At the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Future of Fashion runway show, taking place this Thursday night, student designers who beat out the competition in their graduating class will show their final projects, garments representing the children’s, intimate, active, occasion and knitwear categories. In all, hundreds of student designers participated in the competition and submitted garments for the consideration of the judges, which included Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing and Hollywood stylist Kemal Harris.
From here, these fashion designers’ journeys are only going to get more congested, as the barrier to entry in fashion has never been lower. Students, as they created garments meant to represent the next phase of the industry, weren’t only focused on techie fabrics and design methods like screen printing. They were grappling with the fact that the future of fashion is, first and foremost, complicated.
“Digital commerce has completely changed consumerism and complicated the industry, in terms of oversaturating the market,” said designer Zac Posen, who worked with students as a mentor throughout the competition. “The availability of flash sales, price comparisons and fast fashion has made for a far more competitive and complex market.”
Stacy Isaacs, the Critic Award Winner in the sportswear category, will be showing a leather jacket on the runway. Isaacs’ jacket was inspired by the contrasting freedom and restrictions of the industry brought on by technology and how it has overhauled how fashion designers operate.
“Technology aids us in both design and allows for innovation; however, there are restrictions that come with this,” said Isaacs. “The influx of content combined with the speed of technology causes the industry to spend a lot of time playing catch-up.”
Fashion schools like FIT, as well as Parsons, have been updating their curriculums to better reflect the current state of the industry. While technology plays a role on the design end, it’s also changed how a designer’s business gets off the ground, as well as the type and number of competitors they must deal with.
“The designer has to be much more engaged in the business aspects of fashion. That doesn’t look like what it used to anymore; instead of a department store, customers start at Instagram,” said Joanne Arbuckle, the deputy to the president for industry partnerships and collaborative programs at FIT. “With social media, your brand can take on a reputation at rapid speed. You have to own that messaging, and control that messaging. That’s not something you had to do before, but if you don’t do it, you’re not in the game.”
FIT, in response to the shift, has added new courses around topics like social media business strategy. Other designers new to the field are changing their business models and approach to former industry requirements, like the fashion show, to adjust.
“There’s so much noise today, and as a young brand, the most important thing is to be wise with my budget and also to take the opportunity to build authentic relationships with key influencers in the industry,” said designer Audra Noyes, who hosts private appointments for her collections instead of a runway show. “It’s about telling the mission of my brand first and foremost. It’s really important that the message is clear and that we can continue that message forward.”
From the point of view of student designers, the biggest industry obstacle looming on the other side of graduation is fast fashion.
“The most important thing about differentiating myself right now is staying true to my design aesthetic and giving my clothing a voice of its own,” said Isaacs. “Today’s industry is focused on fast fashion because it’s convenient for consumers. In reality, fast fashion stifles the creative process, and the market becomes flooded with repetition.”
Of course, it’s a trade-off. While designers are entering a market more crowded with competition, there’s less in the way of getting straight to customers today.
“Technology has been a game-changer,” said Posen. “Anyone is able to produce and sell their pieces using online platforms. This direct-to-consumer capability not only provides an opportunity for the designer, but it creates boundless possibilities for the customer.”