Arthur C Clarke, a futurist and science writer, predicted that 1964 would be the year of “the invention that will end all inventions”. Clarke called it “the replicator”, which is a machine that can duplicate any item at any time. “Confronted by such a device society will likely sink into gluttonous barbarism since everyone would want unlimited amounts of everything since there would be no cost to anything,” warned Clarke.
Sixty-years later, replicators have become the norm. We have 3D printers that can create items from digital files. Fast fashion also makes cheap copies of large quantities. Digital design is perhaps the most accurate replicator of Sir Arthur’s invention. Digitally designed items can be identical to any physical item because they are digital twins. These items can exist in a virtual world where there are no creative or physical limitations. Clarke stated that “the future is more than an extension of the past”.
The possibilities of digital technology are expanding in ways that were previously unknown. The metaverse, decentralised transactions such as blockchain and NFTs, along with the rise of Web3 have transformed the internet and our world from creative, business, and social perspectives. How can we prepare fashion designers to work in the future metaverse? This question and many others were posed to five leading innovators in fashion education.
Fashion schools drive digital transformation
“You don’t know much about fashion industry when you are 18, 17 or 18. Professor Jules Dagonet, Head, School, Fashion & Design, said that while you have ideas and thoughts, your expectations are to be driven by academia. UCA (University for the Creative Arts), London. Textiles. Students entering fashion school as undergraduates are looking for guidance. The educational institutions must be ready to provide them with all the options and opportunities for a career in fashion.
Dagonet said that these students are excited to embrace digital fashion but not driving the change. She said that sustainability is not as important as fashion, but it was still top of mind. “It is the responsibility of educational institutions to lead in digital innovation and get students on board.”
How can fashion schools be a catalyst for innovation? Dagonet says education is the key to innovation. “We can’t talk the talk; we have to walk it.” CLO3D, Adobe Substance and all the other new software being used to bring digital fashion to life will not be something that every employee is familiar with. It is therefore our responsibility, as an educational institute, to ensure that all employees are up-skilled.
Digital fashion design education as a mindset
Leslie Holden, cofounder of The Digital Fashion Group, stated that digitalization must be integrated from the beginning. But where do you start? How can you pivot to a digital-friendly curriculum? How can you ensure quality, student numbers, new techniques, new skills, and new curriculum with a group who may not have any digital skills? Understanding the mindset is key. The skills will follow.
Fashion designers can explore new business models and roles with the digital mindset. Holden says that fashion educators must be trained to help designers become digital entrepreneurs. He also asks a question: Should we continue to educate fashion designers for an outdated business model, when employability is a critical performance metric in fashion education?
Sean Chiles, cofounder of The Digital Fashion Group, pointed out that academia began to focus on students’ employment over the past 30 years. It has moved from an artistic and research approach towards business needs. This is due to the key performance indicators of each country’s job creation, including government funding.
Shannon Sim, a lecturer at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore’s School of Fashion, said that “the old industrial revolution format” for fashion education must go. Students are seated in classrooms with a lecturer at the front, delivering the information the student needs. The student absorbs the information and listens to it without questioning. This must change.
Chiles defended the distinction between education and training. Schools must go beyond the requirements of employers. Education is not about what employers want. It’s about what you want, who you want, and what you want. It is about creating within your own psyche what you feel about all things. Chiles said that then, we can link to the zeitgeist through design and social interaction. You can quickly learn how to make a pattern. You need to understand how it relates to you and to society.
Digital fashion design and collaborative skills
It is important to consider the social implications of the fashion and tech intersections. We are dealing with new virtual environments like the metaverse, which are not well-explored. Chiles says that the metaverse must engage with design and creativity as a creator’s perspective, not as a technologist. To understand how people create, and how we can bring these ideas into the new world. Collaboration is the key to this.
Maya Georgieva is the Director of Education Futures/XReality Center at The New School. She believes that these spaces need to be multi-disciplinary in their construction. We should encourage our students to think like architects and designers of virtual worlds and spaces, and to understand how to build, by understanding what drives people to them. Georgieva said, “Let’s encourage students to think, and to be entrepreneurs.”
Sim noted that “gaming is changing the world of fashion in the same way as it can transform education.” These research areas could be explored together, with collaboration between researchers from different sectors and disciplines. This would help to create a future of fashion education.