As the fashion industry races towards a digital future, schools that train the next generation of workers are rushing to catch up.
The presence of emerging technologies in the fashion curricula has at times proved to be dispersed and inhomogeneous. While there are some schools that rise to the challenge, many still haven’t.
A recent survey found that only five of the eight top fashion schools surveyed included 3D design – perhaps the most common new skill students are learning – as part of their core curriculum starting October 2021, according to Peter Jeun Ho Tsang. , who worked with IFA Paris to create his MBA in fashion tech and is the founder of Beyond Form, a venture studio specializing in fashion and technology that collaborates with startups to launch their businesses. One of Tsang’s students conducted the research.
The reasons for the delay in adopting the latest technologies can vary. Some traditional schools can be slow to embrace new ways of working, and state-of-the-art tools can require expensive equipment upgrades. Updating a resume can be a lengthy, not to mention risky, process if it involves technologies that could quickly become obsolete.
But a change may be underway.
Parsons in New York began teaching the Clo3D 3D design tool to all students starting in their third year after running trial courses in 2019 and 2020. The Institut Français de la Mode (IFM) in Paris said that advanced Clo3D training is now part of his curriculum for all design and modeling students as well. It also offers a six-month program on “virtualization” of the value chain, from materials design to marketing, and a master’s degree in fashion management with courses covering science and data analysis.
At IFA Paris, in addition to training in traditional skills like manual pattern cutting, first year students all learn how to design digital clothing with tools like DC Suite. Entering their second year, they cover prototyping – “then 3D printing, laser cutting, body scanning,” Tsang said. The MBA program, meanwhile, offers students the opportunity to learn programming and artificial intelligence.
“Things are changing, they are changing quite rapidly,” said Matthew Drinkwater, head of the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) at London College of Fashion. “You can see across the board that many schools are now starting to offer courses specifically in digital fashion.”
Graduates from these programs are entering a job market where fashion companies increasingly value skills such as data analytics and 3D tools proficiency, but often turn to other industries to fill those niches. Levi’s, for example, recently formed their own artificial intelligence bootcamp as a way to build an internal talent pool after hiring data scientists from industries like technology and finance for the first time. Students can also start new businesses or find their way to external industries such as games where knowledge of fashion is invaluable. The point is not only to prepare them for roles in fashion, but also to enable them to carry fashion forward.
The ongoing digital transformation of the fashion industry sees many companies constantly, albeit slowly at times, look to technology for a competitive advantage. From a commercial perspective of operations, more and more brands and retailers are looking for employees who are comfortable working with data collected online to make informed decisions about everything from marketing to product development. In the case of 3D design, big labels like Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger are already using it extensively in their businesses and as more companies adopt it, the more these skills will become in demand.
“There are many job opportunities for [students] in that space, ”said Amy Sperber, assistant professor of fashion design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). “There is product development with the tool. It is a great tool for sampling. It is a great tool for the production line. We’re also getting requests for students to work with people using 3D outputs in completely different ways. “
Brands also use 3D assets in their e-commerce or social media, he noted. And then there are still emerging uses, such as virtual fashion.
In 2021, London’s Ravensbourne University launched what it calls a one-of-a-kind course in digital technology for fashion. Eligible students who enroll learn skills such as digital avatar modeling, virtual garment design, and how to create immersive virtual reality environments.
“I knew there would soon be a fusion of worlds between play and fashion design and I pushed Ravensbourne to embrace this opportunity,” said Lee Lapthorne, program director in the school’s fashion department.
His prediction is confirmed as more and more brands tap into the huge and valuable gaming market.
Alexander Knight, who studied fashion design in Ravensbourne and quickly moved on to learning digital design when the pandemic cut off in person, started selling virtual garments through DressX, a virtual fashion startup. He is also freelancing for another company to digitize their projects in the real world. In his experience since graduation in 2020, companies are just starting to seek proficiency in 3D tools when hiring, but he said the demand for digital skills is increasing.
“It’s where everything is headed in life,” he said. “Courses need to start teaching it to give their students skills that will be useful for the future of fashion.”
Even if fashion schools want to integrate new skills into their curriculum, they may find it slow.
“It’s a two-year process for developing our curriculum,” Sperber said.
At FIT, 3D design is still taught as an optional skill rather than a core skill. Sperber said the pandemic made it “very obvious” that FIT could no longer delay teaching students 3D, but because it is a state school and receives public funding, its curriculum must go through a rigorous review process. . Costs are also an obstacle. After introducing 3D design, FIT soon realized that it didn’t have the right graphics cards in its computer labs.
“It requires purchases of hardware, software,” Sperber said. “We are not talking about a car. We are talking about thousands of machines. “
And there is no guarantee that every cutting-edge tool will become the standard. Students inspired by the metaverse boom to focus their studies on designing for virtual reality may find themselves at a disadvantage if the hype is unsuccessful.
Conducting courses as electives “allows us to be very agile in how we respond to emerging technologies,” said Drinkwater.
FIA operates as creative consultancy in collaboration with the fashion and technology industries. Then he brings the technology into the digital learning labs he leads to London College of Fashion.
He has taught artificial intelligence courses where students learn to program in Python and have access to tools such as a photogrammetry rig, which uses dozens of cameras to produce intricate 3D renderings of an object or model. Students can use the 3D assets in virtual experiences they make with game creation engines like Unity or Unreal, which is what Balenciaga used to create their Afterworld game and Fortnite collaboration.
These skills may not currently be needed for every fashion brand or retailer. But Soojin Kang, interim co-director of Parsons’ Fashion MFA program, said teaching students new technologies is also important to prepare them for what lies ahead. He pointed to the metaverse, NFTs, and the continued growth of various digital assets. And these are not the only reasons why he believes it is important to give students the best technological tools.
“It’s not just about the industry,” he said. “Once you find a better way, why do you want to go back?”