Seeking Fashion Sustainability With Cotton in the Curriculum
As of 2021, the fashion industry was responsible for 10% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, according to research done by the Columbia Climate School. The industry is also responsible for a significant loss of trees each year to produce fabrics like rayon and viscose. There is a clear need for sustainable efforts to be implemented into the world of fashion, and Kent State University is on the cutting edge of that initiative.
Four Kent State professors in the School of Fashion were recently awarded funding provided by Cotton Incorporated through the Cotton in the Curriculum Grant Program. With a special emphasis on cotton sustainability and cotton performance, the goal of the annual program is further understanding and knowledge about cotton among students considering a future in fashion.
Kent State has received funding from Cotton in the Curriculum since 2018. However, Noël Palomo-Lovinski, associate director of the School of Fashion; Gargi Bhaduri, Ph.D., associate professor; Krissi Riewe Stevenson, assistant professor; and Mourad Krifa, Ph.D., interim director of the School of Fashion, each received funding this year, setting a record of four Cotton in the Curriculum grants in one year for the school, totaling nearly $65,000.
With this funding, each professor is working to develop a course or project that focuses on topics such as the life cycle of cotton, how to create clothing using sustainable practices, how to better understand cotton production, perceptions of cotton among consumers and the environmental impacts of fashion.
Krifa first received funding in 2018 for his “Cotton and Social Media Literacy” project. The students collect and analyze information about cotton collected from social networking sites, websites and customer comments and product reviews. Contrasting consumer perceptions with information collected from academic literature, case studies and expert interviews, the project provides students with skills to be literate and critical consumers of information and use evidence to make decisions.
Since 2018, more than 1,200 students have participated in this annual project and another 300 are expected to participate in 2023. All students are required to submit their work to the Kent State Symposium on Research, Scholarship and Creative Endeavors. Since the project began, more than 100 posters have been selected, and 30 students have received top awards for their work.
“Dr. Krifa and the faculty in the School of Fashion at Kent State University continue to be among the very best in the country in creating opportunities for their students,” said Mark Messura, Cotton Incorporated’s senior vice president for Global Supply Chain Marketing. “Through the nationally competitive grant program that Cotton Incorporated sponsors, we have a first hand view of the efforts at fashion, design, and merchandising programs across the United States. Kent State University’s faculty and leadership in the School of Fashion excels at creating opportunities for their students to learn and prepare for successful careers in the industry.”
Palomo-Lovinski is in the process of developing a course with her Cotton Incorporated funding for the Fashion Industry Studies graduate program that focuses on sustainability and life cycle assessment (LCA).
“Cotton is a popular and widely used fiber within the industry,” Palomo-Loviniski said. “By focusing on cotton within sustainable supply chain management and transparency, we're bound to see a rather large positive impact.”
An LCA looks at all of the metrics involved in every aspect of the supply chain process and examines the contributions to climate change. LCAs examine aspects like soil degradation, energy and water usage to create a fabric, as well as aspects of the design, manufacturing and shipping processes.
Often, LCAs are not readily available to the public, so to have access to Cotton Incorporated’s LCA is a huge learning tool for the course Palomo-Lovinski is developing.
“Our goal is to help graduate students be able to create LCAs for their companies or for future employers,” Palomo-Lovinski said. “It’s to create sustainable initiatives based on metrics and to have an understanding of how to start shifting and shaping policy.”
Undergraduate students in the fashion design or fashion merchandising programs are also learning about best practices for implementing sustainable practices into the world of fashion.
Riewe is teaching a course this semester with a project focused on zero waste design. Students are able to use 3D design software to work through the entire design process of four completed designs. The funding from Cotton in the Curriculum makes it possible for students to explore this 3D design tool and have access to cotton performance fabrics.
“I want students to understand cotton in terms of the relationship between cotton and sustainability,” Riewe said. “I hope they dig a little deeper into making sustainable choices because sometimes what we hear and read may not be the best choice.”
Sustainability is becoming just as important in the fashion industry as knowing how to sew or sketch a design. The School of Fashion hopes to prepare students to understand the importance of sustainable fashion through the help of the funding provided by Cotton Incorporated.
Bhaduri is working to broadly prepare students by developing a modular project for professors in the school to take and implement, in parts or in its entirety, into any course from freshman to senior level depending on the needs of the course.
The goal of this project is to help students look at the entire life cycle of cotton in a circular supply chain. Whether a professor is teaching about sourcing, buying or working on a capstone experience with students, elements in the project Bhaduri is developing can be taken and used in courses.
“For me, it’s making sure students understand the entire supply chain of cotton from where it’s produced to what happens to it after you wear it,” Bhaduri said. “This gives them an idea of the entire process, so that it’s not just one fiber, but it educates them on how to learn about other fibers as well.”
The connection with Cotton Incorporated and the funding it provides is helping to educate Kent State students and emerging leaders in the apparel and textile industry.
Learn more about the School of Fashion.
Learn more about the Cotton in the Curriculum grant program on the CottonWorks™ website. Cottonworks.com is Cotton Incorporated’s online industry resource for professionals, educators and emerging professionals in the apparel and textile industry.