In August 2007, the Department of Fashion & Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware became the first academic institution to offer a graduate certificate in Socially Responsible and Sustainable Apparel Business. What's more, students can take the nine, one-credit courses online via the Internet.
The graduate certificate provides a foundation of knowledge needed to manage international production and sourcing of apparel, textiles, and footwear in ways that are socially responsible and sustainable, according to Marsha Dickson, chairperson of UD's Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies.
"The competencies and skills embedded in the courses are based on research with industry leaders and professionals who lead nongovernmental organizations and civil society groups with a stake in the global apparel business," Dickson noted. "The coursework is also grounded on principles of the United Nations Global Compact, a voluntary international initiative bringing together companies, labor and civil society groups, and various UN agencies in support of human rights, labor, and the environment."
Students select a Labor or Environment track for specialization. A set of seven core courses is taken by all students, and two specialized courses are taken for each selected track.
The courses and learning materials were developed by a team of faculty from the University of Delaware, Cornell University, and Colorado State University based on work supported by a grant that Dickson received from the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Instructors for the courses are drawn from all three universities.
The significance of the new graduate certificate has not gone unnoticed by industry leaders in social responsibility. The certificate has received coverage in Women’s Wear Daily, the fashion industry’s primary news source, often called the “fashion bible.”
"This type of certificate is just what is needed to help equip tomorrow's industry leaders with the knowledge and expertise needed to deal with the important issue of social responsibility," said Nate Herman, director of international trade for the American Apparel and Footwear Association.
This video was broadcast Oct. 15, 2007, on CN8's "Art Fennel Reports." Courtesy of CN8, The Comcast Network. Click here to download the latest Quicktime player.
Commenting on the program, Gregg Nebel, head of social and environmental affairs for the Americas region at the Adidas Group, explained that “preparing future executives and decision makers with an understanding of corporate responsibility as part of a company's business model and practices, goes a long way toward sustainable support of fair, healthy and safe working conditions in factories.”
Dan Henkle, senior vice president of social responsibility for Gap, Inc., added, "Making this type of certificate available puts the University of Delaware on the cutting edge of corporate social responsibility in the apparel sector. As more coursework of this kind is implemented, future generations of students will take a more holistic approach to business.”
Besides its innovative and forward-thinking content, another unique aspect of the certificate is that the nine, one-credit courses are offered through the Internet. This allows students anywhere in the world to enroll. All they need is a computer and Internet connection.
One of the most exciting parts of the project is the potential for students from many different universities and industry professionals to participate in online discussions about social responsibility issues, Dickson said.
"The course professors have many years of teaching and research experience in the apparel field, specifically focused on the apparel industry and social responsibility," she noted. "They have traveled to many key apparel-producing countries, including China, Guatemala, India, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam, touring factories and talking with factory management, corporate staff, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations focused on apparel industry issues."
The courses incorporate narrated lectures, case studies, video clips of expert interviews, and compelling readings, all of which form the foundation for lively discussions among the students and faculty as issues are analyzed and potential action steps toward more widespread social responsibility practices are developed.
Courses taught over the fall 2007 semester included Apparel Supply Chains & Social Responsibility, Current Initiatives for Apparel Industry Labor Compliance, and Culture & Work in the Apparel Industry. Students enrolled in the courses are enthusiastic about what they are learning.
Emily Robinson has added the coursework on top of her apparel design major and minor in Spanish.
"I love the courses so far," Robinson said. "I feel like the material we are expected to learn in these classes will be 100% applicable to our futures in any field we decide to pursue. The work is continuous but manageable, and I literally look forward to each week's new readings and lectures. Furthermore, I see the courses benefiting me enormously as I seek out a socially responsible apparel company to either design or work as a human rights compliance administrator for, because the knowledge I am gaining will help me express my ideas on fair labor and to justify why they are important.”
Terese Condella, who is enhancing her major in fashion merchandising and minor in English with the social responsibility courses, noted, “I think that these courses are extremely innovative . . . they are an amazing opportunity provided by the University of Delaware and I am excited to be involved in such an important learning experience.”
What Do Working Professionals Say about UD's New Grad Certificate?
My name is Sarah McMullin, and I am currently
working for Nike based in Taipei, Taiwan, as the Global Materials Manufacturing
Director, as well as the Taiwan Liaison Office Director for Apparel. I
have worked for Nike for the past 13 years and have held various positions
throughout Asia and in the United States.
I actually decided to enroll in this program after reading about it via my alumni mail. I graduated from the University of Delaware back in 1990 and had actually been thinking about going back to school and was thinking about doing my MBA, but when this program surfaced, it peaked my interest and was much more applicable to what I do know and what I see myself doing in the future.
Going back to school has been an adjustment, but this program works really well for my schedule since it is on-line. It has been refreshing to look at social responsibility from an academic standpoint instead of always viewing it from a corporate standpoint. I will definitely apply some of what I have learned in the work that I do today.
— Sarah McMullin
My name is Danielle Stevens and I am a recent graduate of the University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising and a minor in Leadership. I am currently employed by Boscov’s Department Stores as an assistant buyer in the petite sportswear office.
in guest lectures presented by Marsha Dickson I was introduced to
various issues present in the fashion industry surrounding social responsibility.
I have really enjoyed the courses thus far. The students and professors
have such interesting backgrounds and knowledge about our areas of focus.
The courses began to influence my career immediately, as I now look at every aspect of my job in buying as an opportunity to improve our current practices. My involvement with our private label production has really encouraged me to put into action what we are learning. These courses have given me insight into so much that I was unaware of before, and I feel that it is very important for those in the industry to become aware of these issues.
— Danielle Stevens