Changing how we live

It’s hard to imagine a time when people have placed such an emphasis on looking good as they do now. Beauty blogs, style influencers and street-fashion photography pressure people to dress to impress every day. Though you might think this is good for the global apparel market, Leslie Holden of the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) knows there’s a problem. After all, only one per cent of what we wear is recycled into new garments, and the clothing industry is the second-largest polluter in the world after oil.  He knows the future of the industry, and his students, depends on protecting the planet. 

As AMFI’s head of fashion & design and head of MA fashion enterprise creation, Holden promotes an approach to clothing that’s stylish and sustainable. The largest institution of its kind in the Netherlands, AMFI has more than 1,100 students across three departments – fashion and design, fashion and management and fashion and branding – and offers both bachelor’s and master’s programmes. It’s also the only Dutch school that educates students about the entire fashion chain, from initial concept through to finished product.  

 

Taking a stand

Though AMFI has long been committed to sustainability, Holden believes the issue has become increasingly urgent in recent years.  “It’s always been there, but more on the periphery,” he explains to I amsterdam from his office in the city, “It’s really been in the last three years that it’s become more important for us to integrate sustainability into the curriculum. As an educator, I can’t justify teaching students to be young professionals in an industry that is one of the biggest polluters in the world. We’re working on new methods of education, and other ways we can prepare them to be change-makers instead of followers.”

When it comes to helping the planet, AMFI isn’t shy. In 2018, the school created a bold manifesto clearly stating its guiding principles. “The first line says we believe fashion is a force for good,” Holden says, “and our education is focused towards doing good, too. We’re very aware that the industry is shifting, and that sustainability must be part of that shift.” He also thinks students must be prepared for a rapidly-changing world requiring constant development and growth. “The advantages of technology, particularly AI, will make [the industry] expand even more. How do we deal with that? AMFI is looking at changing the mindset of students so that when they graduate they will have the skills needed to adapt and learn because we don’t yet know where the industry is going.”

Holden feels a need to help students approach their future careers with a unique mindset as well. ‘’We want to prepare graduates who can see the industry from a different perspective,” he says. “At AMFI, we’re not looking at sustainability as an on-the-side thing. We’re looking at how it cuts through everything. We don’t want the industry to be so damaging to the world. We have to find other ways and methods.”

 

A top priority

Fashion brands are also increasingly viewing sustainability as a requirement, and not just an option. “In the last year or two, sustainability has become a hot topic and it’s now firmly on the agenda. It’s taken a long time to come to this point where people are expecting that it’s something that has to be done and that it’s not a choice anymore,” Holden says, adding that young people are driving this change. “We’re on the cusp of going from the millennials to generation Z, and they are really a different group of students. They’re very value-centred, so for them, there’s no question about sustainability. It must be done.”

Though the fashion world has a long way to go, knowing AMFI students will be leading the way gives reason for hope. With their focus on reducing waste and pollution while creating clothing made to last beyond a single wash, they’re taking the reins and heading in a new direction. Leslie and his colleagues are ready to help them along the way. “We are creating the designers of the future, and we have to ensure they have the right mindset before going into the industry. Old formulas are being thrown out the window, and all of these things are changing because of technology; we have to prepare students for a different kind of industry, one that admits that change is needed.”

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