As the fashion industry changes, the skill set that designers entering the industry learn has to change as well. In this series, we’ll examine how fashion schools are adjusting to the ways business, technology and sustainability in fashion are evolving.
The London College of Fashion announced yesterday that it’s teaming with Microsoft on a new incubator program for students, designed to provide them with the resources needed to advance their studies in areas like 3D body scanning and virtual reality.
While fashion incubators are nothing particularly novel, they are increasingly cropping up on the campuses of international fashion design schools to complement curriculums struggling to adapt to an evolving digital industry. Beyond the challenges of adjusting course structures and recruiting professorial talent trained in fashion technology, digital resources are particularly costly. More and more, schools are turning to partners like Microsoft and IBM to offset these costs and, in turn, provide students with a direct networking path to future jobs. Ultimately, these corporate partners — either through direct investments, accelerator programs or design challenges supported by designers and fashion professionals — are becoming essential to helping students get ahead.
Barbara Tripper, assistant professor of fashion design apparel at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said classes on digital design and technological development are now mandatory components of FIT’s undergraduate program. However, beyond traditional coursework, many students seek an edge over their peers by getting involved in experimental tech workshops on campus hosted by companies like IBM.
“I learned in the era of stone and chisel, but in the course of their careers, students will learn, at minimum, 20 different software programs,” Tipper said. “The goal is not to get hung up on any one type of software or methodology.”
Keeping an open mind and being nimble are skills that Laurence Chandler and Josh Cooper, the duo behind menswear brand Rochambeau, know well. The brand recently designed its first smart jacket in partnership with Internet of Things technology company Avery Dennison, and is eager to continue testing other emerging forms of tech, with the help of new talent they hope to secure from fashion schools.
“These types of technologies have the ability to unlock a brand’s backstory, express inspiration and, very soon, track the development process through blockchain technologies,” Chandler said. “All of these elements need to be approached and considered in the education process.”
At FIT, Tripper said the most rapidly growing areas of fashion technology on campus are body scanning and materials technology, the latter of which involves creating bio-based fibers and using embedded technical features to find innovative ways to construct garments. Though outside partners have been essential to helping fund and support these ventures, it still adds up. “Even with companies that we have pre-existing licenses with, these new softwares are high dollar,” Tipper said.
Further, while a design degree used to act as a golden ticket to a starting job within a fashion brand, students are facing hurdles from the democratization of the industry on social media, leading to the rise of talent plucked from obscurity on Instagram. Adding to this challenge is the rise of online courses — including a recent streetwear program launched by FIT and Complex — that act as a double-edged sword of providing access to a broader array of students at a lower cost, while increasing competition by widening the talent pool for those vying for jobs.
“Technology can have a negative impact, from a perception standpoint. It creates a veil of accessibility and ease without being able to accurately assess the work that may or may not have gone into what is being viewed,” Chandler said. “Despite the benefits of technology, it’s important to remain cognizant of its pitfalls and to not lose touch with the history of big ideas or the people who influenced them.”
With the challenges of an evolving fashion landscape in mind, Rochambeau recently lent its services to judge a competition held by the Pratt Institute and sportswear brand ‘47. Chandler said these types of events are increasingly important not only to gain visibility among industry insiders but also to understand what it takes to be a designer in an increasingly complex industry. While tech prowess is important, it’s important that students recognize it’s not the only thing designers and fashion brands are looking for, he said.
“When working for an emerging brand, it becomes a crash course in fielding all elements, from design to production to prep for a fashion show. There needs to be agility and eagerness to take on these versatile tasks and ultimately learn from them,” he said.