As young people navigate the challenges of the present, including climate change, social injustice, and an economic recession, they are actively seeking to make meaning and derive fulfillment from their careers in a way that goes beyond themselves. This is apparent in their recent preferences to work for purpose-driven, socially responsible companies. In a recent survey of 1,000 employees working at large United States firms, more than 70% of respondents said they are more likely to pursue work at a company with a strong environmental agenda. Moreover, of Millennial respondents, three fourths indicated that their commitment to sustainable values is so significant, they would actually take a smaller salary to work at a company that aligns with their values.
From positions in clean energy, to working for nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), the opportunities in purpose-driven work are expanding following the increased demand for sustainable products, clean energy and the like. One such opportunity to pursue a career in sustainability is through the 1.5 trillion dollar global fashion industry, parts of which have evolved to meet a sustainable agenda. Driven by innovation, traceability, and open communication with the consumer, the sustainable fashion industry offers an array of employment opportunities that are both morally and financially fulfilling.
As sustainable fashion surges in popularity, the breadth of career opportunities in the industry grows too. Take the position of working as a textile chemist or bioengineer. This position is chiefly concerned with innovating to create sustainable materials, like plant-based alternatives to leather or plastic fibers. Textile-focused engineers and chemists are also responsible for developing textile recycling systems, which often require specialized equipment and chemical processes to transform old fibres into new. In future years, these positions will become even more important as the fashion industry is only as sustainable as technology allows it to be. The stretch material spandex, for example, is currently petroleum based with no high performing eco alternative. Material developers have yet to create a plant-based replacement for spandex, hence its continued use today even by sustainable fashion companies.
There are also sustainability related positions in Human Resources (HR) pertaining to both internal and external diversity and inclusion practices. A September 2020 report found that worldwide, there has been a 71% increase in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI) positions in the last five years, with the role “Head of Diversity” growing by 107%. As consumers demand action, accountability and proactivity from brands when it comes to inclusivity and diversity practices, DEI positions play a crucial role in anything from talent acquisition to facilitating a sustainable fashion brand’s understanding of intersectional environmentalism.
Moving to sustainable fashion opportunities in production, there are also positions for supply chain managers, heads of sourcing, and individuals who perform factory audits to ensure an exceptional level of social responsibility in manufacturing. As for creative positions, there are numerous opportunities in product design, branding, storytelling, copywriting, and ultimately communicating a brand’s unique sustainability program to consumers. Because the integration of sustainability into fashion demands technological innovation, self-auditing, transparency, and creative presentation, it is no surprise that there is a wide range of opportunities from the lab to the design studio.
The sustainable fashion industry is ever-evolving, responding to global trends, innovations, and consumer demand. In seeking employment in the industry, it is important to first develop a dynamic understanding of the purpose of sustainability in fashion, and reflect on the environmental and social problems sustainable fashion seeks to address. Embodying an informed, flexible and interdisciplinary approach is undoubtedly pivotal to success.
As for specific steps to take in pursuing a career in sustainable fashion, there is no “one size fits all” formula to jump-start a sustainable fashion career. At present, there is a lack of data on the qualifications of those who work in sustainable fashion, including about their educational backgrounds, the types of degrees they hold, and their levels of experience. However, as with any field, there are countless approaches one can take to pursue a sustainable fashion career. From sustainability certifications like the one offered by the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), to graduate degrees in Bioengineering, Global Supply Chains, or Product Design, the correct fit in educational opportunities will specifically depend on one’s area of interest.
+ Words: Katia Hauser, Luxiders' Contributor