*Updated October 17, 2021
As the current generation witnesses the dire consequences of global warming, we are talking about sustainability, literally, everywhere — in your town governor’s campaign promises, your campus recycling program, and recently, your favorite clothing brand’s website.
Starting from the mid-2000s, with advanced technology and increased purchasing power, customers have constantly fed on fast fashion, an industry practice that copies trends from the runway or celebrities that appeal to the masses, mass-produces them with unsustainable resources and cheap manpower, sells them out, and replaces them instantly as trend changes.
But, fast fashion comes with a heavy price.
Fast fashion’s unsustainable methods have destroyed the environment, exploited low wage workers, mainly in developing countries, and created wasteful consumer behavior.
Fortunately, both industry leaders and customers are responding, and sustainable fashion is on the rise.
With the new increase in demand for sustainable fashion, both high fashion and street brands are valuing designers and market strategists with more expertise in sustainability.
For students interested in going into fashion, consider these 11 fashion schools — not ranked in any meaningful way — offering degrees, certificates or courses on sustainable fashion, and get ahead in your career game.
1. Parsons The New School for Design (New York, NY)
As one of the world’s top fashion schools, Parsons has long been heavily invested in sustainability through its education and campus life.
Not only is its course on Sustainable Systems mandatory for all incoming freshmen, the campus buildings are environmentally friendly. For example, Parsons’ buildings conserve energy and water and manage waste. Plus, the facility staff are trained in energy efficiency.
Since 2015, when Burak Cakmak, who previously worked as vice president of corporate sustainability in Swarovski, became the dean of fashion, sustainability has really become the school’s core value.
Programs: Option to specialize in sustainability is open to all majors.
Courses: Sustainable Systems; Zero Waste Design; Sustainable Fashion; Ethical Fashion; EcoFashion: Sustainable Solutions; Sustainable Business Models
Online courses: Medium of Fashion: Textiles; Fashion Entrepreneurship; Design and Innovative Sustainable Business
Faculty: Timo Rissanen, zero-waste menswear designer and author; Bernard Kahn, fashion industry consultant for large companies for over 25 years; Dr. Hazel Clark, author of countless seminal publications; and Francesca Granata, co-curator of “Ethics + Aesthetics,” the first American exhibition exploring the interconnection between fashion and sustainability
Special projects: Partnership with Loomstate to create jeans that are as close to zero waste as possible but still look good
2. Fashion Institute of Technology (New York, NY)
FIT was one of the nation’s first higher education institutions to openly work with the government to reduce carbon emission. In 2011, FIT was the first institution to reduce carbon emission by 30 percent. As of 2016, FIT has reduced it by 46 percent and is looking to reach 50 percent by 2025.
At two of their campus buildings, the roofs are covered with 1¼ acres of sedum plants that help insulate the buildings, absorb carbon dioxide, and soak up water during heavy rainfall and prevent the city’s sewers from flooding.
While at FIT, students are constantly exposed to sustainability both inside and outside of their studios and lecture halls.
Program: Minor in Ethics and Sustainability, an interdisciplinary study that equips students to apply sustainability in all areas, materials, economics, aesthetics, theories and social responsibility; non-credit certificate in Sustainable Design Entrepreneur, a series of four-week classes that equip participants to learn about and practice sustainable business ideas
Courses: International Corporate Responsibility; Corporate Social Responsibility; Sustainability in Fashion Merchandising; Sustainable Packaging
Online courses: Introduction to Sustainability; Circular Product Lifecycle
Faculty: Neil Chambers, CEO of Chambers Design; Jeffrey Silberman, sustainable cotton expert; Nathan Fleisig, Social Responsibility & Compliance Manager at Outerstuff, responsible for global compliance at Adidas/Reebok; Nicole Schorr, founder of Zero to Sixty Communications; Lisa Hendrickson, an idea generator and a solution provider to Fortune 500 companies
3. California College of the Arts (San Francisco, CA)
California College of the Arts has the longest-running sustainable fashion design program in the country. Sustainability is included in the curricula in all levels of degrees, from bachelor’s to master’s degrees.
Program: B.A. in Fashion Design and M.B.A. in Design Strategy are about fashion and design in general, but sustainability is deeply embedded into the curricula. In particular, M.B.A. in Design Strategy focuses on teaching students to create design strategies for “total value creation,” which according to the university’s website, means “something much more than mere profitability.”
Courses: Leadership by Design; Market Insight Studio; Fashion Design: Sustainability; Eco: Sustainability Seminar; Sustainability Studio; Innovation Studio
Faculty: Lynda Grose, co-founder of Esprit’s collection, the first ecologically responsible clothing line; Bob Adams, designer/farmer and IDEO fellow; Amanda Cattermole, longtime director at Levi Strauss & CO
4. Pratt Institute (New York, NY)
As one of the city’s leading fashion schools, the Pratt Institute integrates sustainability across multiple studies. At Pratt, the Center for Sustainable Design Strategies serves as a research and resource center for any faculty or students interested in sustainable design.
Courses: Ecology; Sustainability and Production; Science and Society; Chemistry of Modern Poly Materials; Sustainable Core; Sustainability and Fashion
Faculty: David Burke, a product and package designer; Michelle Hinebrooke, a museum curator with exhibitions across the globe
Special project: As a part of the CSDS, the Pratt Design Incubator for Sustainable Innovation was founded in 2002 and is based on four sectors: clean energy, fashion, design and design consulting. Currently, the incubator hosts 12 businesses, and has just opened the Pratt Pop-up shop in Brooklyn, New York.
5. Otis College of Art and Design (Los Angeles, CA)
One of the top art schools on the West Coast, Otis offers its students a wide network of industry leaders specializing in sustainable fashion and design. Not just limited to fashion design, throughout different departments, spanning from Fashion Design to even Toy Design, sustainability education heavily influences the school’s curriculum.
Courses: Human Ecology; Science and Sustainable Design; Sustainability Capstone; Fashion Design and Illustration
Faculty: Devora Lindner, designer and founder of Prairie Underground, a sustainable high fashion brand; Rosemary Brantley, fashion designer for multiple international companies, including Kasper, Jaeger of London, Eclipse; Jill Higashi-Zeleznik, executive producer and creative director of the “Otis Annual Scholarship and Benefit Fashion Show,” one of the largest fashion events in Los Angeles
Special project: The school’s Fashion Design Department founded the Otis Sustainability Alliance, a group of creative leaders from related fields, including fashion, design, art and higher education, “who are committed to advancing the environmental, social, educational, and economic dimensions of sustainability,” according to the website.
6. Academy of Art University (San Francisco, CA)
Established in 1929, San Francisco’s Academy of Art University is the largest accredited private art and design school in the country. From as early as 1998, the school implemented environmental and sustainable design options into the curriculum.
While the school doesn’t provide degrees or certificates specifically on sustainable fashion or design, it provides both in-class and online courses centered on sustainability.
Courses: Sustainable Design; Survey of Sustainable Design; Sustainable Designs & Practices Studio
Online courses: Sustainability and Society
Faculty: Chelsea Snyder, with long years of industry experience at Abercrombie & Fitch, Dockers and Old Navy; Phillip Hamlett, co-author of “The Living Principles for Design”; Mimi Sullivan, founder of Saida + Sullivan Design Partners (SSDP), an award-winning architectural firm in San Francisco; Nicole Lambrou, an award-winning architect
7. Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (Los Angeles, CA)
While the school doesn’t offer a degree specifically in sustainable fashion, the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising provides its students with a deep understanding of sustainable fashion and design across multiple departments.
Based in California, the denim capital of the country, students majoring in business of denim learn about sustainable methods on developing denim products.
“Denim is a prefered market for many of our graduates,” Barbara Bundy, the vice president of education, told TeenVogue. “It’s also a prominent market developing and promoting more sustainable practices, from growing cotton to engineering yarn and fabrics.”
Program: B.A. in Business in Denim
Courses: Sustainable Practices in the Product Lifecycle; Sustainability & The Fashion Industry; Sustainable Practices in Design; Creative Pattern Making
Faculty: Megan Dougherty, designer and sustainability coordinator at Dougherty & Dougherty; Susan Spencer, with long years of industry experience at companies like London Fog, Macy’s, and Giorgio Armani; Tricia Edwards with work experience as fashion designer and textile designer for Geoffrey Beene and PacSun
Special project: Special exhibitions featuring green textiles and raw materials; partnership with Guess to mentor students on sustainable design
8. Glasgow Caledonian New York College (New York, NY)
Founded by Glasgow Caledonian University in 2017, GCNYC’s mission is to drive change for the Common Good through education and research. GGCNY’s post-graduate programs, which are grounded in sustainability, are designed for working professionals and full-time students.
Program: M.S. in Sustainability Fashion, a program that “prepares students for leadership roles, helping them transform the industry and develop creative strategies to support sustainability, social equity, and ethical practices within fashion.”
“GCNYC’s master’s program in Sustainable Fashion is designed to change the very foundation of the fashion industry, shifting the conversation away from the singular focus on profit and expansion towards the greater prosperity of humanity and the planet,” said Jacqueline LeBlanc, vice president and provost of GCNYC. “Students learn both the big picture of values-based decision-making as well as the tactical strategies for building a sustainability strategy for a fashion company.”
Courses: Business Strategy as an Instrument for Economic, Social and Environmental Sustainability; Navigating Global Change: Business Practices for the Common Good; Value-Based Leadership Skills for an Interconnected World; Purpose-Driven Marketing; Sustainable Fashion Strategy; Fashion as Culture; Research Methods
Faculty: David Grad, corporate leadership coach and co-founder of Elevator 9; Amisha Parekh, product manager of sustainable fashion solutions at Bloomberg LP; Seisei Tatebe-Goddu, chief operating officer at Future Now & Future Now Fund; Prasan Kumar, SVP and group strategy director at McCann New York
9. Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design (London, UK)
Ranked the best fashion school in the world for the last two years, Central Saint Martins boasts not only its expertise in fashion, but also its innovation in sustainable fashion. To CSM, green fashion is very important because it is not only ethical, but also the future of fashion.
At CSM, the proud alma mater for top designers like Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, students interested in sustainable fashion will have access to top industry leaders.
Program: M.A. in Material Futures is a multi-disciplinary study that focuses on developing smart, eco-friendly textile technologies to respond to the emerging environmental awareness in the industry. Students will work on at least one paying client project.
Courses: Ethical and Sustainable Practice in Fashion; Sustainable Fashion; Introduction to Sustainable Fashion for Professionals
Online course: Promoting Sustainability in Fashion
Faculty: Kieren Jones, an award-winning designer with work exhibited in institutions like the Somerset House, MOMA, The British Council; Mario Nishio, with work experience at high fashion magazines like Vogue Nippon; Clare Farrell, designer at Miss Selfridge, Topshop, Asos, Monsoon and CEO of her own line, No Such Thing, an ethically focused women’s cyclewear; Alice Wilby, a designer for Gucci’s first sustainable accessories collection, co-founder of Novel Beings, the world’s first sustainable style agency; Nin Castle, founder of Goodone, an award-winning fashion label in London
Special project: Textile Futures Research Community, a research group that studies ways to make textiles and materials more sustainable through technological and innovative means
10. London College of Fashion (London, UK)
One of the world’s top fashion schools, London College of Fashion offers its students in-depth knowledge and expertise in sustainability. Across different departments, many majors offer courses and projects on sustainability.
Program: M.A. in Fashion Futures focuses on fashion practices and theories with goals to create a sustainable, thriving world.
Courses: New Perspectives on Fashion; Sustainability Solutions
Faculty: Dilys Williams, manager of Katharine Hamnett’s international collections, Liberty and Whistles, and co-secretariat to the UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fashion; Helen Storey, a social artist and designer who worked with Valentino and Lancetti and was nominated for British Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council; Sandy Black, author of seminal book “Eco Chic: The Fashion Paradox”; Kate Fletcher, founder of the “slow fashion” movement and celebrated author
Special project: Centre for Sustainable Fashion, a research center that challenges “reactionary fashion cultures, which reflect and reinforce patterns of excessive consumption and disconnection”
CSF collaborated in developing the school’s M.A. in Fashion Futures by sharing a network of professors, designers and industry leaders. CSF launches many activities, such as opening the UK’s first sustainable fashion lab, launching Shared Talent India, which encourages designers to exchange expertise with other experts across the supply chain, and giving out the annual Fashioning the Future Awards, which awards innovative sustainable designs from students and graduates across the globe.
11. AMD Academy Fashion & Design (Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Munich, Berlin & Wiesbaden (start 2019), Germany)
Established in 1989, AMD Academy Fashion & Design offers a curriculum embedded in sustainability and a team of instructors eager to train and learn with students.
Program: M.A. in Sustainability in Fashion and Creative Industries, an international program offered in English that covers areas, such as sustainable design strategies, sustainable production and sustainable business.
According to the school’s website, the program “is aimed at designers, managers or entrepreneurs, who want to operate in an economically effective and at the same time responsible way.”
Courses: Sustainable Design Concepts; Fashion and Society; Sustainable Marketing and Social Media; Sustainable Fibres and Textiles; Sustainable Business Psychology and Leadership; Sustainable Standards and Quality Management
Faculty: Uwe Demele, a designer with expertise in business; Christian Kuhlmann, a professor in management and marketing; Ingo Rollwagen, a professor in management in creative industries