Global Communication and Fast Fashion in the Classroom
Students in the class Communication in a Global Society worked in teams throughout the Spring 2020 semester to educate audiences about one specific aspect of globalization and ecology: fast fashion.
The goal, according to Associate Professor Stephanie Danes Smith, was “to look at whether Kent State students can present information about highly relevant issues like fast fashion and get their fellow students to commit to a single, simple behavioral change.”
The students were required to create events around fast fashion and its harmful impacts on both the planet and people.
“The whole project is based on our consumption choices and personal decisions,” said Smith. “Are we willing to trade the health and safety of workers in Bangladesh for a $7 shirt?”
The student teams planned and scheduled events to educate the Kent State community about fast fashion. Then, the pandemic hit, remote instruction began, and all special events were cancelled. Students pivoted their work amid the changing circumstances and instead delivered final presentations online through Blackboard. Yet their work on the issue of fast fashion taught them important lessons about a global issue and how to adapt quickly to change.
One group’s work centered around carbon emissions and landfills, specifically looking at how many pieces of clothing items ended up in landfills every year. They adopted the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose.”
“We really wanted to focus on repurposing clothes,” said Molly Adams, a public relations major and member of this team. “So instead of buying that cute tie-dyed sweat-suit, for example from Forever 21, they may choose to just take an old sweatshirt or sweatpants and dye it themselves to reduce the impact the fast fashion industry has.”
Each team was instructed to include experiential research related to their project in their events, going out and “actually (experiencing) the conditions they’re researching,” Smith said.
For Adams’ group, that meant taking old pieces of clothing from each team member and repurposing them into something matching the most recent trends. Other groups chose to wash their clothes in a stream as a way to conserve water or carry items weighing 40 pounds or more to signify the conditions garment workers in other countries face.
“At our event, the plan was for people to come up and use our supplies, so we could show them how to do it, like for example using paints to create cute jean jackets,” Adams said. “Obviously with everything being cancelled, we had to change that, so now we just have pictures in our presentation and a tutorial-style video portion.”
Senior public relations major Jill Golden’s group chose to focus on education.
“We had two parts for our event,” Golden said. “The first was to teach students the different signs of what a fast fashion producer is so that they are able to recognize one, and the second was to educate our audience on labor laws and how they play a role in fast fashion.”
The group had planned to have each student read the tags from their clothing and provide them with information about the labor laws of the country it came from.
With events being cancelled, the focus became more educational, with the goals to educate, create and inspire. Golden said presenting on Blackboard “forced everyone to sit down and learn more about fast fashion by hearing their classmates talk about it.”
In light of events being cancelled, Smith asked students to design three provocative questions to the end of their slides that would make their audience consider what they could do differently.
Although she was disappointed with how the semester ended, Adams said she still felt as though there was something positive to take away from this experience.
“As a PR student, I think that you have to realize that while you can’t predict for anything to happen, you have to always think about how you could change things if need be,” she said.
Coursework for Communication in a Global Society, offered through the School of Communication Studies, includes a semester-long globalization challenge that requires students to conduct experiential, academic and media research, present their findings at special events they create on the Kent campus and motivate their peers to make positive behavioral changes. The topics in the past have included the rights to clean water, clean air and worker dignity.
Find out more about the College of Communication and Information’s diverse and dynamic range of courses and service-learning opportunities at https://www.kent.edu/cci/explore/global-campus