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The New Technologies Fashion Schools Are Teaching Students

The New Technologies Fashion Schools Are Teaching Students
Written by Publishing Team

As the fashion industry rushes into the digital future, schools that train the next generation of workers are catching up.

The presence of emerging technologies in the fashion curriculum has at times proven scattered and uneven. While there are some schools that are up to the challenge, many have not yet.

A recent survey found that only five of the eight best fashion schools considered 3D design — perhaps the most common new skill students learn — as part of their core curriculum as of October 2021, according to Peter John Ho Tsang, who worked with IFA that will create the Paris MBA. In Fashion Technology she is the founder of Beyond Form, a venture studio specializing in fashion and technology that partners with startups to launch their businesses. One of Tsang’s students conducted the research.

The reasons for the delay in uptake of the latest technology can vary. Some traditionally minded schools can be slow to adopt new ways of working, and sophisticated tools may require costly equipment upgrades. Updating curricula can be a lengthy process, not to mention risky if it involves technologies that can quickly become outdated.

But there may be a shift underway.

Parsons in New York has begun teaching Clo3D to all students starting in their third year after taking pilot courses in 2019 and 2020. The French Institute de la Maude (IFM) in Paris said advanced Clo3D training is now part of its curriculum for all design students. And making patterns, too. It also offers a six-month program on “virtualizing” the value chain, from material design to marketing, and a master’s degree in fashion management with courses covering data science and analysis.

At IFA Paris, along with training in traditional skills such as manually cutting patterns, all first-year students learn digital clothing design in tools such as the DC Suite. Entering their second year, they’re covering prototyping — “3D printing, laser cutting, body scanning,” Tsang said. Meanwhile, the MBA program gives students the opportunity to learn programming and artificial intelligence.

“Things are changing – they are changing very quickly,” said Matthew Drinkwater, Head of the Fashion Innovation Agency (FIA) at London College of Fashion. “You can see across the range that many schools are now starting to offer special courses in digital fashion.”

Graduates of these programs enter a job market where fashion companies increasingly value skills such as data analysis and proficiency in 3D tools but often turn to other industries to fill those areas. For example, Levi’s recently formed its own AI bootcamp as a way to build an in-house talent pool after hiring first-time data scientists from fields like technology and finance. Students can also launch new businesses, or find their way into outside industries such as gaming where knowledge of fashion is valuable. The goal is not only to prepare them for roles in fashion but also to enable them to move forward in fashion.

new opportunities

The ongoing digital transformation of the fashion industry has steadily, albeit sometimes slowly, many companies looking to technology for a competitive advantage. On the business side of operations, more brands and retailers are looking for employees who are comfortable working with the set of data they collect online to inform decisions about everything from marketing to product development. In the case of 3D design, big brands like Adidas and Tommy Hilfiger are already using it extensively in their businesses, and as more companies adopt it, the greater the demand for these skills.

“There are a lot of job opportunities [students] said Amy Sperber, associate professor of fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York (FIT). “There is product development with the tool. It’s a great sampling tool. It’s a great tool for the production line. We also get requests for students to work with people who use 3D output in completely different ways.”

She noted that brands are also using 3D assets in e-commerce or social media. Then there are still uses to emerge, such as virtual costumes.

In 2021, Ravensbourne University in London launched what it called the first-of-its-kind course on digital fashion technology. Eligible students who enter the schools learn skills such as digital avatar modeling, virtual clothing design, and how to create immersive virtual reality environments.

“I knew there would soon be a merger of the worlds between gaming and fashion design, and I pushed Ravensborn to seize the opportunity,” said Lee Lapthorne, program director for the school’s fashion department.

His predictions are having an effect as more brands enter the huge and valuable gaming market.

Alexander Knight, who studied fashion design at Ravensbourne and quickly switched to learning digital design when the pandemic cut off in-person activities, began selling virtual clothes through DressX, a virtual fashion startup. He also freelances for another company to digitize their photorealistic designs. In his experience since graduating in 2020, companies are just beginning to look for proficiency in 3D tools when hiring, but he said the demand for digital capabilities is growing.

“It’s where everything goes in life,” he said. “The courses need to start teaching them to give their students the skills that will be useful for the future of fashion.”

Barriers

Even if fashion schools want to incorporate new skills into their course of study, they can find them slow.

“It’s a two-year process to develop our curriculum,” Sperber said.

At FIT, 3D design is still taught as an optional rather than essential skill. Sperber said the pandemic has made it “very clear” that FIT can no longer delay teaching 3D students, but because it is a public school and receives public funding, its curricula must go through a rigorous review process. Costs are also an obstacle. After introducing the 3D design, FIT quickly realized that they did not have the proper graphics cards in their computer labs.

“It requires the purchase of hardware and software,” Sperber said. “We are not talking about one machine. We are talking about thousands of machines.”

And there is no guarantee that every sophisticated tool will become the standard. Students inspired by the metaverse boom to focus their studies on design for virtual reality may find themselves at a disadvantage if the hype doesn’t work.

Taking courses as electives “allows us to be more flexible in how we respond to emerging technologies,” Drinkwater said.

The FIA ​​acts as a creative consultancy in partnership with the fashion and technology industries. She then transfers the technology to the digital learning labs she runs at the London College of Fashion.

I’ve held courses on artificial intelligence where students learn to program in Python and access tools like the Photogrammetry platform, which uses dozens of cameras to produce complex 3D renderings of an object or model. Students can use 3D assets in their virtual experiences using game creation engines like Unity or Unreal, which is what Balenciaga used to create Afterworld and its Fortnite collaboration.

These skills may not currently be required by every fashion brand or retailer. But Soojin Kang, interim co-director of the MFA Fashion Program at Parsons, said teaching students new techniques is also important to prepare them for what’s on the horizon. She noted the metaverse, NFTs, and the continued growth of various digital assets. And these are not the only reasons why she thinks it is important to give students the best technological tools.

“It’s not just about the industry,” she said. “Once you find a better way, why do you want to turn back?”

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