Fashion Designer Juan Carlos Mesa ‘Maison Mesa’ October 20, 2019 Spain.
Having written about fashion virtual catwalks and digital fashion, the designer and supply chain revolution, and social sustainability, overstock and ‘greenwashing’ for this COVID-19 industry insiders series, this article addresses how fashion education and business accelerators are adapting to the coronavirus pandemic. How is the next generation of industry professionals being prepared for a vastly and rapidly changing industry? Has the role of business accelerators to support and nurture startups with vital industry solutions changed? Are they more critical than ever? I spoke to industry professionals to find out the current, near, and future state of these pivotal industry facets.
In terms of fashion education, the world’s most renowned colleges, including Parsons School of Design in New York, and London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, also in London, maintain an approach for fashion design teaching rooted in the core manual skills of drawing, paper pattern-making and draping on mannequins. While the tools of communication have become digital in the past decade or so, the creative process of the designer graduates remains resolutely manual. Why? And what is the consequence of this for graduates?
I spoke to Mouhannad Al-Sayegh, a Creative Technologist at the London College of Fashion, who is based in the University’s Digital Learning Lab (DLL). The lab offers students support for learning and creating both products and experiences using software and hardware, including Clo3D for digital fashion design (explored extensively in this previous article) and augmented reality headsets, including Microsoft MSFT ’s Hololens. In fact, through the university’s Fashion Innovation Agency, students can work in groups on elective industry projects to learn and use these software and hardware tools to create and showcase industry solutions, which may then be adopted by industry. But why isn’t this the norm in terms of teaching?
The industry is hurtling towards digital transformation and Al-Sayegh explained that he and the DLL team are helping students who elect to learn digital design and coding skills, the skills they need to drive new fashion industry solutions and experiences. Currently, learning software like Clo3D and it’s rival, Optitex, is optional for fashion design students, however it is part of the curriculum for garment technology students, and herein lies the long-term distinction between the ‘creative’ (ie. design) and ‘technical (ie. pattern-making and garment construction) elements of fashion creation. One problem with this segmentation is that the digital software solutions mentioned require the amalgamation of both skills, which is why a new breed of a digital and technical designer will be needed to serve an industry aiming to deliver end-to-end digital fashion from design to showroom, as described by Burak Cakmak, Dean of Parsons School of Design during the recent Fashinnovation Worldwide Talks earlier this month.
Andrew La Casse, BA Womenswear student uses Clo3D for Accelerating the Future of Fashion Project
LCF x Microsoft
Since the COVID-19 crisis took hold, Al-Sayegh reports being contacted by designer/maker students and alumni who, due to the lockdown, “have started picking up and learning Clo3D, Rhino, and other 3D digital tools as they find themselves with more time.” Essentially, the lockdown is facilitating upskilling. Clo3D, which is used by many industry giants, including Adidas and H&M, allows garment design and 2D garment pattern making to happen concurrently, with real-time garment pattern updates every time a design detail is changed in 3D. Virtual fitting is also possible. Also catalyzing this interest by students and alumni is thought to be Clo3D opening up access to their software and tutorials for free during the COVID-19 crisis.
Samuel Membery, Fashion Design Lecturer at London College of Fashion offered further insights during a recent panel discussion, saying that pre-Covid-19 none of his fashion design students were exploring digital design software Clo3D, but now “around 50%” are trying it out. Membery is an experienced pattern-cutter having worked at Alexander McQueen, Jasper Conran, and several other brands, and has just commenced learning 3D fashion design software himself. As a graduate with pattern-cutting qualifications from London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins, and having taught pattern-cutting to fashion design students, I can attest to there being no formal provision for educators to be trained on these digital design solutions—most educators with Clo3D or similar software skills would appear to be self-taught. With 500 students graduating from London College of Fashion in the coming weeks and no physical platform to showcase their work, the relevance of this 3D software to create virtual garments can’t be overstated. For graduating students their work will be presented in an online Portfolio portal, so the mandatory medium is digital.
Fashion Designer Juan Carlos Mesa ‘Maison Mesa’ in his atelier October 20, 2019 Spain.
In terms of shifting to digital teaching methods, Al-Sayegh said that universities are now “looking to find their place online,” exploring “how to deliver their current curriculum and keep the students engaged.” He says that a key focus area for universities is gaming and game streamer’s platforms such as Twitch and Youtube Gaming. The benefit of these platforms, he says, is that they deliver content that audiences (in this case, students) can interact with, in real-time.
Unprecedented challenges call for novel, innovative solutions—something the Farfetch Dream Assembly aims to achieve through its 7-week accelerator program for fashion startups with a proven minimum viable product. Graduates include Thrift Plus and Good On You, which have gone on to partner on the ‘Positively Farfetch’ sustainability initiative. The accelerator has just announced its fourth cohort, and its intention to deliver the entire program virtually, rather than through meetings in Porto, Lisbon, and London, as it has for previous cohorts.
What is the role of this accelerator at this time, and how is COVID-19 impacting the program, I asked VP of Innovation at Farfetch, Carol Hilsum. Hilsum said: “Innovation is always key to creating long term progress in the industry. Early-stage startups always need support to succeed.” Will the program provide the same level of support? Hilsum explained that after consulting with their brand partner, Burberry, they believe that the program can deliver all the value of those that came before it and that the only material change to the fourth program is the addition of a health mentor to assist with any challenges the startups have – physical or otherwise.
Do the cohort offer solutions particularly relevant to tackling COVID-19 challenges? Hilsum mentioned MX-R (develops 3D capture technology,) and Ivapparel, which enables gaming companies to incorporate fashion skins into games and virtual worlds. She also mentioned SupplyCompass, who has created a digital garment design and production dashboard allowing SMEs to manage garment production without the need for internal design, garment technology, and sourcing teams. Hilsum said that all the cohort members are in the “early stages, either pre-seed to seed, with some moving on to series A.”
Farfetch Dream, Assembly Pitch Session, cohort 3
The closing comment on Farfetch’s decision to push on with Dream Assembly during Covid-19 was offered by their VP of Communications SBAC , Susannah Clark, who declared the current times a “humanitarian and health crisis, combined with an economic crisis,” and went on to say: “Farfetch launched at the height of the Lehmann Brothers crash in 2007,” so they are no strangers to economic challenges.
This concludes the fourth installment in this industry insiders series. Key takeaways on fashion education and accelerators include: fashion education must accelerate towards digital design solutions to prepare graduates for the rapidly changing industry; there is a gap between creative and technical knowledge as design and patter-making have been siloed historically, but new 3D design solutions that are being adopted quickly by the industry demand proficiency in both areas. In terms of accelerators, they offer agile startups much needed support to hone their solutions to solve industry problems; and are deliverable online—even when pitching for investment.
Overall takeaways on how the fashion industry is changing in the face of the coronavirus pandemic across this series include: digital transformation is being accelerated—not just for consumer-facing solutions, but for design and manufacturing too; consumer sentiment is changing, driven by tangible climate change and media coverage of social sustainability issues, so brands must respond accordingly; sustainability initiatives were put on pause when COVID-19 hit, but for brands and manufacturers with inherent strategies, those will be actioned with increased speed and focus on digitalization, reduction in waste and overproduction; the manufacturing sector will consolidate, and brands and manufacturers will form strategic partnerships; we are heading for a global recession, so consumers will be more selective over brand choices, but will at the same time be very price sensitive. The challenges are many, however they are met with an equal number of solutions. Decision-making and action-taking appear to be the next sizeable hurdles.