The Fashion Designer: A Professional Identity, Lost & Found

The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘Profession’ as: “Any type of work that needs special training or a particular skill set, often one that is respected because it involves a high level of education.”

Using this definition, let’s try to examine the profession of a fashion designer. The definition tells us that any profession requires special training and a high level of education. Indeed, there are a lot of fashion schools out there that offer different paths with a variety of courses. It does not matter which path one chooses, there is a number of basics one must learn and master to graduate as a fashion designer. These usually include: research methods, illustration and drawings, technical drawings, flat pattern construction, modeling on the stand, tailoring processes and finishing, presentation skills, collection development, styling and more. There is a consensus amongst fashion educators that all of these skills are required for a professional fashion designer to build up a career. But, are they?

What actually happens to a newly graduated fashion designer when he leaves a fashion school? Unfortunately, the vast majority of new graduates have difficulties when it comes to starting work as a designer. As a result, a lot of them give up and pursue other fields. There is a big group that have managed to find employment in the fashion sector – but mostly in assistance and administration roles, not in a design position. Then, there is a smaller group that finally find their dream job as a fashion designer.

Those lucky ones get to understand very quickly that the industry dictates the rules and a lot of skills they acquired in education are no longer relevant for their current job. For practically every skill there is a stand-alone profession. There are pattern makers for patterns, technical designers for specs, sample makers for samples, merchandisers for presentation and research, graphic designers for graphics, and designers for AI sketches. Of course, the splitting can differ from place to place, as different variations and overlaps may occur, but one thing is clear: the more positions we have in a product’s design and development, the process becomes more complex, disintegrated and – above all – soulless.

This kind of fragmentation found in design and product development processes was adapted, I suppose, from the world of production. There, in order to achieve productivity, increase speed and reduce expenses, the process should be broken down into robotic stages, when each machine operator is responsible for a very specific procedure in the process. Fortunately, there are more and more automatic and semi-automatic systems in the fashion industry, which are liberating people from these monotonic jobs.

And, what about design?

In design in general, and in fashion design in particular, it is all about creativity, inspiration and passion. A 2D sketch, made by hand or in AI, is not the end of a design, but rather the beginning. For me, and I’m sure for many of my colleagues, design first of all is a process, it’s a kind of a journey, a kind of adventure with a lot of different feelings involved. It would not be exaggerated if I compare those feelings with the feelings of an ancient traveler who goes to discover a new land. He, although afraid to be eaten by wild animals, allows his curiosity to push him forward to explore.

I’ve worked with many designers and almost all of them recall their college days with a great deal of nostalgia. Despite the many challenges they faced and duties they had to complete, they were filled with a feeling of satisfaction simply because they were responsible for the whole process from A to Z.

The new land of 3D

I think that today, in the era of digital transformation, only one thing can bring the fashion designers’ professional identity back. This thing is 3D technology. I’m so sure about this because, using 3D, one can develop and implement all of those basic skills that a fashion designer actually needs. It’s really amazing, that one creative person can complete the whole design and development process from A to Z using 3D technology.

Indeed, great progress has been made in recent years, with more and more companies and educational institutions investing in 3D technologies. And there is a lot of success stories around 3D implementation. One of the biggest advantages of 3D is that it can serve as a common platform between different professionals. For example, the designer can create a new cut design and various color ways in Lotta (a program developed by Browzwear, especially for designers), then the pattern maker can continue with pattern modifications, grading and a tech pack in VStitcher working on the same file.

3D vendors really do their best to adjust the technology to the apparel industry. Nevertheless, besides success stories there are also stories about unsuccessful implementations. Some companies try to integrate 3D but after a few trial months put the whole project on hold. Why does this happen? Is the technology not ready for the industry? Or are industry workers not ripe enough to absorb new things, different from their current workflow?

It’s widely agreed that the human factor plays a crucial role in the success or failure in the integration of a new technology, and only positive collaboration and dedication of all parties involved can accelerate the process. Experience teaches us that, behind each success story of 3D implementation, there usually stands a group of individuals that are not afraid to step out of their comfort zones and expand the boundaries of their currently defined professional identity.

The rebirth of custom-made products pushing 3D forward

The industrial revolution, started at the beginning of 20 century, reached its apogee and now it looks like the digital revolution is taking over. Fashion has become more and more unique from the consumer perspective. The value of the unique and custom-made is constantly on the rise. More and more companies put the custom-made approach as a main operation principle. Those companies (Unique Fashion or Son of a tailor, for example) give their customers an option to design their clothes to some extent, allowing the choice of fabric, colors, design details and fit preferences. These companies work based on the pre-order model, which means garments are produced only after the order is placed.

As long as demand for customization increases all players in our industry will have to readjust themselves along the whole supply chain. As a result, we will see more collections with unique styles and less time for development, and smart factories which are capable of producing thousands of different styles per day. Undoubtedly, 3D and PLM technology vendors will play a key role in this process, but more than this, the growing demand in new creative ideas would really explode the demand for 3D fashion designers – the people that will be able to design in the 3D environment using all available function that this environment can offer. It makes me believe that, not all, but some of the fashion design-related sub-professions will be merged into one. I can imagine a 3D fashion designer who, along with a knowledge in fashion combined with a pool of creativity, also has a strong knowledge in pattern making, fit and 3D rendering – which, by the way, may replace the profession of fashion photographer.

What experts would suggest

  • For the program developers: be like a good doctor, and first listen. People never complain if everything is fine. Then, try to identify how serious the problem is – maybe the operation is needed (new feature) or just a pill can help (fix a bug), or maybe it’s a psychosomatic pain, but you already listened, so this should help (do not refer to help manual).
  • For the fashion educators: be responsible about what you are teaching. Check for updates from the industry and educate yourself constantly. It’s obvious you cannot teach every new technology or program, but at least try to stimulate your student’s interest on this. Fashion, actually, is one of the most dynamic disciplines on Earth. You cannot teach the same course for 20 years!
  • For the managers: please remember that when you are investing in technology, you are actually investing in people – the potential users! Find the right people for 3D; you will be able to recognise them by the sparks in their eyes. Then technology will return its value very fast.
  • For the fashion designers and all those who have a passion to create fashion: embrace 3D in all its dimensions. Don’t limit yourself to what you already know, to what you’ve been taught or to the definition of your position or title. 3D is a challenging journey, but one thing is promised: you will not be eaten by the wild animals.

So, let’s make this collective effort to team up and discover the amazing land of 3D fashion!

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published