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Fashion design education matters for the metaverse


In 1964, Arthur C Clarke, science writer and futurist, predicted
“the invention to end all inventions”. He called “the replicator”, a
duplicating machine to create copies of anything at any time:
“Confronted with such a device, society will probably sink into a kind
of gluttonous barbarism because everybody would want unlimited
quantities of everything since nothing would cost anything”, warned
Clarke.

Sixty years on, replicators are the norm. In the physical realm, we
have 3D printing machines recreating items from digital files, and
fast fashion making cheap copies on a large scale. But maybe the
closest to Sir Arthur’s replicator today is digital design. As digital
twins, digital designed items can be perfect copies of any physical
item. These items inhabit a virtual universe where there are no
physical or creative limitations, because as Clarke said “the future
is not merely an extension of the present”.

New digital technologies are enhancing our opportunities in fashion
ways previously unimagined. The metaverse, decentralised transactions
like blockchain and especially NFTs, and the rise of Web3 are
transforming the internet and therefore our world, from the creative,
social and business perspectives. In this scenario, how should we
educate fashion designers for a future workplace in the metaverse? We
asked this and more questions to five key innovators in the field of
fashion education.

ABOUT

This article is a collaboration between The Digital Fashion
Group Academy and FashionUnited, written by Dr Lívia Pinent, Digital
Professor for Research at The Digital Fashion Group Academy.

Digital transformation driven by the fashion schools

“When you are 18 or 17, you don’t know very much about the fashion
industry. You have some ideas, some thoughts, but you expect to be
driven by academia and what the program is going to offer,” said
Professor Jules Dagonet, Head of School, Fashion & Textiles at UCA
(University for the Creative Arts) in London. Undergraduate students
are looking for guidance when they first enter the fashion school, and
the educational institutions should be prepared for it, showing them
all the opportunities and alternatives for a fashion career.

To Dagonet, those students are eager to embrace digital fashion,
but not exactly driving the change. Not as much as sustainability,
“that’s top of mind for them”, she added. “It’s very much the
responsibility of education institutions to lead and to innovate in
digital fashion, and then get the students on board with it”.

But how can fashion schools lead innovation? To Dagonet, the answer
is education: “we can’t just talk the talk, we have to walk the walk.
Not every staff member will know about CLO3D, Adobe Substance, all the
new software that are being introduced to bring digital fashion to
life, so it is our responsibility as an education institute to upskill
all our staff members”.

Teaching digital fashion design as a mindset

“Digitalization has to be embraced from point zero in the fashion
curriculum”, emphasized Leslie Holden, co-founder of The Digital
Fashion Group, “but where to start? How to pivot towards a curriculum
that embraces digital? How to ensure the quality, the student numbers,
new methods, new skills, new collaboration, new curriculum with a team
who perhaps have little or no digital skills? It’s important to first
understand the mindset and the skills will come after.”

The digital mindset brings new business models and roles to be
explored by fashion designers. According to Holden, “we need to train
fashion educators to be able to teach designers how to be digital
entrepreneurs with the right digital mindset.” And he raises another
question: “should we keep educating so many fashion designers for an
old business model when employability is a key performance metric for
fashion education these days?”

As pointed out by Sean Chiles, co-founder of The Digital Fashion
Group, academia started to focus on the students’ employment situation
over the 30 years, moving from an artistic and research approach to
business demands. This is related to government financing and its key
performance metrics of job creation in each country.

For Shannon Sim, lecturer in the School of Fashion at LASALLE
College of the Arts, in Singapore, “the old industrial revolution
format for fashion education has to go, whether we like it or not.
With students seated in a classroom, with the lecturer in front
delivering the information they believe the student needs to learn,
The student listens and absorbs without questioning. This has to
change.”

As defended by Chiles, “education and training are two separate
things.” Schools should go beyond meeting the demands of employers, as
education is about “what you want to see, who you want to be, what you
want to do, etc. For a designer, it is to create within your psyche,
with what you feel about everything. And then we link to the zeitgeist
with design and social interaction,” said Chiles. “You can learn how
to cut a pattern very quickly. What you need to learn is how this
relates to the person and how this relates to society.”

Digital fashion design and the collaborative skillset

When discussing the intersections of fashion and technology, it is
essential to understand the social impact of what we are creating, as
we are dealing with new and little explored virtual environments such
as the metaverse. Chiles adds “the metaverse has to engage with design
and creativity from the point of view of the creator and not the
technologist. To understand how people create and how we can bring our
ideas to this new world. And to achieve this, collaboration is
key.”

According to Maya Georgieva, Director of Education Futures/XReality
Center at The New School in New York, the construction of these new
spaces should be multidisciplinary. “We should ask our students to
think like the architects and designers of these virtual spaces and
worlds, and understand how to build by knowing what brings people
there, and why they are driven to it. Let’s encourage our students to
think, to be entrepreneurial,” said Georgieva.

And Sim observed: “in the same way gaming is transforming the world
of fashion, the same potential could also be presented for education.
We could all dive into these research areas and work together closely,
collaborating with researchers from different disciplines, and
sectors, as we shape a collaborative future for fashion
education.”

This article is based on the live webinar “Fashion Education in
the Metaverse: building the curriculum of the future”, hosted by TDFGA
in partnership with Parsons N Ventures. Watch a sneak peak of the
discussion here:


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