Overproduction, racial inequality, unsustainable creative production, and a renewed need to focus on craftsmanship and small independent labels: these are some of the overarching issues that graduate students from America’s top fashion schools have raised. in recent interviews with WWD.
The opinions of these young designers represent the future of the industry. They are adamant not only to highlight these very public imperfections on fashion records, but also to chart institutional change.
Here are five lessons from the 2021 class – members of the Gen-Z fashion contingent – on how the industry can move forward.
1. It’s time to reduce the number of collections and designs in exchange for more sustainable creative output: “As a designer, I don’t believe in the system that the industry has created in the past. I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to do the same number of shows and collections every year. As a new generation of designers, we don’t have to go with the system. We can create our own schedule and work at our own pace, ”said Lily Xu, senior at Parsons School of Design, who has created a collection of men’s theses made up of mazes of strung beads.
“The frenetic pace of the deployment of new clothing season after season [has to change]. It’s not sustainable for producers or consumers, ”added Aiyu Liang, senior at the Rhode Island School of Design.
2. There is no place for performative diversity and inclusion activismFashion Institute of Technology graduate Hawwaa Ibrahim noted that recent events had made her realize a genuine lack of representation in fashion and the industry’s knee-jerk reaction for greater diversity at times seemed insincere. .
“There has been a contempt not only for the identity of others, but also for who is portrayed. I always knew this was happening, but the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement across the world last summer forced me to wake up. I saw how quickly people and companies in the fashion industry suddenly started to act like they cared about blacks and natives and people of color all this time, as they continue to take advantage of it without recognition and respect, ”Ibrahim said.
Xu similarly felt the portrayal of Asian talent. “As an Asian fashion designer, I want to support my people and my community. Racism towards the Asian community breaks my heart and I believe that designers have a responsibility to speak out because fashion is a powerful tool and we can use our power and voice to effect change. I hope to see a change in racism and not just as a public relations strategy, but actually provide people with jobs and opportunities in the industry, ”she said.
But Ibrahim said he saw the first signs of a turnaround, noting: “Finally, seeing other designers emerge and get the attention they deserve has given me hope that the fashion industry is slowly changing. in the right direction. “
3. Industry must ensure fairness and justice for workers throughout its supply chain: “I feel that [the pandemic] discovered many areas in which the fashion industry needs to develop. It exposed the unfair relationship between brands and production workers where there is little or no protection for them in the world. The relationship between big brands and factories has to change. Brands need to do better and reconsider their responsibilities to take care of all hands involved in the manufacturing process, ”pleaded Erin Hayes, senior at the Pratt Institute.
“Coming from a family of artists and craftsmen, I firmly believe in the power of the small brand or the company; one who knows the names of every person in the supply chain. The pandemic has shown the world just how problematic the fashion supply chain really is. People have realized that an industry, where big brands can place almost all of the economic risk on the manufacturer who hires poor workers who make the money a day, needs significant change, ”said Caleb Stern, director from Otis College of Art and Design.
4. Fashion can learn from other professions in order to position itself for more thoughtful consumption: Juliane “Julz” Iwerks, senior at Parsons, did a thesis on shoe collection inspired by the current craze of the vintage furniture market.
“The collection is a response to the boom in the home market that I experienced firsthand, loading vintage furniture into the backs of Ubers during the height of the pandemic… I believe in using home materials in products In fashion, it is possible to change consumer behavior to promote more thoughtful shopping and make products that are treated with the same care, specialty and permanence as traditional furniture, ”she said.
Stern added that he grew up learning metallurgy and woodworking techniques from his family. “One of the beauties of these mediums is that they can be enjoyed and enjoyed over a lifetime. Clothing is rarely subject to the same standard. I hope I have the opportunity to design functional, comfortable and timeless clothing that can be cherished for decades rather than a season or two, ”he said.
5. Time to Think Smaller and Support Niche Labels and Handicrafts Again: Parsons Sr. Patrick Taylor has created a collection of men’s clothing inspired by traditional children’s clothing, filled with handcrafted details. He says he “would like to see the fashion industry showcase brands that prioritize design, construction and materiality over producing high performance clothing.” I hope to see a greater focus on small business and a rapid exit from fashion. I want to be one of the young emerging designers who care about the ethics behind their fabrics and their production, focusing on the environmental impact of my clothes, without compromising on design.
Nzingha Helwig, senior at Savannah College of Art and Design, who has produced a thesis collection of hand-knitted clothing inspired by elements of nature, said: “The pandemic has demonstrated how much I appreciate tactility and how important slow fashion and craftsmanship are for the future. of the fashion industry. The current system of impersonal and disconnected design has proven to be inefficient and harmful. Clothes have to have emotional value, they still have to make you feel something. I think the pandemic has shown us that it’s okay to slow down and that it’s important to create clothes that move people.