Fashion design education matters to the metaverse

In 1964, Arthur C Clarke, science writer and futurist, predicted “invention will end all inventions”. He called “the replicator”, a duplicating machine to create copies of anything at any time: “Faced with such a device, society will probably descend into a kind of gluttonous barbarism because everyone would like of everything in unlimited quantity since nothing would cost anything”, warns Clarke.

Sixty years later, replicators are the norm. In the physical realm, we have 3D printing machines that recreate items from digital files, and fast fashion makes cheap copies at scale. But perhaps the closest thing to Sir Arthur’s Replicator today is the digital design. As digital twins, digitally designed objects can be perfect copies of any physical object. These objects inhabit a virtual universe where there are no physical or creative limits, because as Clarke said “the future is not simply an extension of the present”.

New digital technologies are enhancing our opportunities in ways previously unimaginable. The metaverse, decentralized transactions such as blockchain and especially NFTs, and the rise of Web3 are transforming the Internet and therefore our world, from a creative, social and commercial point of view. In this scenario, how should we educate fashion designers for a future workplace in the metaverse? We asked this question and many more to five key fashion education innovators.

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

The digital transformation driven by fashion schools

“When you’re 18 or 17, you don’t know much about the fashion industry. You have ideas, thoughts, but you expect to be guided 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. Undergraduates seek guidance when they first enter fashion school, and educational institutions need to prepare for this, showing them all the opportunities and alternatives for a career in fashion.

For Dagonet, these students are eager to embrace digital fashion, but aren’t exactly driving change. Not as much as sustainability, “it’s a priority for them,” she added. “It is the responsibility of educational institutions to be at the forefront and innovate in the digital realm, and then to engage students.”

But how can fashion schools drive innovation? For Dagonet, the answer is education: “we can’t just talk, we have to walk. Not all staff know about CLO3D, Adobe Substance, all the new software that’s being introduced to bring digital fashion to life, so it is our responsibility as an education institute to develop all of our staff”.

Teaching digital fashion design as a mindset

“Digitalization needs to be embraced from scratch on the fashion agenda,” stressed Leslie Holden, co-founder of The Digital Fashion Group, “but where do we start? How do we pivot to an agenda that embraces digital? How do we ensure quality, number of students, new methods, new skills, new collaborations, a new curriculum with a team that may have little or no digital skills?It is important to first understand the state spirit and skills will come later.”

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

As Sean Chiles, co-founder of The Digital Fashion Group, pointed out, academia has begun to focus on the employment situation of students over the past 30 years, moving from an artistic and research approach to business requirements. This is linked to public funding and its key performance indicators of job creation in each country.

For Shannon Sim, a lecturer at the School of Fashion at LASALLE College of the Arts, Singapore, “the old Industrial Revolution format for teaching fashion has to go, whether we like it or not.” With students sitting in a classroom, with the speaker having to provide the information they think the student needs to learn, the student listens and absorbs without asking questions. This must change.

As Chiles defended, “education and training are two separate things”. Schools need to go beyond meeting the demands of employers, because education is about “what you want to see, who you want to be, what you want to do, etc. For a designer, it’s creating in your psyche, with what you all feel. And then we connect the zeitgeist with design and social interaction,” Chiles said. “You can learn how to cut out a pattern very quickly. What you have to learn is how it relates to the person and how it relates to society.”

Digital Fashion Design and Collaborative Skills

When discussing the intersections of fashion and technology, it is essential to understand the social impact of what we create, as we are dealing with new and little explored virtual environments such as the metaverse. Chiles adds “the metaverse must approach design and creativity from the perspective 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 essential .”

According to Maya Georgieva, director of the 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 to understand how to build knowing what brings people there and why they are driven to it. Let’s encourage our students to think, to be entrepreneur,” Georgieva said.

And Sim observed: “In the same way that gaming is transforming the world of fashion, the same potential could also be presented for education. We could all dive into these areas of research and work closely together, 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 preview of the discussion here:

Joseph E. Golightly