Archana grew up in India surrounded by a plethora of traditional textiles and crafts. Naturally, this led to an interest in apparel and a degree in design. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in fashion studies with a focus on social responsibility and sustainability at the University of Delaware. She aims to combine her background in design with her interests in fair trade and cultural sustainability as she begins to explore a career in the industry. She is also a graduate assistant in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies.
The graduate certificate in socially responsible and sustainable apparel business offered by the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies at the University of Delaware has been steadily growing since 2007. With courses that tie together business management concepts, design, sourcing and production with the central concept of sustainability, the certificate is definitely a one-of-a-kind offering. A structure of nine, one-credit courses offered entirely online makes the graduate level courses available to anyone interested in the subject.
The classes have enrolled a mix of industry members and students from various fields. Advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, business professionals, designers, merchandisers, executives and entrepreneurs from all over the world gather online to take the courses. This non–traditional format brings together people with varied backgrounds and interests into a single platform, allowing for a great exchange of ideas.
Students like Jane Cartwright and Devin Wardell, who are trying to find their niche in the industry, clearly benefit from this interaction. “I wanted to put myself into an industry that I was really interested in and passionate about and where I also felt I could make a big magnitude of change,” Cartwright said of her decision to focus on the apparel industry. She said she was able to apply the information learned in the courses while she was an intern with Marks & Spencer last summer.
Wardell, who is preparing to venture to India next year to further her interest in textiles, spoke of the immense help the certificate courses have been in the process. “Itâ€™s given me a more targeted trajectory almost in taking initial steps toward entering a career in the textiles and apparel industry,” she said.
As for the courses, they are offered in a swift four-week structure that includes industry–centric information through lectures, assigned readings, group discussions and forums and recent case studies that are not readily available to the masses. While some students may feel overwhelmed by a huge amount of “new” information, once the wheels are in motion and the discussions begin, students are intellectually engaged in the information. The different perspectives of interest, vocation and life experiences that students bring with them take the experience of an online class beyond the technological realm.
“What better way to truly understand CSR issues than to hear opposing and similar thoughts by a diverse group of people?” said Rita Chang, a recent graduate of the program. “This certificate isnâ€™t limited to only those with working experience—so while a bit of naÃ¯vetÃ© can be seen in these discussions, new and fresh ideas are being produced and refined. And this is where inspiration and innovation grow from.”
The graduate-level certificate also brings up-to-date industry know-how to the mix with actual industry members taking part in the weekly discussions. “They [professors] structure the courses so that students have access to scholarly articles and personal interviews with key industry professionals,” Chang commented. Most recently, in one of the courses, the students had the pleasure of “talking” with Lary Brown, the corporate compliance manager for New Balance as they examined the company in a case study.
Brown spoke about the initiatives in place at the company and answered a myriad of questions from members registered in the certificate program. Such an interaction not only makes the theoretical discussions come alive but also provides a live picture of the actual industry situation. It is extremely exciting for students to be able to interact with an industry professional who is an expert in the topic of oneâ€™s exploration.
To further heighten the learning process, there are industry professionals who are registered for the courses and help broaden the understanding of the face of the industry. Renee Bowers is one such student, who brings several years of experience in the area of fair trade to the classroom. “I have very much enjoyed the program,” said Bowers, who is currently working on her capstone project on fair trade purchasing practices.
Another example of the varied classroom environment in the courses is the founder and owner of Carrie Parry, Carrie Freiman. Freiman spoke of the relevance of the coursework in relation to her own line. “I already have my three–year CSR program done from being on the course,” she said. Freiman said she feels a sense of community from the courses and that the relationships extend beyond the classroom. “I absolutely love it,” Freiman said, noting the flexible nature of the course format and the learning process that leaves students wanting more.
“I was really excited to discover the certificate program, since it’s a unique niche that combines all of my interests,” Wardell said of her interests in textiles, business and social innovation. She emphasized that the courses have helped her gain a thorough understanding of the gaps in the textile industry. Graduates of the program will be able to impact the industry and bring about a new direction with the added understanding of the problem areas. The courses offered in the certificate program help foster a clearer view of the industry and its workings while strengthening the holistic approach to sustainability.
“Certainly the certificate is an asset, and I would recommend it to anyone working with suppliers in an international context,“ Bowers said. The student body that has sampled these offerings feels that it adds credibility to their interest in social responsibility.
Chang commented on the certificate’s strong point as an asset to an industry member. “This certificate has embedded the crucial concept of a triple bottom line into its graduates â€¦,” she said. “No change can be sustainable if profit, people and the planet are not all addressed with long-term solutions in mind.”
For more information about the certificate in socially responsible and sustainable apparel business, visit http://www.udel.edu/fash/graduate/certificate.