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Lecturer’s address: ‘The fashion industry needs to reinvent itself', what role can AMFI play in this?

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José Teunissen, 2023 portrait. Credits: Bibi Veth via Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

The environmentally polluting fashion industry urgently needs to 'reinvent' itself. That is what José Teunissen, programme director at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI), argued in her lecturer's address on Tuesday. How can her own education contribute to making the industry greener?

“The Chinese online clothing company Shein burns 1 billion t-shirts a year.” 1 billion. José Teunissen brought it up almost casually in her lecture speech, Tuesday in the Gerard van Haarlem Hall of the Jakoba Mulder House in Amsterdam.


HvAna is the independent news medium of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS), an institution of higher education in Amsterdam, Netherlands. HvAna's articles are written for and by AUAS students and faculty. The Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) is the fashion academy connected to the AUAS.

AMFI offers three undergraduate fashion programmes: Fashion & Branding, Fashion & Business and Development and Fashion & Design. https://amfi.nl

“If you dwell on examples like Shein, fashion as a system - which constantly glorifies buying ‘the new’ - has actually gone completely haywire. Our relationship with clothes needs to change urgently: fashion is now too often just a disposable product.”

José Teunissen is professor of Fashion, Design and Technology and director of the Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI). She previously worked as a fashion educator and researcher at the University of the Arts London (UAL) where she was dean of the School of Design and Technology at the UAL's London College of Fashion until December 2022.

'Clothing should only be made when there is a demand for it'
- José Teunissen

It is not a new story Teunissen brings. She knows it, the audience knows it: the fashion industry hangs together on pollution, poor working conditions and waste. But what will it take to stop that ever-grinding fast fashion train? And is that at all possible, when companies like this are only making more profits?

Disposable industry

It was the question at the heart of the afternoon, and an issue that has concerned the fashion educator for much longer. Teunissen is not only programme manager at AMFI, the AUAS’ fashion department, but now also 'special lecturer' in Fashion Design and Identity. To mark the occasion, she delivered her lecturer’s address, a speech to reinforce her mission.

'The fashion industry needs to reinvent itself,' her main message to the audience read. In a half-hour-long talk, Teunissen said she is fascinated by the fact that fashion is always looking for 'new', always 'new'. But can we also move to a different value system, she wonders, can we convey other things with clothes?

”Nowadays, something appears online or in shops every day with the aim of selling as much of it as possible,' she told the audience, 'but over the past 30 years, this has led to a huge overproduction and waste mountain. This can't go on like this.”


No, unfortunately Teunissen does not have the 'golden egg' either. “I don't have the one-stop solution, but there is definitely the need to explore it very broadly.” However, in the conversation after the speech with AMFI alumnus Ruben Jurriën, Dutch fashion professional Han Bekke and fashion duo Viktor & Rolf, many possibilities seem to emerge.

For instance, fashion needs new 'values', consumers made more aware of what they are buying, and the industry needs rules and laws to operate in a green and fair way. The latter seems especially important, and steps are already being made. For example, the European Commission is currently working on a ban on garment destruction. It is all moving "incredibly slowly", though, Bekke said, having been in the business for decades and "now able to speak freely".

AMFI's role

What Tuesday was less about: what role does a fashion school like AMFI have to play in this? Teunissen was quite willing to answer that question after her address.

Digitalisation will become one of the main focal points, she argued. This means that students will also have to work more behind the computer: students will be more likely to design something digitally, rather than immediately start working with physical material.

'Radically saying no to companies is something we won't do as AMFI anytime soon, but you have to draw the line somewhere'
- José Teunissen

”As should be the case in industry,” Teunissen said. “Clothing should only be made when there is demand for it.” Instead of the way it is now with fast fashion companies like Adidas, H&M or Shein, where large batches of clothes enter the market and often end up in an incinerator.

But there is also a bit of pedagogy involved. Teunissen: “Some students come in here with a kind of catwalk mentality: how do I become a star designer as soon as possible? I think we ought to help these students get rid of that idea. [At AMFI] we at least want to teach them something about sustainable development goals and values.”

Other students, it must also be said, already show up on their own with the motivation to change the industry, Teunissen noted. “The gap between the two groups does seem to be widening.”

Political role

The question is whether a course like AMFI also has a political role. For example, should the study programme also say: these fast fashion companies are so polluting, we will no longer work with them?

Teunissen is not necessarily in favour of that idea: “Radically saying no to companies is not something we will do so quickly, I think. The view should be that if a company wants to solve a sustainability issue with our students, we are in principle open to that.”

However, Teunissen believes an institution ought to draw the line somewhere. She thinks back to the company she referred to in her speech. “I think if a company like Shein comes to us, we would still say no. Yes, that would still be a step too far,” she said.

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