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Why Fashion’s Future Leaders Should Be Thinking Sustainably

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Sustainability is a major “buzzword” in today’s fashion industry. The rulers of fast fashion—think Forever 21, H&M, Fashion Nova, Zara—feel the pressure to continuously stay ahead of the fashion curve by launching new styles, as consumers are so frequently buying new clothes. This need for speed and commitment to keep price tags low spells serious trouble for our environment by way of toxic chemicals, pesticides, and fumes seeping into the air and water.

While this has been the case for decades now, businesses and individuals like me (someone who has personally reaped the benefits of many trips to H&M) are finally waking up to the reality of the industry’s consequences. Major brands are embracing sustainability with initiatives such as H&M’s clothing recycling program or Zara’s commitment to going toxic-free.  Whether it be out of genuine concern for the world we live in or simply for the street cred, this move towards more sustainable practices is a positive change that is affecting the entire fashion industry, including its future leaders.

With new educational programs focused on sustainability popping up at fashion schools around the country, and a job market booming with the need for professionals trained in sustainability practices, it’s important to stay competitive by making your fashion industry dreams a little bit greener.

Sustainability in schools

The next generation of fashion professionals will have an enormous impact on whether sustainability practices are implemented and when they are implemented, what will that look like? The job market will boom with new opportunities for sustainability-focused careers, and schools are now encouraging this trend with more educational programs focused on sustainability. Having an education in sustainable design and practices can set you apart from the competition as you search for a job post-graduation.

Some notable fashion sustainability programs include:

  • FIT – New York, NY

A few of FIT’s Sustainable Design Entrepreneur Certificate’s ten required courses include Sustainable Material Sourcing, Sustainable Manufacturing, Ethical Fashion, and Social Responsibility and the Apparel Industry.

  • California College of the Arts – San Francisco, CA

The West Coast has been a leader in initiating sustainable fashion practices. California College of the Arts has the longest-running sustainable fashion design program in the country. Sustainability is a common theme in all of their design degrees, placing emphasis on the “total value creation” of the industry rather than profitability alone.

  • Pratt Institute – New York, NY

The Pratt Institute has its own Center for Sustainable Design Strategies, a research facility for students and faculty interested in sustainable design. Students can pick up a Minor in Sustainability Studies, with courses like Chemistry of Modern Poly Materials and Sustainability and Production.

  • Otis College of Art and Design – Los Angeles, CA

As one of California’s best art schools, Otis College places a huge emphasis on sustainability across all disciplines, not just fashion. Their Otis Sustainability Alliance brings together industry leaders from fashion, art, design, and higher education who are actively working to increase and advocate for sustainability efforts through their work. Partners of the program include notable brands like Nike, Patagonia, Under Armour, and Eddie Bauer.

Career paths in sustainable fashion

The changing landscape of the fashion industry has opened up dozens of new career paths for fashion professionals trained in sustainability, from creative to corporate. As the demand for sustainable fashion increases, more and more of these opportunities will arise.

  • Fashion Designer

The dream job of many fashion students, designers have the ability to turn their creative vision into a reality. There is a new need for fashion designers to make sustainable fashion that is both aesthetically pleasing and appealing to many. Designers like Eileen Fisher are using recycled fabrics, organic fibers, and natural dyes in the apparel production process. Green practices like these are entering the design mainstream, and there is a need for more eco-conscious designers!

  • Corporate Social Responsibility Manager

This is an excellent career path for more business-minded professionals entering the fashion industry. You’d be in charge of spearheading sustainability practices and strategies along with initiatives to protect garment worker’s rights. You would communicate with stakeholders every step of the way, playing a highly influential and visible role within the company.

  • Product Sustainability Specialist

Product Sustainability Specialists should love research, as the main part of their job is to identify new products through material scouting and product development. They also ensure samples and production processes are adhering to the company’s quality, sustainability, and safety standards. An education in supply chain management or product development will serve one well!

  • Sustainability Manager

Sustainability Managers will strategize, design, and help implement programs to promote more ethical and sustainable practices across the company. It wouldn’t hurt to know a wide range of sustainability-related subject matter, from sustainable apparel/accessories/materials sourcing to animal welfare rights to raw materials policies to fabric management.

These are just a few of the sustainable career paths fashion professionals entering the job market or looking for a career shift can pursue with some sustainability training under their belt. With the rapidly expanding demand for sustainably made products, we are sure to see  more educational programs and career paths become available to aspiring fashion professionals entering the job market. In short, there has never been a better time to pursue your interest in sustainable fashion professionally, working in the industry you love while making a positive impact for our planet.

If you’re searching for a career in sustainable fashion, let us help! Our Fourth Floor recruiters place fashion professionals in some of the leading brands in the industry. Click here to view our current opportunities.


At Fourth Floor, we understand that people are the cornerstone of the fashion industry. We place the best and brightest talent in roles at leading apparel, beauty, and lifestyle companies nationwide. The future of fashion starts at Fourth Floor.