Megan Mckinry has written us a great blog this month all about careers in sustainable fashion.

If you were lucky enough to join us last month for our My Green Sustainable Fashion Career masterclass, in collaboration with the first ever Sustainable Fashion Week, you will recall meeting Phoebe, one half of Pico, and Naomi Austin, senior lecturer in Fashion Design and Promotion at the University of Sunderland. If you didn’t make it, don’t panic! As we have gathered some key takeaways and tips below.

Phoebe, fibre researcher and one half of Pico.
How did Pico come to be?

Despite her history background not typically pointing to a career in fashion, Phoebe held an interest from a young age, thanks to her Mums love of vintage clothing, much of which she still enjoys now. Fast forward to a time of many conversations on sustainability, such as Isobel’s love of making her own clothes, the other half of Pico, and Phoebes love for second-hand, the struggle for sustainable essentials like underwear and towels inspired them to find a solution. This was the start of Pico, 6 years ago; setting out to produce organic and Fairtrade cotton underwear in the best and most traceable way possible.


How did your history degree help?
Phoebe believes her studies on social and people-based history, encouraged a way of thinking and researching that helped understand the complexities of sustainability issues. It aided in the ability to ask difficult questions, as working with different factories and supply chains requires a lot of research.


How did you go about starting?

Pico is a social enterprise which was supported in its roots by The School for Social Entrepreneurs, an organisation that provides courses for start-ups. This organisation among many others such as Barclays and Lloyds entrepreneur programme, are good steppingstones to getting started if you have a business idea with a social change element.
Key tips from your experience in getting a Green Career in sustainable fashion?
Phoebe prides the success of Pico on effective collaboration.
• “Get to as many events as possible, online or in person! Events and spaces where either brands come together or individuals interested in getting started, these spaces are where things happen and ideas are made to keep you going.
• Look out for small brands! Go to smaller stores and see what independent brands they support and reach out to them; they are always keen to expand their teams. Reach out to them, if they don’t have a job to offer, they still might be able to point you in a good direction.
• Lastly, recognise it is tough starting out in your career, but the sustainable fashion community consistently delivers on providing amazing spaces to learn and inspire.”

Naomi Austin, Senior Lecturer in Fashion Design & Promotion, University of Sunderland
What was your career route into sustainability?

Knew from the age of 11 didn’t want to do anything except fashion, which saw Naomi study a fashion course at Northumbria University. Following her graduation, she became particularly interested in sportswear industry and landed a role in London designing for the World Cup in 1998. Other experiences saw her work for Reebok and Umbro in Manchester, as well as the opportunity to travel to New York and Amsterdam throughout the late 90s early 00s. Fast forward to now, and Naomi has played a key role in the delivery of the fashion design and promotion course at Sunderland, something she was keen to mould due to lack of fashion business courses in the UK.

As conversations around fashion sustainability grew and reflections on industry habits of the past, such as mass disposal of samples, the course has developed to be part of the solutions to these conversations.

As an educator, it is essential to recognise our role to make the next generation of students be that change that does work on the challenges of sustainability in the fashion industry.

Naomi is keen to make Sunderland University’s course a champion in the way of sustainable fashion courses in the future. One way they are doing this which she was excited to share, is through ‘Clo3s’ a 3d design software that could be the future of fashion design, allowing users to view 3d garments online and go straight to pattern, doing away with the need for samples, paper or fabric.

Naomi Austin

What is next in your career?
Naomi is currently studying for her PhD in Sustainable Design at Herriot Watt University, part time alongside her teaching. Her research is looking at the potential of Bast fibres, such as hemp, flax and ramie and she hopes to create an educational tool for to help manufacturers get these fibres onto the high street. “The high street isn’t dead; we just need to reinvent it.” Her research has also discovered some exciting innovative materials, such as ‘Mylo’, endorsed by Lululemon this year, which is a vegan leather made from mushrooms. This is part of lululemon’s commitment to using at least 75% sustainable materials by 2025.



Key tips for a young woman who wants to get a Green Career in sustainable fashion?

• If you are interested in the further education route, most courses across the country are embracing sustainability modules as part of their curriculum.

However, there is not yet one that focusses solely on sustainable fashion. Yet, with the exciting developments of new technologies like Clo3d, the future could see more fashion courses develop with sustainability at its core.

• However, remember, a degree is not the only route to a career in sustainable fashion! Alternative routes mentioned could be through reaching out to companies that are working on new technologies, such as Clo3d.
• Gaining experience, networking, and learning through events such as this one is just as important.
• If you’re wanting to learn more about opportunities and experience, follow as many organisations as you can on social media, follow sustainability hashtags and send messages for internships. Although often these can be unpaid, making contact at least gets your foot in the door. And don’t be afraid to hassle!

It was a pleasure to hear from these two inspiring women and learn of their different routes into a sustainable fashion career. Their journeys from the beginning to now have been very different but have hopefully given you an insight into the potential routes you can take, whether these be through studying or taking a chance on a sustainable business idea.

Although SFW is over for 2021, the conversation continues. If the sound of working in sustainable fashion excites you, be sure to follow @sustainablefashionweek_uk for information on ways to stay involved and informed.

You can also support the work of Pico @project.pico & @pico.goods, as well as keeping up to date with Naomi via @sunderlandunifashion.

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