Sustainability is back in fashion with Berlin-Dhaka initiative.

SOURCE: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP
A project between Berlin and Dhaka universities will allow young fashion design graduates to explore how to make design sustainable.

By U2B Staff 

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The overall textile industry has seen a few effective sustainable reforms in the last couple of years thanks to some ingenious higher education initiatives, one of these initiatives may just turn things around for the ever-growing Bangladesh textile industry.

The Local International, an international knowledge exchange programme between the Goethe-Institut Bangladesh, Weißensee Academy of Arts Berlin, Berlin University of the Arts, and BGMEA University of Fashion & Technology (BUFT) brings young and budding fashion design graduates to explore traditional and sustainable techniques for producing textile and garments.

As one of the world’s largest textile and ready-made garment exporters, Bangladesh is a prime area to explore and develop sustainable fashion design.

This programme will involve 18 fashion design graduates from Berlin and Dhaka who will collaborate with local Bangladeshi craftspeople, NGOs, and companies that use sustainable craft techniques to develop new and innovative designs that combine traditional methods with modern sustainability.


The world of sustainable fashion is evolving and many clothing brands are doing their best to minimise waste materials, carbon footprints, as well as using pure, recyclable materials to make their garments.

This programme will further advocate the need for sustainable fashion in mainstream markets.

The Local International project began in 2014 thanks to Weißensee Academy of Art Berlin Professor Heike Selmer, who is also the founding member of the Laboratory for Sustainable Design Strategies (greenlab), and Berlin University of the Arts professor of fashion design Valeska Schmidt-Thomsen who is also the director of the Institute of Experimental Garment and Textile Design.

The pilot project for the programme began in autumn 2014 with 12 participants. The aim of the project was to raise awareness for sustainability, participation and fair trade within the fashion industry.

Now in its upcoming fourth run, the project allows fashion graduates in Dhaka to be exposed to international fashion trends and those from Berlin to learn traditional and sustainable fashion design techniques.

The programme will build on the experience from years with more than 50 fashion designers from Bangladesh and Germany will deliver their insights on this bilateral collaboration.

Bangladesh Textile Industry
Traditional textile and garment production will soon be replaced with mass production. Source: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP.

“The label “Made in Bangladesh” can be found everywhere on western clothing. Almost all western fashion companies – whether officially or unofficially – produce clothes in Bangladesh,” said Professor Selmer in a report by Prothom Alo English.

“Although the fashion industry deals with beauty, fashion is the second-largest industrial polluter worldwide. This is not only due to the chemical waste of textile production or the high consumption of fertilisers, pesticides, and water in the cultivation and production of cotton, it is above all due to the enormous production volumes. Around 80 billion items of clothing are produced annually worldwide.”

The mass production of garments in the Bangladesh textile industry is a result of the modernisation of this sector, which is eventually wiping out traditional craft methods. Not only does mass production contribute to a larger carbon footprint, but it also awakens social problems associated with cheap labour and more. The quality of these mass-produced garments is also considerably scaled-down.

While there are being efforts to preserve traditional textile production, proper fashion design is more often than not under-prioritised.

“Designers are able to design longer-lasting, higher quality products, they can provide good planning based on customer and market needs and fair production possibilities, designers can develop new markets and create added value in order to secure a real financial improvement for these social projects. To be able to do this, designers must be appropriately trained,” added Professor Selmer.


The Local International programme will hopefully establish awareness of sustainability and fair trade within the fashion industry and spur on more efforts for international knowledge exchange to incorporate local traditional crafts into the Bangladesh textile industry.

An exhibition of the products that were designed and created during this run of the project will take place this Summer in Berlin that will coincide with the Berlin Fashion Week. Meanwhile, the works will also be shown in Dhaka later in the year this September.