Exploration of the meaning of sustainability in textiles and apparel discipline and prospects for curriculum enhancement

Pasricha, Anupama
Major Professor
Sara J. Kadolph
Committee Member
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Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management

Sustainability is gaining importance because of heightened ecological challenges. The UN declared 2005-2014 as the decade of sustainable development encouraging educational institutions at all levels to nurture ecologically literate individuals. An ecologically literate person has the knowledge necessary to comprehend interrelatedness among individuals, society and nature, an attitude of care or stewardship, and the practical competence required to act on the basis of knowledge and feelings.

This study focuses on developing an understanding of the definition of the term sustainability, and expectations related to sustainability for education in the discipline of textiles and apparel. Focus group interviews with college students provided an understanding as to how they define sustainability and how they take action to embody sustainable behavior in their personal and professional lives. The focus group interviews describe their ecological literacy level and understanding of sustainability. In order to get a holistic perspective, individual interviews with two additional audiences (academic and industry) were conducted.

Results of focus groups indicated that students use a variety of terms to define sustainability and view it from an ecocentric perspective, but complete understanding and a comprehensive definition are absent. Results of individual interviews indicate that a life-long learning focus is critical to understand sustainability and its connection to the textile and apparel industry.

Overall, results indicated that students are engaged with sustainability and take actions based on their knowledge, but that their knowledge is limited. Themes related to environment, longevity, recycling, resource depletion and conservation, mass engagement, conscious shopping behavior, cost of sustainable choices and a lack of education for sustainability were common among the three types of interviewees. Student's ecocentric perspective focused on environmental sustainability while experts had a balance of social and environmental sustainability.

The results of question on curriculum provided valuable insights on content and pedagogy from all three groups of interviews. Implications of this research address students, educators, textiles and apparel professionals and businesses, and consumers.