Filipino fashion teachers on sustainability

Where is the best place to start talking about ‘sustainable fashion’? School.

by George Buid

An exhibit of the fashion students at the College of Fine Arts and Design of the University of Santo Tomas. © UST


The fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to the pollution affecting our natural world. This is not news. But there are people who are attempting to address this. Case in point: fashion schools.

In a country like the Philippines, whose plastic pollution ranks third, after Indonesia and China, it is no surprise that schools feel the responsibility to take part in sustainability efforts. Fashion schools like Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship: Fashion, Arts and Design (ICE-FAD) and College of Fine Arts and Design at the University of Santo Tomas (CFAD-UST) have done so.

On September 28, ICE-FAD introduced their new breed of fashion designers, who were taught about sustainable fashion through upcycling, one of their methods to introduce the concept of ‘circular economy’ to their students.

Each piece was made out of clippings and/or recycled fabrics from old clothes. Most of them are handsewn by students with the guidance and support of mentors from ICE-FAD.

Irene Grace Subang, a fashion teacher, says: “As an educator and designer, I believe it is my duty to my students to inform them about the global pollution the fashion industry is causing. Experiment with solutions we can both work with, towards sustainability, and inspire them to take up the cause with me as sustainable fashion warriors.” 

Upcycled design by one of the students of Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship: Fashion, Arts and Design (ICE-FAD). © GEORGE BUID

Irene has given lectures on sustainable fashion at ICE-FAD, iAcademy, and SoFA Design Institute, among others. The challenge that Irene faces is that clothes are still made using traditional processes; sustainable fashion is still novel to most designers, production companies, and manufacturers. To cope with these challenges, she immerses her students in films and workshops about sustainability and the cost of clothing retail manufacturing to global pollution.

Though wastage cannot be avoided, she encourages them to upcycle their scrap into something beautiful. The True Cost, for instance, was one of the documentary films she showed her class, as it encapsulates everything wrong with the way we consume and produce clothes.

Monina Tan-Santiago, CEO of ICE-FAD, shares her thoughts on why ICE-FAD included sustainable fashion in their curriculum. We decided to include sustainability in our curriculum, because ICE believes that to help solve or ease our ecological crisis, we should begin with education,” she says.

“As educators in the fashion industry, we believe that we must do our part in educating future designers and entrepreneurs on their role in reducing carbon footprint in order to ensure a sustainable future for the next generation.”

Upcycled design by one of the students of Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship: Fashion, Arts and Design (ICE-FAD). © GEORGE BUID

However, Monina says that the fashion industry in the Philippines, not just students or designers, also need to fully embrace the practice. “The availability and cost of sustainable fabrics are also some of the challenges we are facing,” she adds.

Meanwhile, Reah Benedicta Goodwin, a college instructor at the CFAD-UST, has also championed discussions on sustainable fashion in her university. I saw first hand how wasteful this industry is while I was working in the industry back in L.A. several years ago. Back then, very few people or organisations cared about sustainable or ethical fashion. That was during the height of fast fashion. Consumers cared more for trend, quantity and variety.”

“When I came back here, I saw the influx of thrift stores and eventually learned where most of them came from. That time I was already upcycling many of my clothing,” she adds.

“I had the opportunity to interject the concept of upcycling when I was given the Fashion Elective load at UST CFAD. I saw this as a perfect venue to teach our students how to be responsible designers by not only caring about the design aesthetics but by being mindful of the sources of their products as well as how it will impact the environment and the people.”

Much like the instructors at ICE, Reah says teaching sustainable fashion is not without its difficulties. She explains: “My biggest limitation is time: both the time to teach such a big concept and the time to monitor if what I taught them made enough impact for them to practice [sustainable methods like upcycling] in real life. As an instructor, I measure the success of a lesson when our students practice a concept even after I have graded them.

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