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Mainstream fashion media’s recent willingness to embrace trendy green solutions is certainly welcome but also needs to be viewed with caution.  For advertising-driven platforms, the truth of their claims – their credibility as profit-seeking brands –  means that social media and other forms of new media are still sources that must be viewed within context and perhaps with a dose of healthy cynicism. 

For years, experts from a multitude of fields – academics, business leaders, and graduate students alike – have been preaching the gospel of more ethical and sustainable alternatives to our typical consumption and production of clothing. But often, these stakeholders are siloed, with academics in sustainability MBA programs, design schools, and environmental science departments rarely communicating. In order to bring some of these like minds together, The New Fashion Initiative collaborated with sustainable brand Eileen Fisher for the inaugural Academic Consortium, hosted in September of 2019. The event sought to facilitate connections between these movers and shakers of a range of sectors who traditionally would not have the opportunity to collide and collaborate.

The attendees, which featured the likes of academics like Timo Rassanen and Hunter Lovins as well as entrepreneurs like Abrima Erwia from Studio 189 and Jessica Schreiber from FABSCRAP, gathered in New York City then travelled to Eileen Fisher’s headquarters in Irvington, NY. Each attendee gave fifteen-minute presentations about their work with fashion and sustainability. Following time to share individual pursuits, TNFI facilitators Joelle Firzli and Elizabeth Cline led the group in a roundtable discussion about what techniques they have found successful in their field. 

The dialogue that developed among attendees spanned academic fields, economic sectors, and geographical locations. Their bountiful conversations highlighted the interconnectedness of issues like climate justice, labor rights, indigenous sovereignty, and unsustainable garment production. Participants walked away feeling hopeful, connected, and prepared to speak power into action: “I appreciated … that the focus was on sharing ideas and coming up with proactive solutions and not just talking … the guests really wanted to have real impact.”

A year and a half later, there is much room to grow the consortium, with the availability of enhanced resources and exposure. TNFI’s vision for the future of this event involves creating regional hubs to facilitate a more frequent exchange of ideas between advocates of sustainable fashion. These hubs will be the fertile soil in which interdisciplinary ideas can take root: think of MBA students learning from MFA students and vice versa, researchers from different disciplines working side by side, the development of interdisciplinary curricula, and more. We also hope to expand workshops and enable access to the research and innovation being produced by our attendees, as well as organize guest lectures for students entering relevant domains following their education. TNFI has already breathed life into its intentions for the Academic Consortium, entering the undergraduate academic space and helping create collaborative curricula with colleges and universities like Brown University. 

The work of The New Fashion Initiative is urgent: stakeholders can no longer lead parallel projects with naiveté as the intersectedness of their passions becomes unmistakably clear. Bringing together these different areas of expertise is essential for developing both effective solutions and effective leaders. TNFI’s Academic Consortium program aims to do just that. Any donations will help the growth of these initiatives tremendously.

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