RMCAD Professor Inspires the Future of Sustainable Fashion

Today, many people are growing more and more conscious of how their choices affect the environment. ‘Sustainable fashion’ is an increasingly popular phrase that can be heard both in the world and in RMCAD’s classrooms. Luckily, RMCAD is aware that the future of fashion is sustainable fashion, and Professor Deb Henriksen teaches this firsthand in RMCAD’s Sustainable Fashion course.

Henriksen’s passion for sustainability has been a part of her professional life for as long as she remembers. She has worked in Hazardous Waste Management as well as in the fashion world as a designer and owner of her own sustainable fashion brand, Equilibrium. As a professor, she hopes to encourage students to leave her class with a different, more environmentally-friendly perspective than they came in with.

The core of her lessons focus on defining one’s personal ethics and responsibilities, and helping students understand what is important to them in regards to sustainable fashion. Her teachings allow future fashion designers to be more aware and conscious of the environmental and social impacts they have. We chatted with Professor Henriksen to learn even more about sustainable fashion!

Can you tell us about the most popular sustainable practice(s) students adopt?
The majority of students start by looking at the materials they are using and make the switch to choosing more sustainable items. They decide to use textiles that are compostable or biodegradable, such as natural fibers and some biotextiles. Others decide to use deadstock fabrics or vintage materials to divert from landfills.

In this course, students learn various zero waste techniques, including how to design with minimal cuts and how to create a piece that can be reused or composted at the end of its life. It’s my goal to teach foundational sustainability principles that can be developed into applications for everything, but especially fashion.

What brands or companies do you think are the most sustainable?
In my opinion, I feel that Patagonia has been exemplary in being a responsibly sustainable brand. They have influenced me as a consumer since the early 90’s and as a designer since 1998 with my own brand. I encourage my students to always do their research regarding brands to see if a brand is truly sustainable. Ask yourself, are the brand’s practices, ethics and values displayed in what they do and how they operate? Everyone is capable of becoming a conscious consumer and making informed decisions about a brand, while also mindfully voting with their dollars.

What challenges do designers face when trying to be more sustainable?
The most common challenge is staying creative, especially when faced with sustainability challenges. Each student completes their own Sustainable Ethics Profile or ethics questionnaire at the beginning of the class, where they address their environmental goals. However, making a commitment to being a part of the solution and sticking to their predetermined ethics can be challenging for students. This class is meant to have lasting sustainability impacts not only in fashion, but in student’s lives. That is the root of where it all begins, small daily choices with large exponential impacts.

What tips and tricks are helpful for students who want to adopt a more sustainable wardrobe?
Look at what you have first and make alterations and repairs to expand the lifespan of your items. It’s important to remember that wardrobes are built over time, so invest in staple pieces that you can mix and match. In addition, update how you wear classics with accessories and make nice shoes a part of your daily wardrobe. Quality is worth paying especially when it increases the lifespan of your items.

To learn even more about sustainable fashion design, check out our Fashion Design program and apply today!