Confessions of fashion students: We’re teaching ourselves how to be designers

For aspiring young designers, getting an acceptance letter to a prestigious fashion school like Fashion Institute of Technology or Parsons School of Design in New York City can feel like the golden ticket to success.

Yet as the fashion industry adapts to rapid technology growth, with a specific focus on areas like sustainability and diversity, schools are struggling to keep up with the pace. Professors and administrators are failing to integrate these issues into curriculums, or show students how to tackle the issues in a tangible way after graduation.

In this edition of Confessions, in which we grant anonymity in exchange for honesty, we talked to two students at the Parsons School of Design — one a recent graduate with a focus on augmented reality in fashion, and another in his second year of study with hopes to launch a gender neutral, sustainable fashion line. The two students discuss the challenges they experienced finding adequate guidance and cultivating a unique creative vision.

How does your curriculum address the way technology is affecting fashion?
Recent graduate: Our teachers are not equipped with this kind of knowledge. This isn’t their fault, they’re here to teach the fashion side of things. But when it comes to these challenges, they can better use their resources to help that.

Do you feel that Parsons is adequately tackling sustainability issues?
Second-year student: We just built our Making Center center, which is a place where students can do 3-D printing. But, come on, Parsons has been famous for many, many years, and they just built this for us? From a textile point of view, we could do more — there’s a company that uses pineapple leaves to make fur or leather. The school should invest more in textiles rather than just say, “be sustainable.”

So you don’t find your teachers to be helpful?
Second-year student: I don’t think our school gives us enough guidance for these challenges because the teachers there talk about it in the class but they never guide you on how to tackle the problems. When you ask them about a certain project, or they want you to be sustainable, they’re not giving you many resources. So we don’t know where to start. So we just go to Google. What’s the point of going to a really expensive design school if you can just go to the same place everybody else is researching?

What about outside mentorship?
Second-year student: Part of the reason that teachers couldn’t give any feedback is that some of them aren’t really creative designers themselves. One of my teachers said we have to be professionals; that’s why we have to learn basics. But she also told me she doesn’t love her job. If you don’t love teaching fashion, that’s not what I call professionalism. We have to find those real designers, those really talented individuals, and have them come to school and give us lectures. Right now I don’t feel those teachers have the capability of bringing talented students to the pathway to their success.

How would you describe the atmosphere among your peers at school?
Recent graduate: It’s more competitive than collaborative, especially among the fashion majors. There’s only one collaborative project in the four-year curriculum, and there is a lot of drama with fashion design students when they go through this process, especially when doing a collection because everyone has their own aesthetics and their own voice. Sometimes because you’re collaborating, you have to do a co-collection and you’re not exploring your creative vision.

How does Parsons prepare you to get a job?
Recent graduate: Parsons has a very special way of thinking of what a portfolio is and what type of inspiration is “good.” It’s not a bad thing, but they have a very stereotyped approach. You have to come up with the inspiration from what they give you, and you have to make it pretty philosophical.

Do you have any regrets?
Second-year student: After I got to Parsons, I got a little bit disappointed. To me I feel like the school is overrated. For example, we talk about resources and sustainability and social responsibility, but in our school, I feel like there aren’t enough real intellectuals and tutors that can help us with that.

Get news and analysis about fashion, beauty and culture delivered to your inbox every morning.