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Sustainable Management Student Finds Her Niche in Corporate Social Responsibility Within the Fashion Industry

Tiffany Stronghart March 20, 2024
clothing designer swatching fabrics and a photo of a room full of clothing and accessories

Amy Kostelansky, a student in the Master of Science in Sustainable Management program, always knew she wanted to be a fashion designer. But even in her early days of thrifting and making clothes, Amy focused on making the best use of what’s already available.

“I’ve just kind of been a fashionista my whole life,” she says. “Not expensive stuff. More like thrift store shopping; making my own clothing. I used to buy curtains from the thrift store and then take them apart, dye them, and make them into clothing. Just really interested in the artistic side of fashion, the handmade side of fashion.”

Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion design at Philadelphia University. She was hired by a couture designer that she interned for in college, eventually changing jobs to work for another designer specializing in artist fashion-type clothing with hand painting and small batch screen printing of more natural fibers.

Amy Kostelansky headshot“At the time I was working for that company, they were doing a lot of natural fibers like modal and bamboo. Things have really matured since then, and we’re finding out that maybe some of the materials they were using weren’t sustainable. But those were some of my first introductions to more intentional fashion using higher quality materials.”

Then, she took a job working for an embroidery and screen-printing company, where she also did graphic design and managed the office.

“Those three experiences really exposed me to small-scale production and what it takes to make a garment, whether you’re making it from the beginning, whether it’s something that you wear to pick up your kids, something that you wear to the Oscars, or something that you wear to a football game, because we did a lot of academic, collegiate embroidery and screen printing.”

Eventually, Amy took a position as a product manager for a large-scale, global swimwear manufacturer, where she followed products from inception to production—and in some cases, to the sales floor.

“That requires collaborating with sourcing, product development, the design team, the sales team, and the merchandiser to make sure that we’re creating the product. It follows the quality requirements, it follows the regulatory compliance requirements of the region where we’re manufacturing and selling it, and then eventually we have the finished product,” she says.

Working for the swimwear company was rewarding because it was “very different from literally making a garment from start to finish in a small shop in Philly to working with factories or working with fabric suppliers in Korea and factories in Indonesia, bringing it home, and selling it to Dillard’s throughout the continental US.”

While working for the swimwear company, she took on a role in corporate social responsibility, a topic she felt very passionate about after seeing a documentary exploring the social aspects of manufacturing in third-world countries.

“That really frightened me, and it made me feel horrible knowing that working in the fashion industry that my company could be complicit in that. I mean, I know that we’re very socially compliant, so I know that we’re not. However, it just kind of woke something up in me. I asked the company if anything came up related to sustainability to consider involving me. I helped launch a sustainable swimwear line for Kohl’s. And then in 2021, I became part of the newly created Corporate Social Responsibility team.”

A year later, she began doing process operations, a role she filled while simultaneously fulfilling CSR responsibilities. “We were reporting our carbon emissions per the requirements of a couple of our biggest customers. And that was all kind of self-taught. One of my colleagues had started it, taught herself, created some spreadsheets, and then taught me. And then I took it a step further to really understand how to collect and quantify carbon emissions.”

Her company was also certified under the Textile Exchange’s Recycled Claim Standard, meaning its supply chain is capable and competent in certifying a material to a certain standard throughout different nodes of the supply chain. This gives the consumer the ability to make more informed decisions about the products they choose to buy.

“So by the time we receive the product, we can say to our customer, this is indeed recycled–a garment made of recycled material underneath this standard, and the entire supply chain has been certified to that standard,” Amy says.

Amy decided to enroll in the Master of Science in Sustainable Management after pondering her role in the fashion industry during the pandemic. “I would not say that I’m one of those people that loved my undergrad. I went to design school, basically, but I had a lot of just regular core curriculum too. I took physics and calculus. And so for me, it was just a lot of work because it was challenging. When I graduated, I thought, thank God college is done. I will never go back to school. But because I was doing the CSR stuff, I was realizing there was so much to it that I didn’t understand. I could accomplish and achieve the things we needed, but I wanted to become more of an asset.”

Amy’s experience as a graduate student was markedly different from that of her undergraduate days.

“There was the thrill of applying and getting accepted. And then I started and realized that I just actually really enjoy being a student again. And I approached it in a different way than I did in my 20s, thinking, how much can I get out of this? How much can I learn? How much can I provide to my career? And it’s been a really great experience. It’s put me in a unique position because I do have a job in the industry. I’ve been able to network with a lot of really incredible people from the university, probably some lifelong friends at this point. Grad school is probably one of the top five important things that I’ve done for myself in my life.”

Amy also benefits from the flexible format of the online Sustainable Management program. “I knew that I wanted to most likely do virtual, especially during the pandemic. I didn’t find anything that I really loved that was within my region, so I narrowed it down to UW because it covered the things that I wanted to learn. The program had about 10 years of history, which I thought was really important.”

Amy also found Sustainable Management to be more affordable than other programs she researched, and she feels supported by her Success Coaches and enrollment advisers.

Taking courses in Sustainable Management has widened Amy’s perspective on sustainability and how her work in fashion can directly contribute. During one class, SMGT 782: Supply Chain Management with Dr. Marya Wilson, Amy had a revelation about her daily work.

“I realized the supply chain is exactly what I do. My entire day is consumed with the supply chain within the manufacturing and with consideration to sustainability. One of the things I learned in her course was traceability (the ability to trace a product completely back to its origin; also known as ‘dirt to shirt’), which is a major focus for a lot of consumer goods, especially the apparel industry. The reason that traceability is important is because if you don’t know its origin, if you don’t know how it was manufactured or processed, then how could you truly know that it’s sustainable?”

Amy, who now works as a fashion consultant in the swimwear industry, plans on finishing her coursework this spring, and focusing on her capstone project over the summer. Once she graduates from the program, she’s committed to finding a way to improve the industry.

“I think that I am well-equipped to make some positive impact. And I don’t know if that’s going to be across the industry or for one company or in creating policy, but I just really feel it’s important that I stay on track and find some way to do good in the industry. I’d love to be able to join a company and help them integrate sustainability into their company as a key pillar of their organization because I think that’s going to be so incredibly critical to fashion companies, apparel companies in the future, especially with growing global regulations.”

For prospective students wondering if Sustainable Management is a good fit for them, regardless of their background or career goals, Amy advises: “I would say that this program can be what you make of it and what you want it to be. If you’re curious and you want to expand your knowledge and you want to explore other parts of something that you care about or an industry you’re already working in, this is a great tool for that. It not only bolsters your resume. It bolsters self-confidence, knowledge, and relationships. It’s a great tool for expanding horizons and helping people. It’s helping me at least figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Interested in learning more about the 100 percent online UW Sustainable Management master’s program? Take a look at the curriculum page or reach out to an enrollment adviser with any questions about the program. For more information, call 608-800-6762 or email



Programs: Sustainable Management