we increase or foster emotional awareness and attachment of clothing in fashion students?

Transparent Factories

“We as a society have become disconnected from processes and systems that provide our basic needs: food, shelter and clothing. The disconnection leads us astray from the true value of everyday necessities, making throwing them away all the more easy. To increase our awareness of, and connection to these objects, opening up a pop-up transparent factory in the centre of cities might enable citizens to take a closer look at how their things are made.” – Matej Ledinek

Volkswagen’s transparent factory makes production facilities accessible to visitors within the scope of a tour and aims to dispel any misgivings or reservations towards e-mobility. Source: Gläserne Manufaktur

Love Letter, Break up Letter

“The fashion designer is also a wearer. Request students to write a love letter to the last garment they bought and on another page, write a break-up letter to the last garment they disposed of. Afterwards, all the letters are pinned on the wall and everyone can read each other’s letters. Students can understand beyond fashion trends and speeds, what makes someone buy a garment, or what it takes for that relationship to end (fit, comfort, colours, quality).” – Ana Ramos

If it doesn’t spark joy anymore… Source: Marie Kondo

These themes also served to support the development of new solutions at Beyond Next, the circularity festival, where four teams presented their final solutions on stage on February 7 and 8, in front of a diverse jury of corporate, academic, and governmental representatives, including the Ministry of Infrastructure & Environment, Holland Circular Hotspot, and the KDV, among others.

Sign up for the Circle Lab newsletter to find out which solutions came out of the event! >

Are you working on an idea around any of these themes? Get in touch with us!



Circle Economy

We empower businesses, cities and nations with practical and scalable solutions to put the circular economy into action.