Virtual fashion has continued to tighten its grip on the industry and, in light of its indubitable impact, an increasing number of brands are starting to turn to using the alternative production method for both its sustainable benefits and appeal to the younger generation of shoppers. However, with a notable lack of fashion-educated tech people in the industry, it can be hard to evoke an image of what digital fashion’s future could actually look like.
Amsterdam Fashion Institute (AMFI) is looking to change that. The Dutch university has been a frontrunner of the digital fashion curve for many years, offering tech-centred specialisations and minors to design students looking to explore the ever-expanding 3D world. The implementation of these courses allows students to graduate in diverse settings, with many AMFI alumni heading off to work in big name brands, such as Adidas or Nike, which are increasingly adopting digital fashion into their process.
“It is not a ‘metaverse’ buzzword course…”
Building on this, one of the school’s lecturers Ineke Siersema is hoping to take AMFI’s impact a step further with her Digital Fashion summer course. Now in its third edition, the two week course, which ran from July 4 to 15, invited international students, graduates and professionals to learn more about the digital fashion world, with a particular focus on its sustainability. Participants received knowledge on everything from 3D virtual prototyping to developments in artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR). “It is not a ‘metaverse’ buzzword course,” Siersema said, in conversation with FashionUnited. “We want to go beyond that. The two weeks is a cooking pot. We want to give an overview of what is happening so that people have context and know what they are heading for.”
“It is important that we provide the industry with that knowledge,” Siersema noted, adding that many graduates from the course’s past, some of which were already professionals in the industry, have gone on to either implement their knowledge into a company or develop their own brand. And the group is only getting bigger.
This year, participants came from all walks of life, from first year students to seasoned designers and fashion educators, each varying in both skills and personal vision. In a typical fashion education style, the course took over participants’ lives for the short-lived period, consisting of eight hour days and additional homework that kept students immersed in the digital world throughout. Alongside a group project, which required students to come up with a digital fashion brand, individual assignments saw the designers test and trial various digital design methods using 3D design software Clo, eventually resulting in digital iterations of real-life clothing and a handful of their own virtual designs.
For many, it was their first time experiencing such production methods and working with established industry professionals. Younger participants particularly noted that future employability was an important aspect as to why they decided to take part. First year AMFI student, 20-year-old Karolina Wójtowicz, the youngest of the group, said that as a fresh member of the fashion industry, she felt a course like this provided her with a sustainable way to experiment with her designs, while also allowing her to garner unique employment skills.
Employers prioritising digital skills
A similar sentiment was touched upon by Dutch customwear designer Delianne Bouma, who joined the course to speed up her design process and boost her career. Speaking to FashionUnited, Bouma said: “Brands like Calvin Klein are now asking job applicants to be willing to learn digital skills and 3D software, next to standard Adobe programmes. It is really something for the future, and with this course you can have an extra advantage.”
Virtual reality (VR) student Anita Ghaffarian said she took the course as she noticed that many of the programmes she uses to develop VR are missing advanced clothing simulation technology. “In the future I want to merge virtual reality with fashion in a way that is more useful during the supply chain process,” she noted. “It was my first time, as a student, to interact with different people from the fashion industry, so I got to see fashion from different perspectives.”
Alongside students and those looking to enter the industry, established fashion professionals also took part in the course in order to get a good grip of what digital fashion actually entails and how they could potentially integrate it into their respected companies. Dutch fashion group Just Brands, the owners of PME Legend and Vanguard, sent four of its designers on the course as part of its plans to potentially implement digital design into their supply chain at a later date. Frank Buls, PME Legend’s senior stylist, told FashionUnited: “Our company assigned the task of looking into ways of integrating a 3D way of working, which is why we were selected to do this course. We wanted to see what we could achieve in two weeks and what we could bring back to the company visually.”
The designers said they have talked about implementing these digital changes on a product level among their own team, and are deciding what kind of programmes to use and how suppliers can use the technology. While Buls, who currently works in menswear, used the course as an opportunity to explore designing for new categories, Vanguard’s Tung Trinh saw the Clo 3D platform’s potential as a digital sketchbook to present various pieces to leadership teams. The designer said that their focus on digital design was centred around supply chain implementation, in consideration of the group’s older, more mature consumer base who are possibly less interested in 3D activations. Trinh said: “The process creates less leftovers, sample costs and makes production more sustainable.”
Irene Merten, a senior stylist for Just Brands’ Cast Iron, added to Trinh’s point, stating: “Through the software, you can already present the look and feel to other members of the team, like marketing, retail partners or head of design. We currently work in Illustrator, which is quick and easy to understand, even for the supplier. Clo is more visual and can be used for other purposes. We are already seeing a lot of companies implement these methods, so we have to start so that we are not behind.”
Don’t overlook physical design processes
Merten noted that while digital development was important in education, she still believes that physical design processes should not be overlooked. However, she did recognise the sustainable advantages to digitalisation, adding: “At this moment, we usually make extra prototypes, either in another colour or material, which is not always necessary. It is always better to show a real garment to our head of design, but when you have a realistic visual it could also work.”
Former Viktor & Rolf intern Ines Arconada Vazquez said the decision to take on the course was based on the overwhelming demand for digital fashion in the industry. However, now in her role as a freelance seamstress Arconada Vazquez said she comes across a range of different projects, including a new client that expressed an interest in tech packs in which Arconada Vazquez is hoping to utilise her new knowledge to eliminate any excessive waste from prototyping.
Senior designer for sustainable clothing brand New Optimist, Giulia Verona, was also in attendance. In keeping with Merten’s views, Verona noted that the Netherlands-based company, which has so far focused on jersey and cotton, was currently looking to add woven materials to its offering with her project for the course centred around this goal, next to other personal motivations.
“The way this generation of software presents fabrics and textures is unlike anything that has come before it,” Verona said. “I wanted to take on the course as a way to implement an element that will hopefully add something positive to the work we do, so we are not just consuming but also able to support the process of less consumption. Though the tool is useful for sampling and production, I still think it’s good to have a physical reference for communication purposes, but in this way we can easily document the design process.”
Digital fashion makes fashion accessible
New Optimist recently analysed its impact between digital and physical sampling over the course of the past year and noted that the waste was much less when using digital processes. As a group, it also analyses waste from digital production, as to not avoid the fact that digitalisation can also produce waste. However, Verona added: “The great thing about digital is that it is accessible, so we can finally embrace clothing as a thing for everyone and not just something produced for ego-centric purposes.”
It is this mindset that digital fashion education has aimed to encapsulate in its approach. Emma Clifton, a pattern cutting lecturer at Edinburgh College of Art, said on her own mission in education: “I’m interested in giving digital fashion meaning and not having it as just a slick technological element you can’t interact with.”
Clifton, whose work for the course took inspiration from her surroundings and used them to create garments beyond the realms of physics, said she wanted to take the knowledge that she has gained back to her students. The lecturer has already begun introducing digital fashion into her course to support their physical pattern cutting, however students have found the technology frustrating to use mostly due to time constraints. “When first being introduced to the software, the learning curve is so steep there can be a lot of frustration,” she said. “However, the rewards that come from investing that time are worth it.”
Like the course’s student participants, Clifton also noted the employability advantages that come with learning digital fashion whilst in education. “Not every institution is implementing digital fashion so my students will be able to get a head start – it's a legitimate skill, it's concrete, it saves time. It's got good educational functions.”
It is this factor that is driving the course’s lead Ineke Siersema to keep pushing for digital fashion’s place in education. When asked if she is hoping to expand the course, Siersema replied: “Yes, absolutely.” The lecturer hopes to return to AMFI potentially extending the concept over two courses, possibly for different levels of expertise – however, this will be defined at a later stage.
“A course like this is necessary as a way to redefine community,” Siersema continued. “For years there has been a sustainability problem, but here we have a more sustainable way of developing a product. Through it, you can generate different methods and business models, giving new opportunities to rethink the way we produce and create fashion. And it is very important that we do it together. That’s why it needs to be education – educating people that are eager to learn and find a different path.”