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Eric Feigenbaum

This New York College Offers the Country’s Only Master’s Program in Sustainable Fashion

A hidden gem dedicated to stewardship of the planet, the school is producing the pros who are out to change the fashion industry

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NEW YORK’S MIGHTY Hudson River begins as a droplet, gently trickling into Lake Tear of the Clouds on Mount Marcy, the highest elevation in New York State. When it was linked to the Erie Canal in 1825, The Hudson became the catalyst and lifeline that made New York the great city that it is today. Prior to 1825, commerce could only travel as far as Albany, 150 miles north of New York City. When Governor DeWitt Clinton recognized the challenges of the day, he brought an idea to fruition. With the opening of the canal, the quaint droplets from the summit of Mount Marcy soon had international implications. Commerce from Europe could now travel through the deep-water port of New York all the way to the Midwest.

Great things, whether a grand metropolis or a game-changing idea, often begin with a droplet and a trickle before percolating into a defining moment. There is a hidden gem in the SoHo section of New York known as Glasgow Caledonian New York College (GCNYC) whose mission, that started as a trickle, is beginning to flow beyond SoHo’s cobblestone streets and into the collective consciousness of all in the fashion industry who seek a higher degree of corporate social responsibility.

Falling deeper into the 21st century, we’re faced with unimaginable conditions and circumstances that have dramatically altered our lives. The world as we knew it, from travel protocols and the way we shop, to banking, real estate transactions, and the dynamics of social and professional interaction, have forever changed. From the attacks on 9/11 and the financial crises in 2008 to catastrophic storms and political and social upheaval, society has been restructured in enduring, and in some cases, permanent ways. The harsh reality of the pandemic created needs and challenges that we never faced before. There is, however, a silver lining to all of this upheaval, particularly as it relates to the fashion industry. The pandemic brought to life what is truly important to those connected to the fashion world: sustainability of the industry, stewardship of the planet and the desire to make the world a better place.

Positioned as the “college for the common good,” GCNYC is dedicated to providing direction and leadership to an inspired generation of up-and-coming retail and fashion executives who are resolute in their commitment to develop responsible and ethical practices based on environmental sustainability, positive social impact, and the launching of relevant and innovative new startups.

GCNYC was founded by Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), one of Scotland’s major modern research Universities. Throughout its history GCU has remained true to its motto “For the Common Weal” (meaning “for the common good”). In June of 2017, GCNYC received its charter and degree granting authority from the New York State Board of Regents. GCNYC is one of the first international colleges to be granted this authority by one of higher education’s toughest program approval processes. Additionally, in March of 2022, GCNYC was accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

During the licensing process, GCU planted its flag in the New York market through the Fair Fashion Center (FFC), which supported the incorporation of sustainable business practices in the fashion industry. In addition, the FFC integrated the language of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) developed by the United Nations in 2015, into the fashion vernacular.

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“GCNYC currently offers the only master’s degree program in the U.S. focused on sustainable fashion,” says Dr. Jacqueline LeBlanc, VP and Provost at GCNYC. “Our faculty totally buys into our mission and our students are feeling galvanized in their efforts to change the industry for the good. A recent graduate who was working at a children’s apparel manufacturer was eager to make a difference. In her enthusiasm she spoke to company leadership about sustainability. She was disappointed to find that they didn’t have any interest in the issue. However, after corporate executives listened to pressure from retailers, the newly hired graduate was asked if she could lead in this effort. She was subsequently promoted to Senior Designer and Sustainability Lead.”

In a keynote address delivered at the launch of a virtual speaker series recently presented by GCNYC, Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus addressed the challenges of the post-pandemic period.  “We cannot go back to the way things were,” he said during the presentation.

In keeping with the sentiments of Professor Yunis, GCNYC is focused on preparing students for leadership roles with creative strategies and visions to transform the fashion business. Recognizing the deleterious impact the industry has had on the planet, GCNYC is striving to motivate and inspire students to transform the status quo by developing strategies to support sustainability, social equity and ethical practices within the fashion world.

GCNYC also recently hosted an event with author Maxine Bedat and faculty member Michelle Gabriel to discuss Bedat’s newly released book “Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment.” In her book, Bedat, a Founder and current Director of New Standard Institute, documents the life cycle of a pair of jeans, from the abrasive edges of the supply chain to questionable practices in the marketplace, and fashion’s adverse impact on people and on the planet.

In addition to its initiatives engaging its students and the public at large, GCNYC hopes to take fashion beyond the runway to a new level of social awareness with its support of the Sustainable Fashion Act. A State Assembly and Senate cosponsored bill now in committee, the proposed legislation is intended to hold fashion companies in New York State accountable for their practices. With concerns about sustainability, climate change and social justice, GCNYC is joining New York lawmakers who are intent on raising ethical, social and environmental standards in all aspects of the fashion industry.

Dr. LeBlanc says, “Most colleges don’t want to get involved with government practice issues. We’re about making a difference. Our students, alumni, and faculty joined a rally at the Button and Needle sculpture on 7th Avenue, and lobbied in Albany in support of this legislation.”

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Recent graduates, as well as current GCNYC students, are making significant contributions as the fashion and retail industries move toward a more just, ethical and sustainable structure, says LeBlanc. An example is Alberto (Beto) Monteiro who’s completing the Master of Science in Business for Social Impact & Sustainability. In addition to his studies, he is the head of Sourcing at Veja sneakers where one of his main responsibilities is managing the supply-chain of native latex from rubber trees in the Brazilian Amazon.

Another is Amanda Moretz who completed the Master of Science in Sustainable Fashion. Upon graduating, she became the Manufacturing and Sustainability Administrator at Theory. Diana Purcell also recently completed the Master of Science in Sustainable Fashion: An artist, designer, and sustainability advocate, she started her own business, leading sustainability consulting for fashion start-ups, and recently co-founded a sustainability book club with Megan Meiklejohn, the head of Sustainable Materials and Transparency Manager at Eileen Fisher. Wesley Scott received his Master’s of Science in Impact-Focused Business and Investing in 2020. Today he is a clothing designer for 3sixteen, a New York-based menswear brand, as well as the Co-founder, Partner, and Designer for Mount Sunny, a wellness studio in Phoenix, Ariz., with an in-house supplement and clothing line.

A new level of awareness is inspiring a social revolution for those working in the fashion industry and all related fields. Employers should understand that the next generation of industry professionals will seek and, in fact, demand a sense of purpose and personal value in their careers. While unsustainable practices have gone unchecked for years, it’s important to note that the hallmark of the fashion industry has always been predicated on change. The business of fashion is at a pivot point where sustainability, social justice and a noble cause are becoming motivating factors for those entering the workforce.

Much like the powerful Hudson River, great ideas usually start as a trickle and then a flow. The droplets from the summit of Mount Marcy rippled down to the bustling metropolis, welcoming a tidal wave of immigration, commerce and innovation, making New York not only the gateway to America, but also the epicenter of the fashion world. The ideas that are trickling through the halls of GCNYC, together with the steadfast devotion of its faculty, graduates and students, will soon become a groundswell that will help keep the rivers of innovation and sustainability flowing through the ever-evolving fashion industry.

Eric Feigenbaum is a recognized leader in the visual merchandising and store design industries with both domestic and international design experience. He served as corporate director of visual merchandising for Stern’s Department Store, a division of Federated Department Stores, from 1986 to 1995. After Stern’s, he assumed the position of director of visual merchandising for WalkerGroup/CNI, an architectural design firm in New York City. Feigenbaum was also an adjunct professor of Store Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology and formerly served as the chair of the Visual Merchandising Department at LIM College (New York) from 2000 to 2015. In addition to being the New York Editor of VMSD magazine, Eric is also a founding member of PAVE (A Partnership for Planning and Visual Education). Currently, he is also president and director of creative services for his own retail design company, Embrace Design.

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