Student's research into fast fashion wins top prize

A final-year student has won a top research prize for her work finding out what people think of fast fashion.

Saja Elmishri has developed a passion for sustainable fashion while studying Textile Design at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) and wants to make it her mission to work with big name companies on improving their approach to ethically-sourced and produced clothing.

SAJA - main

She sees the corporate social responsibility (CSR) function as key to a company’s success and points to the rise of firms like Patagonia and Fashion Revolution's social media campaign Who Made My Clothes? as proof that shoppers are concerned about the toll that clothing manufacture takes on the planet.

Her research found people were unsure what the word ‘sustainability’ meant and that they were willing to pay more for clothes if they could be assured that all stages of the manufacture were ethical.

Saja presented the findings of her work, which formed her final year dissertation for Textile Design, at the fourth annual Meliora International Symposium of Student Sustainability Research, held at the University of Southampton.

The event links students’ work to the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, a series of aims to improve life for people around the world.

She said: “I was so nervous to go down there to present but my lecturers, especially Mark Bradshaw and Dr David Heap, really pushed me to challenge myself and I’m so glad I did. I do rise to a challenge!

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“I wanted to do a research dissertation because it was different and after three years I’d done a lot of work with fabrics, and I’ve got an interest in ethical, sustainable fashion. My dream job would be running the CSR department of a company, I believe that change is possible for the industry but it needs to be sincere, it can’t just be a greenwashed attempt because people will see right through it.

“I found that people didn’t really understand what companies meant by sustainable. They need to be completely transparent and open about what it is that they do, who they deal with and how much they are paying people.”

She sent out questionnaires and ran focus groups to find out what people understood by terms used in sustainable fashion, and used the production of cotton as an example. Non-organic production of cotton is associated with the heavy use of pesticides, which has been linked to health issues in cotton farmers.

Organic cotton is also problematic, however, as it uses a lot of water to make and often is produced in areas where water is a scant resource.

Meliora publishes student research on an open access journal showcasing student research from undergraduate to postgraduate. It aims to demonstrate the excellence of student research and how this can help change the world for the better.

Dr Mark Bradshaw, Associate Professor of Textiles, said: "Saja has made a significant contribution to the work of sustainability in textiles. Being motivated by emerging social and political concerns around sustainability and the environment, Saja has taken a focused approach to investigating realistic alternatives to cotton, and in the process has created findings that far exceed initial expectations and generated interest in additional opportunities for research. 

"Saja’s work reflects the drive to embed sustainability in our portfolio of programmes and aligns well with the goals of the university’s Educational for Sustainable Development (ESD) forum. We are delighted that she won the Best Research Award at such a prestigious event, a testimony to the quality of her work."

Posted on Thursday 27th June 2019

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