Home Featured “The old-fashioned fashion educators: the oxymoron”

“The old-fashioned fashion educators: the oxymoron”


In her third featured article with us, resident Expert Dr Evridiki Papahristou explores the changing fashion market, what it means to students and professors, and the importance of linking the world of education with that of industry. Evridiki is a devoted fashion engineer with a research focus in the effective integration of 3D virtual prototype in the apparel industry, and sits on our Expert panel in implementing and adopting 3D.

[*Oxymoron: A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (from Greek oxumōron)]

“Vision without execution is just hallucination.” Henry Ford

Signals that the global RFA market structure is going through change are stronger than ever: Amazon, recently large-scaled, invested in direct-to-garment printers and entered into the world of on-demand apparel with Merch by Amazon. German sportswear giant Adidas, after “Speedfactory”, opened in Berlin “Knit for you”. This pop-up store, with high-tech knitting machines, offered sweaters on demand with some of the production steps involved handled by the customer themselves; such as design and bodyscan.

Lutz Walter, secretary general of the European Technology Platform for the Future of Textiles and Clothing, recently stated that the mega-trends of digitisation, sustainability and the collaborative or sharing economy will probably transform the textile and clothing industry more rapidly and profoundly than the market liberalisation and rather gradual end-market diversification of the last 10-15 years.

At a recent international conference I attended, it was pointed that over the course of the next decade, we will become accustomed to robotics operating with minimal human input. Cyber physical systems will monitor the physical processes of a factory, and will communicate with other systems via the IoT along with humans wirelessly in real time. Ageing workforce of the industry will be struggling to adapt to new practices. The sad part? It already is.

“Collaboration Culture” drives Industry 4.0, as I mention in my previous article. However, roles are changing and eventually machine-learning technology and the increasing needs of Industry 4.0 will bring engineering and fashion closer.

The role of education and the development of employability skills of students in Fashion/Clothing Higher Educational Courses.

It is clear from research that virtual garment visualisation and prototyping is set to play an important role within the garment product development in the future and it is essential that fashion and clothing graduates have an understanding of what technology tools are commercially available, the implications of its use within advanced product development and its benefits to the process. Fashion institutions should adapt their educational system in such a way that fashion professionals of tomorrow undergo the latest technology used in the industry. Moreover, according to another study, the academic institutions should provide industry-oriented courses to students and prepare them for situations they will face once they have entered the job market. In addition, the interaction between academic institutions and the industry needs to be improved by proper coordination.

There are arguments that while these institutions deliver acclaimed design talent, they are unable to provide the industry-based experiential-learning opportunities required for translating innovative designs into marketable garments. Most of the young generation students in fashion & clothing education have no hands-on experience of working with 3D, thus are entering the technology-led business of modern fashion, unprepared. And, while it certainly isn’t endemic, since many universities have partnered with vendors of 3D solutions, there appears to be at least some gap between the industry’s growing awareness and experience of 3D, and those of students currently in education [more info in WhichPLM’s 5th Edition].

Part of my PhD research included personal interviews with vendors of 3D prototyping technology, academics, fashion professionals, entrepreneurs and end-users of 3D technology. In order to investigate the Fashion Designer of the Future versus 3D Virtual Prototype, I asked the participants who was going to to do the 3D job in the future and, after analysing the primary data, the Word Tree for “Expert” showed that it doesn’t exist yet!

If the new expert needed does not exist yet, what is fashion education doing? Is the education mentality evolving taking into consideration new concepts and environments like the one of 3D? Is there enough academic staff with knowledge and mindset of new working environments and emerging trends such as 3D printing, the evolving store, changing consumer preferences, heightened need for radical transparency, technology tools that analyse data helping product development to become more efficient and accurate in decision making?

Based on the answers from the participants in my research, the implementation is slow or very far behind. To be on the cutting edge institutions have to be part of the development process. When it comes to 3D specifically, the participants with the Attribute – Country of Work: US, replied that many universities already focus on 3D and offer special classes, slowly making an impact, starting to use it as important tool in their curriculum. Indeed, National Centre on Education and the Economy reports have highlighted the need for the USA to prepare its labour force to meet the requirements of the new knowledge based economy. Several studies revealed a significant gap when it comes to validating academic readiness with industry expectations, calling for immediate action to align higher education’s strategic goals to meet the new global and competitive challenge.

Universities on the contrary, in fashion studies, still maintain a culture of apprenticeship – a tradition very evocative for many people in the industry; a system of the atelier. “particularly in fashion, technology has been effectively stopped developing in education by academics who are focused on a dream of haute couture and ironically fearful of change” pinpoints a professor from a fashion university in the UK. That needs to be replaced by technology to be more realistic in the current environment that we live. There is a long way to go… The oxymoron is that ateliers themselves are reacting to change. Olivier Lapidus, the son of Ted Lapidus and Artistic Director of Lapidus Couture, is the first couturist to launch a solely online house.

The innovative designer aims to bring couture and digital together – with no actual store and no seasonality. Lanvin, the historic French fashion house at the heart of Parisian chic, has appointed Olivier (an expert in “e-couture”) as its new Creative Director in an attempt to connect with the new generation. While even the haute couture world is making an effort to adapt to radical changes, shifting roles and technical skills, fashion education is left behind with lack of knowledge and willingness to open to technology; resistance. Many tutors of fashion and textile are stuck in this schism of the past. They are scared of change. Preparing new generations for those technologies is key to unlocking the potential of technology.

Like in a company’s shifting culture, the upper management leads the change and adapts the new vision in the world of academia; it is the responsibility of the influential Course Leaders, Professors and Deans to intelligently understand and reach out to experts, lecturers, technicians, and researchers in 3D subjects (for example, physical and digital), and also the consultants and retailers in industry, to enlighten conventional or narrow and historically restricted experience.

The aim would be:

  • To input new thinking and inform investment in schools, colleges, universities which can positively communicate to apply change management approach
  • Invest time and intelligence in teaching effective, new technologies to improve communication in global industry, reduce the number of samples and waste, improve testing of materials and process to improve negatives such as pollution and environmental issues

We’ve come a long way from that sheet of paper and pencil” and it will take at least a decade for everything to evolve to the right level. More academic experts are definitely needed to drive the “becoming intuitive” of the technology. According to a US professor with research and teaching expertise in technical apparel design, more educational programmes are needed to bridge the gap

between the technical expert and the code developer. In academia students need to be familiar with the use of technology. Whether it is adopted or not, whether it takes off or not; they just need to be trained how to cope with it. If we don’t allow the new technology to be learned by the students on undergraduate courses then they will never be able to feed that back in or invest that learning experience back into courses as teaching demonstrators, or into the industry.

According to McKinsey and BoF in the “State of Fashion 2017”, the need to adopt a digital process effectively will presumably place added pressure on creativity across all market segments to take up new tools – from virtual design to virtual sampling – to increase efficiency and integrate design-to-cost. Fashion Education’s role is to prepare graduates for employment in industry 4.0, emphasizing the importance of the inclusion of all kinds of technologies (AR, VR, 3D Scanning/Visualisation/Modelling/Printing, Digital Design, CAD/CAM, PLM, the IoT etc,), which naturally result in the productivity of the education outputs. Otherwise we will end up with the oxymoron of fuelling the new industry with archaic skill sets not necessarily needed in the long run.

Evridiki Papahristou Dr. Evridiki Papahristou is a devoted fashion engineer and an assistant professor in the scientific field of clothing 3D virtual prototyping. She began her studies at the University of Kent in European Fashion/Product development but after working as a fashion designer in a design studio in Milan she continued her studies with a Master’s degree researching new technologies in apparel. With many years of professional practise/expertise in CAD systems and more than 20 years in academia, she has trained many of today’s executives in digital fashion product development trying to bridge the gap between academia and industry. Her Ph.D uniquely blended fashion and engineering, trying to explore new ways of implementing and adopting new technologies like 3D and PLM. She loves research and her current focus is in applying AI technology tools in the product development process of apparel.