Emily Smith, left, co-founder of Vancouver Maker Faire and founder of Fibreshed, and Stephanie Ostler, founder and CEO of Devil May Wear, will guide students as they create an ecosystem of local opportunities and environmentally responsible products.

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SFU students to create solutions for a more sustainable, local textile industry

September 12, 2019
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The average person buys three times more clothing today than in the 1980s and, according to Metro Vancouver, residents in the region threw away 44 million pounds of clothing last year. With this huge increase in textile waste, it’s time to think of innovative solutions.

This fall, students beginning SFU’s unique Business of Design (BOD) program will focus their critical thinking skills on how to create a more sustainable local textiles industry.

The BOD program, a collaboration between SFU’s Beedie School of Business and SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), will, for the first time, partner with Emily Carr University of Art and Design to offer a series of four courses between fall 2019 and summer 2020.

Stephanie Ostler

BOD students will work with two local experts in textiles and clothing: Emily Smith, co-founder of Vancouver Maker Faire and founder of Fibreshed, and Stephanie Ostler, founder and CEO of Devil May Wear. With  guidance from these experts, students will examine how to reshape the local textile community, how to bring together local textile entrepreneurs, and how to create an ecosystem of local opportunities and environmentally responsible products.

“Something like one in six people worldwide works in fashion and textiles,” says Ostler. “The industry is the second-largest user of freshwater in the world, it's one of the largest-polluting industries, and everybody engages with textiles every day—whether by standing on a carpet or wearing clothing. There is such a broad scope of different problems and there are so many things you can solve. If you want to change the world, there are countless ways you can do it.”

Emily Smith

In the first course, students will come up with a solution to “kickstart” the textile revolution in Vancouver. They’ll connect with local designers to understand the market. They’ll explore industry issues, examine producers’ and consumers’ needs, and define how to balance these with the economy and sustainability. Then students will conceive and implement a single intervention that could reshape the industry.

“We're going to be using a structure based on the wicked problem, design thinking, design, research and bringing in making,” says Smith. “We're focusing on the problems of textile sustainability, and textile waste, and also some cultural connections. A big part of that is about encouraging students to engage with the issue, engage with what's actually happening, and to meet with real people who are actually creating solutions.”

During their second term, students will conceptualize and develop prototypes for ventures that could connect to, and form, part of a local, sustainable textile ecosystem. Finally, in the third term, students will take their ventures to market, launching them at a local textile fair where they’ll connect with key industry members.

While most students are from Beedie and SIAT, the courses are open to interested SFU students from all faculties. While BOD is not a certificate program, the courses are also part of the requirements for the Charles Chang Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship, open to all students at SFU.

“When you're an entrepreneur, you largely discover that you are responsible for the world,” says Ostler. “Before I was an entrepreneur, I sort of assumed that somebody was taking care of it all. One of the most important lessons from being an entrepreneur or running your own business is that every action you take is going to change the world forever.”