Fashion Students Place Premium on CSR

A survey of students from three college fashion programs shows growing focus on positive corporate behavior in career choices.

Fashion students are willing to trade $10,000 a year in annual salary for a good night’s sleep.

Among 247 students studying for fashion careers at LIM College, Kent State University and Oregon State University, more than three-quarters — 77 percent — would accept a position with an annual salary of $42,000 rather than one paying $52,000 if the lower-paying job was for a company with high standards of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Among other key findings were that three in five students would choose positions with lower pay rather than with a prospective employer who was found to hire and promote based on physical appearance, and that nearly seven in eight — 84 percent — would choose a company with an ethical supply chain over one deemed to be less socially responsible.

The Corporate Social Responsibility and Career Decisions survey was developed by Michael Londrigan, interim dean of academic affairs and chair of the fashion merchandising department at LIM; Nancy Stanforth, associate professor of fashion merchandising at Kent State, and William Hauck, assistant professor of fashion merchandising at Kent State. All had noticed an evolution among students following their initial exposure to prospective employers.

“After taking internships and working part-time jobs, students are looking for some kind of work-life balance,” Londrigan told WWD, “but the reality in the fashion industry is that they’re going to work their tails off right out of school.”

He said awareness of CSR issues, from environmental threats to workers’ rights, was high for many of the students arriving at the three schools and became even more keen as they studied companies in the fashion industry and gained exposure to facets of the market.

“When they arrive, they want to work for Gucci and Prada, but they form a more comprehensive and balanced view as their education progresses,” he said.

Larger companies tend to have CSR programs in place, he noted, but may fall short on quality-of-life questions.

The study touched on not only their attitudes about CSR but also quality-of-life issues. For instance, nearly two-thirds of the respondents — 65 percent — would choose lower pay in order to work fewer hours.

When the seniors, juniors and sophomores participating in the study were asked about their personal practices, 64 percent said they make an effort to avoid products made by low-wage workers. Nearly three-quarters — 73 percent — make an effort to conserve water and 41 percent buy biodegradable products. Eighty-two percent recycle whenever they can.

“We believed that CSR was important, but we did not know to what extent,” said Kent State’s Stanforth. “What we found exceeded our expectations.”