Future fit, socially responsible fashion designers: The role of fashion education



Fashion, Jewellery & Textile Design


  • accountability, ethics, good citizenship, sustainability


The multifaceted and complex phenomena of ethics and accountability have relevance for the current discourse of fashion design. This is evident in the choice of materials used, the conditions under which clothing is produced, as well as how designers think about and implement the practice of fashion. Fashion practice has environmental and ethical impacts that ultimately connect human wellbeing and society with sustainable practice.

In this paper, the scope of ethics in design is positioned within the context of social responsibility in fashion design practice and fashion education. The author borrows Sterling’s (2011) future fit framework for teaching and learning for sustainability in higher education and applies this notion to fashion design practice and education. Future fit fashion designers reflect dedication, responsibility and moral duty. However, evidence suggests that fashion students seldom engage in ecological thinking and socially responsible practices in design, instead succumbing to the notions of design for seasonal fashion trends, and egotistical and financial desires (Szenasy 2009, pp. 170-171). In order to develop more socially responsible fashion practice, the role of fashion education perhaps requires a shift towards fostering future fit, socially responsible fashion designers in support of ethics and accountability in design as opposed to design for personal indulgence. This paper responds to this challenge in a two-fold manner.

First, the author theoretically contextualizes social responsibility in fashion design praxis. Adopting a desktop method, the author draws on theoretical perspectives on the constructs of sustainability, environment and ethics in the practice of fashion design. Linking these theoretical constructs to the educational context, the paper explores the role of fashion education in fostering future fit, socially responsible fashion designers.

Thereafter, the author pursues a qualitative research design employing questionnaires so as to gather data   from   fashion   design   students   at   a   South   African   Higher   Education   Institution.      The questionnaires aim to obtain the perspectives of fashion students in relation to: 1) how fashion education can create a culture and awareness of social responsibility in design and 2) the fashion curriculum  content  and  didactics  required  to  cultivate  future  fit,  socially  responsible  fashion designers. Theoretical contextualization may provide significant evidence but fashion students are important stakeholders in the educational context as they constitute the ‘next generation’ of fashion designers. As such, the perspectives of fashion students are taken into account through empirical data collection.  To analyse the questionnaire data, content analysis is used to categorize raw data into themes.

This paper is relevant to the fields of both fashion design practice and design education. In an attempt to foster more socially responsible, future fit fashion designers, this paper makes a significant and valuable academic contribution pertaining to social responsibility in fashion design and fashion education. Given these contributions, the paper aligns with the overarching theme of ethics and accountability in design.

DEFSA conferences

DEFSA promotes relevant research with the focus on design + education through its biennial conferences, to promote professionalism, accountability and ethics in the education of young designers. Our next conference is a hybrid event. See above for details.

Critical skills endorsement

Professional Members in good standing can receive a certificate of membership, but DEFSA cannot provide confirmation or endorsement of skills whatsoever. DEFSA only confirm membership of DEFSA which is a NPO for Design Education in South Africa (https://www.defsa.org.za/imagine).