VCU and George Mason University partner to advance sustainable fashion in joint educational project

Two universities. Nine student teams. One massive digital education and advocacy campaign in support of Fashion Revolution Week, April 19-23.

A drawing of leaves hanging like a dress off of a hanger.
Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University have created a cross-university project to advance sustainable fashion. Their digital education and advocacy campaigns are taking place this week (Getty Images)

Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University have created a cross-university project to advance sustainable fashion. 

This week, April 19-23, students at both universities have launched digital education and advocacy campaigns in support of Fashion Revolution Week 2021, part of Fashion Revolution’s global movement creating a more sustainable fashion industry. This year’s theme focuses on the interconnectedness of human rights and the rights of nature.

“The fashion industry is being challenged to think more sustainably. By taking a collaborative and creative approach, we can drive social impact in that space,” said Kimberly Guthrie, associate chair and assistant professor in the Department of Fashion Design + Merchandising at the VCU School of the Arts. Guthrie designed the project with VCUarts instructor Tammy Davis and Sharon Spradling, an instructor in George Mason’s School of Integrative Studies.

“Students are often overwhelmed with negative information about the state of the fashion industry,” Davis said. “This project facilitates a means of engagement and understanding, and then a way to apply new knowledge to advance the goals and principles of sustainable fashion.

“Students often take classes to get a grade or earn an ‘A,’ but that’s not the way we teach. We want students to say ‘I know sustainable fashion is the right thing to do, and I’m going to do it because it’s the right thing to do.’”

Nine teams composed of Mason and VCU students launched their campaigns April 19 on their institution’s respective Instagram accounts, @fashionrevgmu and @fashionrevvcu, using the #LovedClothesLast tag. The posts celebrate the students’ individual history and love of a special garment or pair of shoes to emphasize the need to reject “fast fashion” by practicing gratitude for clothing items, emphasizing proper caretaking and encouraging the purchase of items that are ethically and sustainably sourced, manufactured and sold.

Throughout the week, students have showcased Fashion Revolution as an organization and as a movement and have been explaining why it’s important for the world to take notice.

“With this project, we’re closely aligned with Fashion Revolution’s efforts and we help students understand a variety of issues — wasted resources, environmental pollution, unfair labor practices, unsafe working conditions, child and slave labor, and other complex issues — and give them the freedom to use the power of their collective voices to educate and advocate for change,” Spradling said.

On the final day of the campaigns, April 23, students will select a Fashion Revolution initiative — “Who Made My Clothes,” “What’s in My Clothes” or “Who Made My Fabric” — to draw attention to the many challenges of the current fashion industry, particularly the acquisition and use of materials, the manufacturing process, and the impacts on garment workers and the environment.

“Students are the changemakers of today and tomorrow,” Guthrie said. “When students work together to educate and advocate for sustainable fashion with confidence, they can change the world. With this project, we’re educating, encouraging, and empowering students to take what they learn in class and apply it to make an impact. And that’s the goal of educators.”

Throughout the project, Mason and VCU’s sustainability offices have provided guidance and support, and the project is showcased on Mason’s Earth Month Calendar.

“Earth Month at Mason educates and empowers Mason Patriots to take action for a healthy planet,” said Ben Auger, program manager for education and outreach in Mason’s Office of Sustainability. “And this project provides the Mason Nation with an opportunity to make an impact at Mason and beyond.”

Guthrie, Davis and Spradling envision expanding the project across higher education institutions around the world for Fashion Revolution Week 2022.

Follow the project: @fashionrevvcu & @fashionrevgmu.

Engage: #fashrevhighered #fashrevvcu2021 #fashrevgmu2021 #LovedClothesLastVCU #LovedClothesLastGMU #FashionRevolution #FashionRevolutionWeek #WhoMadeMyClothes #WhatsInMyClothes #LovedClothesLast

About Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution was founded in the wake of the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 and it is the world’s largest fashion activism movement that “mobilizes citizens, industry, and policymakers through … research, education, and advocacy work.” It is a global movement of people who make the fashion industry work by designing, purchasing, wearing, and making clothes. Fashion Revolution’s membership is composed of industry members and members of the public, and calls designers, academics, writers, business leaders, policymakers, brands, retailers, marketers, producers, makers, workers, and fashion lovers members of Fashion Revolution.

About Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Fashion Design + Merchandising

The Department of Fashion Design + Merchandising has more than 300 students enrolled in two tracks: Fashion Design (BFA) and Fashion Merchandising (BA). The department is unique in that both programs are jointly housed, allowing design and merchandising students to learn about the fashion industry together. The mission statement for VCUarts Fashion is to prepare students for varied careers in the fashion industry, emphasizing analytic abilities, creative problem solving, and a global perspective. Another distinctive aspect of the program is the direct relationship with the VCUarts Qatar, the campus in Doha. The Department of Fashion Design + Merchandising is a university member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)

About George Mason University’s School of Integrative Studies

The School of Integrative Studies offers a distinctive experience that addresses contemporary social, global, and environmental challenges. Students connect academic interests with hands-on learning to prepare for a life and career with meaning and impact. Based in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, SIS focuses on critical and creative thinking, effective communication, and diversity in thought. Graduates will lead the way as a new brand of professionals whose understanding of traditional liberal arts and commitment to a just world can build the cross-sector approaches necessary to solve pressing social and environmental problems.