Empowering the future: Education as the driver of sustainability

In today's world, where sustainability and responsibility are at the forefront of global concerns, the textile and leather industry has come under intense pressure. One critical factor, with the potential to revolutionize the industry and drive lasting change, is education. Education is the key to unlocking sustainability in our industry. 

To shed light on the transformative power of education, we sat down with OEKO-TEX® Stakeholder Manager, Carolin Franitza, a shining example of how education can pave the way for sustainable change. 

OEKO-TEX®: Carolin, you’ve been with OEKO-TEX® for 3 years now, staying on after your internship. Tell us about your studies.

Carolin Franitza: I studied Textile and Clothing Management at Hochschule Niederrhein in Mönchengladbach, Germany. This program offered a blend of technical textile knowledge and essential management courses. What I valued most about my studies was the emphasis on industry integration. During my studies I received the Deutschlandstipendium (a German scholarship) funded by OEKO-TEX® . A notable aspect. This experience allowed me to step into the real world of textiles and leather. The aim of my internship was an introduction to product management, marketing and communications, quality management and stakeholder engagement.

How did you become the stakeholder manager for OEKO-TEX®? What support did you receive? 

Gaining insights into each department and other industry actors, right from the beginning, greatly contributed to my comprehensive understanding of OEKO-TEX® and its industry position. Moreover, I had the opportunity to assume responsibilities from the start, express my ideas and be taken seriously within a supportive feedback culture. This encouraging work environment helped me develop my strategic and interconnected thinking skills. It also helped me find a role within the company that aligns with my strengths. 

How do you drive sustainability through education in your daily work? 

My role revolves around engagement with our stakeholders and facilitating seamless flow of knowledge between them and our various departments and institutes. In this capacity, not only do I play a crucial role in educating, but I also continuously enhance my own knowledge by actively participating in conferences and roundtable discussions to identify market trends and opportunities for OEKO-TEX®.  

Where would you like to see increased education in our industry? 

 I've observed growing demand within the industry for education on a wide range of sustainability topics, from living wages to biodiversity. This demand is driven by several factors, such as legislative changes and mounting pressure from stakeholders. Organizations are increasingly obligated to showcase their sustainability efforts. There’s often a tendency toward the easily achievable, low-hanging fruit, rather than addressing the core sustainability challenges within the industry. To truly drive meaningful change, there must be a shift in the entire system. Additionally, there's a need for more understanding of organizational impacts, business opportunities within sustainability, the economic perspective for long lasting transitions and effective stakeholder engagement. 

What tips would you give young people looking for career in the textile and leather industry? 

Many universities provide avenues for students to engage with industry professionals and gain practical insights. These opportunities often come in the form of internships, scholarships or industry conferences. I'd emphasize the immense value of seizing these opportunities. While the knowledge acquired through coursework is undoubtedly important, the real-world application of this knowledge often relies on two enduring assets:  

  • Industry contacts and a profound understanding of the sector - building a network of industry contacts during your university years can open doors down the road.  

  • The textile industry is dynamic. It’s constantly evolving to meet new consumer demands and sustainability goals. It's practical experience and firsthand exposure to industry trends that truly prepares you for the real world.  

What was the relevance of sustainability in your studies? 

My studies placed a prominent emphasis on sustainability within the textile industry. We sought a profound understanding of risks, corporate social responsibility and the roles of various stakeholders, including standards organizations. These courses were instrumental in broadening my perspective and making me acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities for sustainability in the textile and leather industry.

What role do universities play in sustainability? 

My example illustrates the substantial influence that universities can have on shaping the workforce of the future. Through their research, education, outreach and responsible stewardship activities, they play pivotal role in driving progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

You’ve always loved fashion. How did you become more aware of the sustainability aspects? 

When I started my academic journey, I had a basic awareness of sustainability, primarily driven by tragic events, such as the Rana Plaza collapse, which garnered widespread media coverage. However, my eyes were opened as I progressed through my studies and did a research project on reducing microplastic release from textiles. Even now, my awareness is a dynamic and continually evolving process. With each day at work, I get a deeper understanding of the topic. 

Thank you for sharing these valuable insights with us Carolin!