Seneca hosts first symposium on sustainable fashion

Seneca’s School of Fashion recently joined the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Canada, a global network of postsecondary institutions. This week, in celebration of this membership, the school hosted a three-day Transforming Our World series at Newnham Campus. Events included a symposium, an exhibition showcasing student, alumni and faculty works, and the school’s fourth annual clothing swap that is part of its textile diversion initiative.

Ontario’s Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, who opened the symposium, applauded the school’s “important milestone” as deserving of recognition.

“It’s time for our collective consciousness to take hold,” she said.

In addition to Dowdeswell’s many accomplishments on the environmental sustainability front — she was the first woman to head the United Nations (UN) Environment Program — the lieutenant-governor is known for making her own clothes. She still gets up at 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings to sew.

“The fashion industry touches everyone on this earth … and you can make a difference,” she said to the students in attendance.

The School of Fashion has in recent years taken a leadership role in sustainable fashion education in Canada and posed the important question: What can we do?

Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell

The symposium was the first at Seneca dedicated to sustainable fashion. It highlighted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as identified by the UN in its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.

The Transforming Our World symposium focused on the importance of responsible consumption and production.

Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell opened the Transforming Our World symposium about sustainable fashion at Newnham Campus on Monday.

Sustainable Fashion 1The Transforming Our World exhibition showcased garments made with materials such as cork, handmade macramé and weaving, deadstock, upcycled denim and natural dyes.

“The UN goals are tangible,” said Professor Sabine Weber from the School of Fashion. “We have a global agenda to tackle climate change, and we have to ask ourselves how we as educators can work with our industry to help.”

From educating consumers to make responsible purchases and supporting companies that take social, environmental and economic aspects equally into consideration, Weber believes everyone has a role to play.

“Not everything is perfect, but it’s important that our decisions move us in the right direction,” she said.

In the words of a Fashion Arts grad, it’s the future.

For her graduation collection last year, Shiva Hashemi created five upcycled garments by bringing deadstock fabric and second-hand clothing back to life. She produced everything locally with locally found resources. The collection, which won the Sustainability Award for outstanding implementation of sustainability principles, was featured as part of the Transforming Our World exhibition.

“Sustainable fashion is not just branding or a marketing campaign,” Hashemi said. “It’s not a trend. It’s the future. You have to bring that into your life, as a person who cares about the environment and who is compassionate about the next generation and the planet we are living on.”

ShivaFashion Arts grad Shiva Hashemi’s graduation collection won the Sustainability Award last year. Her garments were featured as part of this week’s Transforming Our World exhibition at Newnham Campus.
A few years ago, in her home country of Iran, Hashemi made a series of handbags using organic natural fabrics. It was the designer’s first collection and at the time, she didn’t know much about the practice of sustainability.“I didn’t actually learn about sustainability until I came to Seneca,” she said. “I used to think that sustainable fashion was not practical and no one would buy my designs because it would be too expensive, but I was inspired by my professor and decided that’s the way I want to design.”

Not only has Hashemi sold 600 of her handbags, she now works at Greta Constantine, the Canadian luxury label in Toronto whose 2019 fall collection featured old fabrics from past collections.

“There’s definitely a focus on zero waste in the industry and that’s why I love Seneca’s approach to sustainability. The curriculum has a strong sustainable thread incorporated throughout the program and it’s very helpful for students to have an understanding of the issues,” she said.

“As a fashion designer, the combination of colours, the proportions and the esthetics of design are important, but they don’t have to compromise the planet and the people. I believe that in order to live a fuller, meaningful life, one doesn’t have to sacrifice the beauty and comfort of their clothing — if the designer has done his or her job well.”

Want more? Check out our photo gallery of the Transforming Our World symposium.

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