Assistant Professor of Fashion and Textiles Bharath Ramkumar begins each class by leading his students in a five-minute meditation encouraging them to focus on their breath and positive affirmations for the day.
It’s a time to pause, reflect and refocus and, since the beginning, feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, the practice has been so successful that he is now analyzing his research in hopes of publishing a study on the topic. He’s also helping other professors on campus incorporate meditation into their classrooms.
“All day long we’re going from one thing to another, and there’s so much spillover of thoughts and emotions,” explained Ramkumar, who has taught at SUNY Oneonta for more than five years. "Taking a little break so you can realign and reorganize your mind allows you to let go of whatever happened before this and lets you better engage in your day.”
Fast Fashion Nation
Ramkumar’s students become keenly familiar with the concept of mindfulness. That’s because it’s also a central theme when learning about fashion and textiles production and consumption. If you’ve ever purchased an outfit or article of clothing from Forever 21, ASOS, H&M or SHEIN, you have first-hand knowledge on the matter.
“With fast fashion, these companies take, make and sell in a matter of a few weeks,” Ramkumar explained. “They’ve perfected that system – and the more you manufacture, the cheaper the process is. Coupled with the scarcity marketing they employ and a new trend every week, we’re throwing away or burning billions of dollars of unsold or unwanted garments annually.”
The word “sustainability” is a buzzword right now, Ramkumar explained, but sometimes people have a narrow understanding of it. In courses such as Retail Management, Quality Analysis of Apparel Products, and Fashion in the Global Economy, his students learn about how clothing is made, how that process impacts the environment and what that means for our world.
“When I started teaching these courses in 2016, I was learning alongside my students the impacts the modern fashion industry is having on the planet and its people, and it had a very deep impact on me,” he said. “I remember, at one point, we realized together that it’s fine to talk about it, but we wanted to actually start doing something on campus to raise awareness.”
That’s how the Revival of Apparel Club came about. The RAC, a student club Ramkumar advised for more than four years, is dedicated to promoting clothing sustainability among Oneonta students. Students in the club manage and run the Red Closet Thrift Shop – an on-campus thrift store located in the basement of the Netzer Administration Building– and host events, workshops and awareness campaigns to educate people on issues of sustainability.
“I love being able to facilitate experiences outside the classroom that speak to students’ interests and help them explore that,” Ramkumar said. “I really enjoy being able to see talent within students and connect that with opportunities. Our program is really good at that.”
A Day in the Life
Ramkumar is a busy guy. He has served as program coordinator for the Fashion & Textiles program at SUNY Oneonta, co-chaired the President's Advisory Council on Sustainability and, as the liaison for SUNY Oneonta’s one-year visiting student program partnership with the Fashion Institute of Technology, gets to visit the FIT campus regularly.
When he’s not lecturing, Ramkumar is either answering emails (in his office, music is playing at all times), working on research projects, or advising students, which is one of his favorite parts of the job. He advises 60 to 70 students per semester, half of which are students at FIT.
“I love advisement because, in the classroom, you’re limited to what topic you’re teaching, but outside of the classroom you can talk to students about broader objective stuff – how to approach thinking of career, how to help enable them to think in new ways, think outside the box, think for themselves,” he said. “I really value these moments because the students can tell you what their real concerns are, and I can share some of my personal experience in life and really help them.”
For his work at Oneonta, Ramkumar has earned several professional awards, including Distinguished Scholar of the Year (once in 2018 and again in 2021). But, for him, it’s not about recognition.
“The privilege I have to stand in front of students for an hour-and-a-half and have them pay attention to me in today’s world where people’s attention is the most valuable thing, that’s an honor,” he said. “The biggest accomplishment, for me, is to connect, collaborate and create with others across campus.”