Students learn skills to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow.
When the pandemic hit, the fashion world came to a standstill. Runway shows—the long-time lynchpin of the industry—went on an unsettling hiatus.
“Designers asked, ‘How do I still present and sell my collection to my audience without them being physically able to touch the garment?’” says Farai Simoyi, director of Jefferson’s fashion design program. “‘How do I effectively do this?’”
The answer came by looking into technology and another, perhaps surprising, industry.
“The gaming world has been developing avatars and clothing in 3D for such a long time,” Simoyi says. “As fashion designers, we were sitting on the sidelines looking at it.”
The seismic shift caused by COVID-19 forced the industry to adapt and evolve to survive, she says. Thanks to new software, fashion designers now can create virtual pieces, such as dresses, shoes, suits and more. Jefferson will embrace this trend with a new course in the spring semester called “3D Virtual Fashion Design.”
“We’re developing the future fashion leaders who are innovative and forward thinking. They will change the game,” Simoyi says. “Our program has been built on a willingness to explore fashion beyond just making clothes. How can we incorporate fashion and technology?”
With virtual fashion, designers can create fantastical looks that will never exist in the real world. Here, people can buy the rights to a virtual design as digital fashion non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a trend seen frequently among social media influencers.
San Francisco resident Dhanush Shetty told Vice that buying digital fashion initially felt strange at first, but it was easier, cheaper and felt more ethical than purchasing new real clothes.
“Usually, when you buy clothes, you have to consider the fit, how it would look in pictures, and, sometimes, how ethical the purchase is,” Shetty says. “I don’t need to worry about being ‘too big’ for digital fashion or whether [it] was made in a sweatshop.”
While some Jefferson students might enter the NFT side of virtual fashion, others may lean toward the more practical aspects of the technology, Simoyi says.
The same software also allows designers to develop realistic looks, right down to the stitches and buttons. For example, noted creative director Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga for spring/summer 2022 developed an entire digital collection just with avatars.
“Balenciaga used deepfake technology to simulate the models and audience and used 3D software to realistically create the clothing on the models,” Simoyi says. “The way it looks and fits is so realistic that you would be able to send that same image to a factory and they could recreate that piece as if you gave them a hard physical garment to work from.”
This digital innovation has massive implications for an industry widely criticized for its impact on the environment.
“The issue with traditional fashion design is there are so many processes you have to go through, extending our carbon footprint,” she says.
Virtual fashion nixes the need to ship patterns overseas for manufacturing, and in turn, minimizes the timeline to develop a collection. Plus, virtual shows eliminate travel to venues and the accompanying paper and programs used in the showcase.
Jefferson’s “3D Virtual Fashion Design” course, which filled up almost immediately, will highlight all the benefits of this new trend, Simoyi says. Using CLO software, students create avatars, develop sketches, design a whole garment and showcase it in 3D.
“When customers and consumers look at it, they can see what that garment looks like from every angle,” she says. “Once students finish this course, they will be able to develop and literally sell collections through this 3D design.”
Fashion design senior Arthur Hall is one of the 16 students enrolled in the course for the spring. He’s excited to be among this inaugural group and looks forward to seeing the field’s potential firsthand and doing his part to eliminate waste in the industry.
Not only will the course make sustainability inroads, but the tools learned also will prepare senior Hannah Holton—and classmates—for the future of fashion design, she says.
“You can get the style and proportions right basically before your eyes,” she says. “Having these skills and taking them with me to industry is invaluable. It will help us to stand apart from other job applicants, and it opens the door for more technical design positions. The course will add value to my degree.”
Employers eagerly look for people who can help streamline processes and cut design time. They also want students who know how to use 3D design software, Simoyi says. “This trend is absolutely here to stay.”
Only a handful of universities offer virtual design courses, which reinforces Jefferson’s status as a top fashion design school, she says.
“We’re really leading the way with how academia applies itself to what’s happening in the industry,” she says. “Our students will be some of the first students out there, especially in the Philly area, who will be able to use this software. We’re excited to see where our students will go from here and what kinds of positions they could create for themselves by having this new skill.”