Mason and VCU Students Join Forces for a Fashion Revolution

by Ben Auger

Mason and VCU Students Join Forces for a Fashion Revolution

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

“‘Fast fashion’ is the very definition of unsustainability,” said George Mason University’s School of Integrative Studies term instructor Sharon Spradling. And that’s why Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU)’s Department of Fashion Design + Merchandising and George Mason University’s School of Integrative Studies created a cross-university project advancing sustainable fashion as a solution. 

During the week of April 19, 2021, students at Mason and VCU will launch their own digital education and advocacy campaigns in support of Fashion Revolution’s global Fashion Revolution Week 2021. This week is part of Fashion Revolution’s global movement creating a more sustainable fashion industry, and this year’s theme focuses on the interconnectedness of human rights and the rights of nature. Sadly, this year also marks the eighth anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed at least 1,132 people and injured many more. It is injustice like this that inspired VCU faculty members Kimberly Guthrie and Tammy Davis, along with Spradling, to design this project.  

“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.”

At each university, students organized into nine teams based on their interest in the Ten Tenets of Fashion Revolution’s Manifesto, which outline the organization’s vision for dignified work, environmental conservation, and respect for heritage. Each of the teams developed an individual education and advocacy campaign, and on April 19  the Mason teams will connect with the VCU teams to jointly launch their campaigns on their institutions’ respective Instagram accounts, @fashionrevvcu or @fashionrevgmu.

“When students work together to educate and advocate for sustainable fashion with confidence, they can change the world,” said Guthrie.

For the first day of the campaign on April 19, individual students will post on Instagram using the #LovedClothesLast to celebrate their individual history and love of a special garment or pair of shoes. This emphasizes 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.

Davis said, “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.’” 

On April 20, the second day of the campaign, students will showcase Fashion Revolution as an organization and as a movement. On April 21, students will share Instagram posts that focus on select tenets from Fashion Revolution’s Manifesto. Students will align the tenets with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, commonly referred to as the SDGs. 

On the final day of the campaign, April 23, students will select from Fashion Revolution’s “Who Made My Clothes?” “What’s in My Clothes?” or the recently announced “Who Made My Fabric?” initiatives 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.

Fashion Revolution’s Regional Director provided valuable guidance and advice while ensuring the project aligns with Fashion Revolution’s vision and Manifesto. Spradling said, “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.”

Throughout the project, Mason’s Office of Sustainability and VCU’s Office of Sustainability 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. And this project provides the Mason Nation with an opportunity to make an impact at Mason and beyond,” said Ben Auger, program manager for education and outreach in Mason’s Office of Sustainability.  

After the campaign concludes, the faculty members involved envision expanding the project across higher education institutions around the world for Fashion Revolution Week 2022. Guthrie said, “Students are the changemakers of today and tomorrow. 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.”