How can we empower young people to be changemakers? SFS Insights

At the May SFS Community Call led by Izzie Eriksen, Founding Director at ApparelXchange, discussion covered the disjointed approach to sustainable fashion education in primary and secondary schools, the inspiring people and organisations tackling this, how actionable learning opportunities empower young people to be activists for the future, and that textile education requires a countrywide approach that can be sustained and reach all students in Scotland.

Below are our key takeaways from the call as well as recommended actions you can take, but you can watch the recording to listen to the full discussion.

Despite the great work being done in primary and secondary school textile education across Scotland, overall there is a disjointed approach to sustainable fashion education in schools.

Organisations such as ApparelXchange and Repair What You Wear have collated and created resources to help young people learn about sustainability in engaging, creative ways. Covered topics include how to repair by hand, knowledge on fibres, and planning and delivering sustainability marketing campaigns in schools. Other organisations working in this area include Rose’s Wardrobe/Creation Mill CIC, Arkdefo, Fashion Revolution Scotland, ACS Clothing, and — more indirectly — Fuel Change.

Progress is hindered due to a shortage of teachers with textile skills in primary and secondary schools, and on top of that external educators face barriers to teaching in the classroom.

Post-covid pressures mean there is reduced capacity for school teachers to implement additional learning themselves. It was acknowledged that colleges are beginning to address this textile knowledge gap in teaching programmes, but that there is still more work to do. Despite there being many people and organisations in the #SustFashScotland community who are equipped with the relevant skills, knowledge, and resources to teach, partnering with schools requires time to build trust with councils to then be recommended to schools, as children’s safety is (rightly) prioritised. How can we safely and most effectively connect external practitioners to support sustainable fashion education and sewing and repair skills in the classroom? One potential group of external practitioners mentioned during the call is the older generation who have these hand skills and potentially have more spare time to teach; this could provide a brilliant opportunity for intergenerational learning.

Young people are generally eager to learn, good with their hands*, more socially aware than we often assume, and want to know what action they can take to address the climate crisis as activists for the future.

While not all young people want to work in fashion, the variety of career pathways connected to sustainable textiles surfaced, including growing fibres, reuse, repair, and teaching. It was recommended to make learning opportunities engaging, enjoyable, and actionable. For example, Siobhan from ACS Clothing spoke about how they are building a textile garden in collaboration with India from Wild Hues (naturally dyed textiles, handmade in Glasgow) and will run workshops with schools to build it together. Siobhan also commented that young people have felt inspired to run sustainable fashion activities in their own school after attending events hosted by ACS Clothing. To prevent eco-anxiety and instead equip them with hope, young people need to be enabled to take positive action to help combat the climate crisis, emphasising accessible and inclusive options for everybody (considering income, class, freedom of choice when it comes to clothing, and time/capacity/mental space for learning repair skills.

*It was however noted that there is a noticeable lack of developed motor skills (such as using scissors or threading a needle) due to hand skills being underutilised in schools or at home.

Photo by Jorge Franganillo on Unsplash

While one lesson can make a huge difference, we need a countrywide approach in primary and secondary schools that can be sustained and reach all students in Scotland.

We need to work together with the knowledgeable, experienced people in the #SustFashScotland community who are already making change happen in this area; they require support and resourcing to increase their collective impact. To bring about change on a wide and deep (systemic) scale, we need sustained and multiple interventions that cater to different learning abilities and needs. An immediate way to make this happen is by ensuring individual projects have legacy, such as how ApparelXchange’s marketing campaign activity encourages students to then deliver the campaign in their school, or enabling monthly clothes swaps. While we work together on changing the countrywide curriculum, we can also make change happen by engaging young people in spaces outside of the classroom such as after school clubs, Girlguiding/Scouts, and intergenerational activities such as community gardens.

Other insights surfaced during the call related to the difficulty of measuring the impact of learning programmes for young people, due to many benefits being qualitative or long-term such as improved wellbeing or changing mindsets and behaviour (numbers vs narrative). We recognised a noticeable stigma around secondhand clothing in some young people related to class hierarchies, as some in a lower socioeconomic class prefer to buy new clothing to signal that they belong to a wealthier class higher up the hierarchy. This emphasises the need to consider how to normalise secondhand and swapping behaviours inclusively for all young people. Finally, we spoke of an eagerness to come together in-person now that covid restrictions are lifting — let’s hope we can do this more and more!

Illustration by SFS Volunteer Rachel Tame, @rtame_

Actions

  1. Collaborate to contribute to the Scottish Government’s ‘School uniforms in Scotland’ consultation, closing 14th October 2022, to ​​help draft principles to be incorporated into national guidance. Please contact us if you would be interested in collaborating on this with ApparelXchange and others in the #SustFashScotland community.
  2. While we work on changing the countrywide curriculum together, we can engage young people in other spaces such as after school clubs, Girlguiding/Scouts, and intergenerational activities such as community gardens.
  3. We can strengthen our network of educators, schools, councils, and textile practitioners who can take collective action to improve textile education in primary and secondary schools. Contact us if you would like to be part of this change.

We will be working our way backwards through past Community Call recordings and insights to upload to our website and Medium blog, so keep checking our social media (Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn) or subscribe to our newsletter (in your inbox every 2–3 weeks) to be the first to know as they become publicly available.

These insights were synthesised by SFS Directors Mairi Lowe and Liisa Lehtinen and were derived from the SFS Community Call on Thursday 26th May 2022, led by Izzie Eriksen. If you have any feedback, please get in touch. Please note we are working on making these insights more visual and accessible to reach a wider audience!

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Sustainable Fashion Scotland
Sustainable Fashion Scotland

SFS is a community-led nonprofit connecting the fashion community in Scotland and accelerating collective action for a sustainable fashion transformation.