By Brinley Knopf
FIT is very cognizant and conscious of sustainability, the environment and the horrifying, hampering results of fast fashion; with that recognition comes the catalyst of change, known at FIT as the Director of Sustainability.
The post held by William Rossi will be vacated this fall; his successor, Ishani Shah, is an idealist with extravagant enthusiasm for the eco-friendly, eco-conscious and humane. When we sat down for our interview, she spoke at length, eyes alight with her excitement; she handed me an eight-page paper itemizing and detailing her plans. “You can keep that,” she said, smiling. “But please, don’t forget to recycle it.”
Q: What about this position made you want to apply?
A: I’ve taken a lot from this environment. We’re in fashion, which is the world’s second most polluting industry after oil, which is worrisome; however, it’s also about redefining and recreating change. As a member of society and a responsible citizen, I thought it was my duty to contribute, give back and protect the environment.
Q: What are your thoughts on the relationship between fast fashion, the fashion industry and sustainability?
A: Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying. The planet is facing severe challenges because of [fast fashion]. The fashion industry is resource-demanding, which causes environmental and political problems. In terms of those environmental concerns, for instance, cotton uses as many pesticides as corn. 20,000 liters of water is used to create 2.20 pounds of cotton, which is used to make just one T-shirt. 1.8 billion people don’t access to drinking water. This is the vicious cycle of fast fashion. With a constant search for high profits and fast turnaround, a garment now costs less than a sandwich. How can a product that’s harvested, sewn, knitted, cut, packed and transported cost a couple of dollars? The good part is fashion is innovative and fashion can CHANGE. That’s what we are here to do.
Q: How do you feel about the Fashion Revolution?
A: The Fashion Revolution is a campaign that started after the Rana Plaza collapsed. Over 1,000 people were killed and thousands more were injured on April 24, 2013. The factory was extended without permits and house generators on the roof to counter power outages. Employees complained about the cracks in the walls and other problems they faced but the management ignored them and demanded they return to their work. So, on the very day, everyone came to work and during rush hours, sure enough, the building finally collapsed and people died for fast fashion. And as more tragedies within fashion supply chains spurred afterwards, a greater lens was centered around the problems in the supply chain. The problems today we face ignore everything else in order to make profits. We need more transparency in business models. The Fashion Revolution at FIT is a week where we make the general public more aware of those unethical practices by asking the question who made my clothes? This year, we had a photo booth on April 26th and panel discussion with Alden Wicker, the founder of Ecocult. Mark Bane, the author of Quartz, is also going to come and do a panel discussion. All these events are free; they’re here to help FIT students understand, see the importance of being kind to the environment and realize their responsibility as both fashion students and global citizens. We want students to start small, doing things like reusing paper bags and knowing what they’re wearing and where it comes from, because unhappy hands don’t make happy clothes. Sustainability isn’t just about being green and clean, it’s also about knowing where your clothing comes from and under what conditions and circumstances it’s made in.
Q: What are your thoughts about what William Rossi has done as Director of Sustainability?
A: William Rossi has co-chaired a planning committee for a week of events that pertain to sustainability, headlined on Patagonia’s Worn Wear Tour, chaired the student-led Fashion Revolution Committee to coordinate all Fashion Revolution events, secured funding for more sustainable student-led initiatives and events and attended various conferences, sharing the mission of FIT’s sustainable initiatives. As a student, I think everything he’s achieved is commendable. I think even the smallest contribution makes a big difference. I really look forward to working with William, as he’s still going to be on the sustainability council, and will be an important and integral adviser and mentor for me to confer with
Q: What do you plan to do in this position to make a difference?
A: Fashion has the power to not only redefine our own industry but also become a role model for others to reinvent their practices. I plan to start with small changes from the first day of school. During orientation week, I encourage recycling and reusing boxes for move-in days. One of the first plans I thought of was a similar program; in collaboration with the RHA and Res-Life, I thought we could collect all the boxes from the dorms and reuse them during move-out in the end of the last semester. Additionally, I plan to spread more awareness among students by being informative and educational about the Sustainability Council, which helps students that are passionate about sustainability and the environment to expand on their initiatives. We plan to have more research in textiles and talk to more professors who can help us understand sustainable textiles. I want to increase the number of attendants at Fashion Revolution. Some of the ideas I’ve had, programs on a small-scale, are campus-wide energy conservation where all the lights are turned off for a half-hour, or incorporating vending misers that will turn off the lights while keeping beverages cold. Or on a larger, broader scale, I have ideas about distributions to local farms, reusable bottles and an end-of-year donation drive. But I don’t have all the answers, and I would strongly encourage students to feel free to contact any SGA member regarding any initiatives, ideas or recommendations they have.
Ishani takes on the position this upcoming fall 2017. Until then, she bids you all to keep the air you breathe clean, to be responsible and to exert awareness about the environment.