Anna Choairy was working as a lawyer in her native Brazil when she decided to make a dramatic career shift and pursue her passion — fashion. Her search for education in the field led her to Seneca’s School of Fashion, because it emphasizes environmental sustainability while providing first-rate instruction in the industry.

“Some people feel that taking a small step, like recycling plastic, is doing enough to protect the environment but you have to do more,” says Choairy. “You have to take environmental concerns into account in every aspect of your life — including your clothing.”

With several campuses across the GTA, Seneca is committed to protecting the environment and has established a special Sustainable Seneca initiative aimed at encouraging responsible stewardship while showcasing Seneca’s efforts in various areas, including fashion.

With Ontario generating more than 500,000 tons of residential textile waste annually, Seneca’s School of Fashion has launched several initiatives to promote sustainable textile and apparel diversion. One of these initiatives included an exhibition of student projects, along with appearances by guests from the school, the City of Markham, and a leading textile reclamation company, Textile Waste Diversion (TWD).

Seneca has launched a clothes donation initiative, hosted a vintage fashion sale at its on-campus boutique, and presented refashioned styles and designs created by students using second-hand items. Seneca also organized an appearance by Kate Black, a leading voice in the eco-fashion movement and hosted a screening of True Cost, a documentary exploring the impact of fashion on people and the planet.

Unwanted clothing ends up in municipal landfills

For the past year, Seneca has worked with TWD on a research project examining how social marketing campaigns can shift student attitudes and behaviour toward consumer clothing disposal. Findings will be used to enhance textile diversion methods and the fashion curriculum, and to establish guidelines and activities.

“We created this project because our students love fashion,” says Sabine Weber, a Seneca Fashion Professor and lead researcher on the project. “If people love a garment but don’t have use for it anymore, they should find it a new home that isn’t in a landfill,” she says, noting that approximately 85 percent of all unwanted clothing ends up in landfills, producing greenhouse gases.

Weber notes that Seneca’s School of Fashion offers stand-alone courses in sustainability, which is threaded throughout the fashion curriculum. “We looked at what textile producers are doing in terms of sustainability, and that interests me a lot,” says Choairy, adding that working conditions for garment workers is a big issue that interests her. “I’m one of many students now asking, ‘What happens to our clothes when we throw them out?’”