The Top 5 Sustainable Fashion Design Programs in the World

If you've been paying attention to the fashion industry the past few years, you know that sustainable design is more important than ever. Our clothing consumption has reached an all time high, and in response, advocates for mindful, more eco-friendly design are screaming their message louder than ever. And it seems the fashion industry is finally listening: The CFDA recently created the first-ever sustainability committee , Levi's and Zara have committed to going toxic-free, and H&M has unveiled a series of ambitious sustainable design projects. The growing trend towards sustainable and ethically designed clothing is not only helping to create a greener planet--it's created a whole new job market, one where having an education in sustainable design may give you a considerable edge in the industry. Here are the best sustainable design programs out there.
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Hayley Phelan
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If you've been paying attention to the fashion industry the past few years, you know that sustainable design is more important than ever. Our clothing consumption has reached an all time high, and in response, advocates for mindful, more eco-friendly design are screaming their message louder than ever. And it seems the fashion industry is finally listening: The CFDA recently created the first-ever sustainability committee , Levi's and Zara have committed to going toxic-free, and H&M has unveiled a series of ambitious sustainable design projects. The growing trend towards sustainable and ethically designed clothing is not only helping to create a greener planet--it's created a whole new job market, one where having an education in sustainable design may give you a considerable edge in the industry. Here are the best sustainable design programs out there.
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If you've been paying attention to the fashion industry the past few years, you know that sustainable design is more important than ever.

Our clothing consumption has reached an all time high, and in response, advocates for mindful, more eco-friendly design are screaming their message louder than ever. And it seems the fashion industry is finally listening: The CFDA recently created the first-ever sustainability committee, Levi's and Zara have committed to going toxic-free, and H&M has unveiled a series of ambitious sustainable design projects.

The growing trend towards sustainable and ethically designed clothing is not only helping to create a greener planet--it's created a whole new job market, one where having an education in sustainable design may give you a considerable edge in the industry.

"As our population continues to grow, sustainability will only become more important," Melissa Joy Manning, co-chair of the CFDA's sustainable committee told us. "Learning to incorporate sustainable practices at process inception will add both a competitive advantage and encourage smart design."

"The education space is possibly one of the greatest places for possibility to be guided and developed into the change that we need in the world," Dilys Williams, Director of Sustainable Fashion at the Center for Sustainable Fashion, said. "Education for sustainability applied to fashion gives us ways to explore, test out, visualise what we might be, who we are as citizens and to wear our values for each other to see."

In other words: As the demand for more sustainable and ethically designed clothing increases among consumers, so too does the demand for designers trained in those fields.

"Absolutely, I think it's a smart investment for students to learn about sustainable design, because it's very much the future of our industry," Amy Williams, chair of the fashion program at the California College of Arts, said.

So, with that in mind, and this being Earth Day and all, we rounded up the top five eco-minded fashion programs all around the globe.

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California College of Arts (San Francisco, California)

What They Offer: MBA in Design Strategy and BA in Fashion Design

Overview: CCA may not be the best-known fashion school in the world, but it's home to the longest-running sustainable fashion design program in the country. "We've been doing this for over 10 years," Amy Williams, chair of the Fashion Program, said. "Lynda Grose, one of our lead professors, has been in this practice since 1990, really deeply a part of this [movement], and she brought it into the program 14 years ago." It's also one of the only fashion schools where studying sustainable design is mandatory.

Their Approach: According to their site, the program "unites the perspectives of design and integrative thinking, sustainability and systems thinking, finance, entrepreneurship, and generative leadership into a holistic strategic framework." Williams adds, "One more thing is that we don't feel that the first thing you notice about sustainable clothing is that it is sustainable. We want to make beautiful clothing. But it should be a given the clothing is mindfully crafted, and has sustainability embedded inside of it, rather than screaming it on the outside."

Notable Professors and Guest Lecturers: Lynda Grose, co-founder of ESPRIT’s ecollection, the first ecologically responsible clothing line developed by a major corporation which set pioneering standards for the textile industry; Bob Adams, designer/farmer and IDEO Fellow; Karen Brown, creative director of the Center for Ecoliteracy; Amanda Cattermole, Levi Strauss & Co.; Timo Rissanen, pioneer in no-waste pattern cutting and coeditor (with Alison Gwilt) of Shaping Sustainable Fashion; John Warner, founder of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry; Eric Wilmanns, cofounder, Brown and Wilmanns Sustainability

Notable Courses and Workshops: Eco: Sustainability Seminar, Sustainability Studio, Innovation Studio, Leadership by Design.

Tuition: MBA in Design Management: $39,984 BA in Fashion Design: $39,984 *A spokesperson for the school added that 85% of the school's students are on scholarship.

Apply here

Photo: London College of Fashion

Photo: London College of Fashion

London College of Fashion (London, UK)

What They Offer: MA in Fashion and the Environment

Overview: London College of Fashion is home to the Center for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), which was founded in 2008 and is now recognized as a leader in sustainable fashion education. The school's master in Fashion and the Environment program is supported by the CSF--a relationship that affords opportunities for holistic, interdisciplinary, multi-levelled research which has seen numerous students go on to the PhD level.

In addition to offering some of the most innovative courses in sustainable fashion design, the CSF at LCF is also involved in a series of initiatives including opening the UK’s first sustainable fashion lab (in collaboration with Marks & Spencer), and launching Shared Talent India, which encourages designers to exchange expertise with other protagonists across the supply chain. They also hold the annual Fashioning the Future Awards, which rewards innovative sustainable designs from students and graduates across the globe in categories such as "Unique Design Award" and "Unique Materials and Processes Award."

Their Approach: "Center for Sustainable Fashion at London College of Fashion challenges the status quo through sustainability as the ideation process for design and making fashion, working in collaboration with fashion industry leaders and change makers creates a dynamic relationship that is both imaginative and pragmatic," according to Dilys Williams, Director of Sustainable Fashion.

Notable Professors and Guest Lecturers: Professor Sandy Black, author of seminal book Eco Chic: The Fashion Paradox; Kate Fletcher, founder of the “slow fashion” movement and celebrated author

Notable Courses: New Perspectives on Fashion, Sustainability Solutions

Tuition: For UK and EU students: £7,500 (Full Time); £3,750 per year (Part Time) *A Rector’s Scholarship worth £5,000 is available to UK and EU students on this course – click here for more information. For International students: £13,800 (Full time)

Apply here.

Photo: Parsons

Photo: Parsons

Parsons The New School for Design (New York, USA)

What They Offer: Sustainable fashion courses, option to specialize in sustainability

Overview: Parsons was one of the first leading fashion schools to recognize the importance of sustainable design, offering one of the world's first fashion courses in zero waste developed by Timo Rissanen. And they're working to increase the amount of courses offered on the discipline in the near future: Parsons will be rolling out a new course this fall that will be required for all freshman that teaches them the basics of sustainability, and will be a building block for future courses in the program.

Their Approach: Parsons does not have a specific program that specializes in sustainable fashion design preferring instead to build sustainability into "everything they do." The school offers innovative courses on the subject, and, according to a Parsons spokesperson, a number of students choose to focus on sustainability for their thesis collection. They also work with industry leaders on special projects--most notably partnering with Loomstate--with the goal of creating jeans that are as close to zero waste as possible but are also good-looking.

Notable Professors and Guest Lecturers: Timo Rissanen, zero-waste menswear designer and author; Bernard Kahn, fashion industry consultant for large companies for over 25 years; Dr. Hazel Clark, Research Chair of Fashion at Parsons and author of countless seminal publications

Notable Courses: Zero Waste Design, Sustainable Fashion, Ethical Fashion, EcoFashion: Sustainable Solutions

Tuition: $38,510

Apply here

Photo: FIT

Photo: FIT

Fashion Institute of Technology (New York, USA)

What They Offer: Sustainable Design Entrepreneur Certificate Program, BFA

Overview: FIT incorporates sustainability practices into their BFA in their Fashion Design curriculum, however they also offer a thorough and intensive certificate program that focuses exclusively on sustainable design.

Their Approach: According to an FIT spokesperson: "The certificate program gives design entrepreneurs the knowledge, tools, and access to resources they need to build a viable business based on sustainable design practices. A series of four-week classes was developed for fashion designers serious about sustainability. These classes are non-credit and open to the public, conveniently scheduled, and very inexpensive. This makes them accessible to the designers who flock to New York City after training in schools everywhere in the world including graduates of New York City design schools who studied before sustainability was integrated into design curricula."

Notable Professors and Guest Lecturers: Neil Chambers, Sustainable Director, Chambers Design; Jeffrey Silberman, sustainable cotton expert; Nathan Fleisig, Social Responsibility & Compliance Manager at Outerstuff, responsible for global compliance at Adidas/Reebok; Nicole Schorr, Founder, Zero to Sixty Communications; Lisa Hendrickson, an idea generator and a solution provider to Fortune 500 companies.

Notable Courses: The Sustainable Organization, Sustainable Marketing, Responsible Manufacturing and Product Life Cycle, Ethical Fashion, Sustainable Design Technology: Farm to Retail

Cost: $115 per four-week course

Register here

Photo: ESMOD

Photo: ESMOD

ESMOD Berlin (Berlin, Germany)

What They Offer: MA Sustainability in Fashion

Overview: ESMOD's International Masters Program in Sustainability in Fashion, begun in 2011, is the first of its kind in Germany--and one of the most forward-thinking, holistic in all of Europe.

Their Approach: The innovative, English-taught program takes a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to design positioning itself as ecologically, ethically, socially and economically sustainable. The course symbiotically unifies research, education, practice and business to inspire students to explore new solutions with critical rigor.

Notable Professors and Guest Lecturers: Friederike Von Wedel-Parlow, established sustainable fashion designer; Rolf Heimann, expert in textile ecology; Renate Stauss, expert on politics of fashion; Hessnatur's Maximilian Lang and Miguel Adrover; Kirsten Brodde, Senior Campaigner, Greenpeace DETOX Campaign.

Notable Courses: Sustainable Design Strategies, Sustainable Marketing, Sustainable Knowledge, Sustainable Production & Textiles

Tuition: 11.500 Euros for EU residents and 14.500 Euros for non-EU residents which is payable in four installments

Apply here