I love fashion! I have always loved fashion! In fact, I do not remember a time when I was not absorbed with the sensual joys of both the art and craft of fashion – the feel of wool satin, the beadwork of Lanvin, the construction details of Charles James, the brilliance of Alexander McQueen. And as I ventured to the university to study clothing and textiles, my goal was to somehow bring together my love of fashion and a career. At the time, becoming a fashion designer seemed too ethereal to me. I did not want to work in retailing. But as a junior in college I took a social research course and decided that I would enjoy becoming a marketing researcher. What would that take? “A graduate degree” I was told by my advisor at Washington State University. So off I went to Purdue University to study marketing research, being funded through a graduate teaching assistantship. Through my experience as a GTA I found that I actually liked teaching. Would there be a way to combine all of these loves – fashion, marketing research, and teaching? Yes, by becoming a university professor. And so after completing my PhD in 1981, I launched my career teaching and conducting research on consumer behavior of fashion. During the 1980s the fashion industry was changing dramatically and evolving into a global industry with fashions sold in the US being made throughout the world. What did this mean for our industry? What did this mean for my teaching and research? I soon found out.
In 1996 the Kathie Lee Gifford sweatshop scandal hit; and in 1997 the NY Time published an article about environmentally unsafe conditions in Nike’s footwear factories in Vietnam. More news reports of sweatshop conditions around the world. United Students against Sweatshops chapters popped up on many campuses. I became embarrassed to be part of the industry that I loved. But, what could I do to create a better tomorrow for the fashion industry? As a consumer researcher, I explored the role of labeling on consumer decision making -- could there be labeling or information that would affect consumers to purchase socially responsible fashion? What I and other researchers discovered was that although consumers do care about these issues they do not necessarily act on their care when purchasing fashions – other things are much more important in their decision making – style, fit, price.
I then decided that I needed to help make change at the corporate level – and who best to make those changes than the corporate decision makers of the future – my students. Fortunately, at the time there were many faculty wanting to address these difficult issues in our courses and Educators for Socially Responsible Apparel Business was created as a forum for exchanging ideas. I taught my courses using a corporate social responsibility paradigm, striving to instill in my students that every one of them, regardless of their role/position in a company, could make a difference through asking questions within the corporate environment and making the right decisions. Most students loved this approach – many of them seeking to work with socially responsible companies. In 2008 I took a year-long sabbatical where I traveled to countries throughout Asia, visiting factories and meeting with scholars and industry professionals. If I was asking my students to ask difficult questions of companies, I needed to do the same. I also realized I needed additional training and was fortunate to get a grant to complete the Lead Auditor Training Course offered by the Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) organization. I created, in partnership with WRAP, a number of learning modules that I used in my courses. After 30+ years as an educator, I now bring this expertise and passion to companies themselves – to update, engage, and inspire those in the fashion industry to create a better tomorrow for our industry. I will always love fashion! And I want to be proud of the positive role our industry can play in the lives of so many around the world. I hope you do too!
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