Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Graduates leave fashion schools with no basic skills

I'm sure Greying Pixie will have something to say about this piece in the Independent (perhaps this is why they don't know how to make sleeves)

While British designers dominate the world's fashion houses, the skilled artisans needed to translate the designers' visions into reality are becoming scarce. More than 3,000 fashion students graduate from UK universities each year, yet only 500 can expect to get jobs in their chosen field, with designers claiming that they could employ more graduates if they had the requisite technical skills.

"As a luxury goods manufacturer, craftsmanship is what sets us apart from the high street," said Ian D Scott, supply director at Mulberry. "There used to be a big pool of skilled labour, which has gone now. We did some research a couple of years ago and found that 50 per cent of our workforce is over 50, which shows that there are fewer young people coming through."

So concerned are the designers that they are lobbying the Government, with the aim of drawing attention to what they call a "growing education crisis" in fashion.

"If graduates do not have pattern-cutting, computer-aided design and production skills, they can't put their creative ability to use in the industry," said Linda Florance, chief executive of Skillfast UK, the sector skills council for fashion and textiles.


Gi said...

i work in the creative field and i can tell you that it's a fine balance between vision and execution. frankly a lot of us come out of school being told by professors 'just do your thing! you'll learn on the job!' which is totally untrue.

having said that, a lot of times being a creative person with very vigorous technical training like myself, my ability to just 'do my thing' is limited (even though i am in a position to do that) since everything i do i'd have about 6 thoughts telling me this can't be done/it's not practical/applicable... so it takes more work to break the 6 thoughts, think of the great idea, then support it with my skills/technicalities, when the natural process actually think the other direction.

phyllis said...

My question is: do any of the kids coming out of fashion design schools actually know how to sew?

madame suggia said...

I'm afraid this is not news to me. I had a design company in London for over 10 years, from 1992-2003 and the calibre of students applying for positions was frankly appalling...they literally weren't fit to pick up pins from the workroom floor. No pattern drafting skills, certainly no sewing skills, not a clue about the basic workings of a sample room, no idea about designing to price points or production or anything at all...they just wanted to 'design'. One of my part-timers also lectured at a major the London fashion college...she told me that their job as lecturers was to pass everybody, she simply wasn't allowed to fail someone even if their work was atrocious, because that would dry up the flood of weathly parents sending their darlings to the college. Of course, there were highly talented & motivated studets-we managed to snag a few!-but they were the ones who really worked hard, and were willing to learn. The end result of all this is that London's fashion institutions, once the envy of the world, are now living on borrowed time and resting on past glories. Sigh.

Toby Wollin said...

Is this because these parts of the curriculum were done away with because so much clothing manufacturing was sent to the Far East?

phyllis said...

It’s interesting you should mention this Toby because I’ve thought about this a lot. I think, here in the States anyway, that the passage of Title IX is a factor; for non-us Thoughtful Dresser fans, Title IX was US federal legislation passed in 1972 that mandated “No person in the United States shall on the basis of sex, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance." So after Title IX, girls were able to do any sport or educational activity that boys did, whereas prior to Title IX many public schools didn’t have varsity sports for girls and girls were not tracked into science classes but were relegated to home economics programs. Girls learned to sew because that’s all there was for them in many US public schools.

Anastasia said...

An unknown (or better: secret star) designer with her own well hidden shop once told me, design schools were for wealthy daughters anyway and it's better to become a tailor first if you want to make (and sell) clothes.

vespabelle said...

I was reading the book "Fashion Inside Out" by Daniel Vosovic (of Project Runway Season 2) and he has interviews with lots of different people in the fashion world. His interview with a pattern maker was interesting because she said that people who go to places like FIT today love fashion and know how to sketch but they do not sew and thus do not know how clothing is constructed.

greying pixie said...

Yes, Linda, I DO have something to say about this depressing piece - in short, I agree with every word of it!

But the really sad thing is this whole situation was entirely predictable twenty years ago when the art schools were incorporated into the Polytechnics and then 15 years ago when the Polytechnics became Universities governing their own finances. As soon as these colleges had to start making money, the student numbers went up with a strong preference for a high proportion of international students who would pay the full unsubsidised fee. As student numbers increased, so the quality of those students inevitably decreased. At the same time teaching hours have been steadily reduced, again to save money.

Colleges now rely on workshop based teaching (one tutor demonstrating to a large group) rather than tutorial based teaching (a one to one session between student and tutor) and students are left to fend for themselves.

Someone in the article mentions that students don't know their craft, they just want to design. In reality how can a designer design without knowing their craft? A designer's knowledge of their craft is the whole ethos of the Bauhaus system which used to be the bedrock of the British art school system and which made it so great. A good design education gives a student the ability to develop ideas to apply to technology thereby exploiting that technology and resulting in truly modern and innovative design. These days colleges buy in banks of computers and a couple of pattern cutting programmes and just teach students how to use it, which inevitably shapes their ideas and leads to dull, unrealistic design.

Today art and design colleges are run along corporate lines; management systems rule, budgets and balance sheets. They are run by managers who don't understand and don't wish to understand anything of the hands-on craft that it is essential to teach. They care about numbers and nothing else.

I'm afraid I agree with madame suggia - we've been living on our post war reputation for the past 20 years and the whole bubble is about to burst.

polyvinyl said...

Have things really changed??

In the 80's I worked for a boyfriends mother - that's how I got the job! I used to work on stuff for the likes of Jasper Conran, Edina Roney and Elizabeth Ezdorf(sp?)There were just the two of us, my boss had an old school tailoring background but no design training, I had a fine art background but no sewing knowledge - but I learnt a lot...

I remember well my boss- a wonderful woman called Rose - having to teach these graduates from St Martins etc what a pattern was...we would work out how to make things work. This was not our job - we were just supposed to be makers!They certainly didn't have the skills.

Jasper Conran would send along bits of cloth with some sewn and glued ruching / texture type ideas and we would figure out how to make it work as a garment. I -though not a fashion person or sewer - could figure the ideas from my arty side and with Roses' long experience of making, we would achieve wonders. I remember thinking that Conran just was giving us "foundation level" sketches - but had the backing to be taken seriously.But I have to say that some of his less experimental patterns were things of beauty in their construction. I do remember Jasper designing a wedding dress as a one-off with hundreds of silk origami flowers - muggins here had to make every one for the many dresses that were ultimately ordered!

The students had no idea of construction or pattern making - they relied upon experts with kind hearts - like my boss.

I found this extraordinary - as my fine art training had left no doubt that if you did not understand your materials you could achieve little of value...
It did not leave me with much respect for these designer manqués!

polyvinyl said...

@ Greying Pixie
your ncame as mine did - I cannot agree more. When did those Buahaus principles disappear?

I now work in web design, teaching and practice, and am astounded by the difficulty of asking people to consider the materials. This seems to be a forgotten consideration.

Maybe I am just an old fashioned modernist.

Couture Allure Vintage Fashion said...

When I went to Fashion Design school (20 years ago), students had to demonstrate basic sewing ability with a portfolio of garments, or they were required to take sewing classes as a prerequisite to moving on with course work. I learned pattern drafting and draping, tailoring, and production techniques.

I find your post so sad.

greying pixie said...

polyvinyl - and the word 'fashion' in this could be swapped for any other art or design discipline. Illustration students are no longer taught or expected to draw! Fine artists don't use paint! My nephew has just started a fine art photography degree and hasn't made a photo yet, just spends his time in lectures arguing about concepts!

Yes, we could do with a massive injection of old fashioned modernism. Whatever happened to the notion of students in messy dungarees (I still have mine!) with passion and commitment spending 12 hour days in the studio and immersing themselves in their work, then home for a bath via the library to get out more relevant books? - Ah, those were the days!

Now that students are 'customers', colleges provide a service. Discipline has flown out the window and to reprimand a student for arriving late is tantamount to gambling with your job! Students come with a preconceived idea of what a designer is and does and we, the tutors, have to provide the means for them to realise the dream. Studio space no longer exists or is a laughable 1m square space so students work at home without supervision. They leave their degree as clones because they are no longer taught how to be individual within a brief. And to accommodate these outrageously high student numbers far too much emphasis is put on presentation and style.

With regard to your experience in the 1980s, I would say that there will always be a degree of space between designer and technician, which is why the Bauhaus held them both in equal esteem and set up the workshop system with both having equal input. Students tend to fall into one of the two camps, some prefer the technical side whilst others are more creative, but there would still be a certain degree of understanding of the material necessary in order to be creative.

The ability to meet a brief through a creative design development process can be taught to a sufficiently talented student but it takes time and commitment. Now that degree courses are governed by managers teaching hours are cut to the absolute minimum and frankly courses run on the good will of the tutors who put in extra hours to give the students the basic tutoring they need.

So on that depressing note, I'm off to work to fail a few more students!

lady jicky said...

Phyllis, you want to know the answer? NO.
My daughter went to fashion school and she did pattern cutting and the computer boring stuff and she got jobs in the field from the mid 90's up to now (she has had a baby so she does a little from home now and then) . All her friends who wanted to be "designers" and did not study the boring stuff went nowhere. They all want to start from the top and be the head designers! LOL

Duchesse said...

Aha, that's why I'm seeking out the older dressmakers. With any luck I'll shuffle to the Wardrobe in the Sky before they do.

Anonymous said...

I've taken a couple of courses at FIT as a nondegree student (I'm an ambitious beginning home sewer). Among others, I've taken the introductory sewing class with the full-time students right out of high school.

They know how to sew, draft patterns, and drape.

In the beginning class, which some opt to test out of, I had to make a sampler with the following:

A French seam;
A flat-fell seam;
A pinked seam;
A tailor-edged seam;
A Merrow-edged seam (Scary industrial serger that is difficult just to thread);
A Hong Kong finish seam;

That was the first week's homework.

I had to do various sewing exercises to train my eye and to gain control with the industrial machines.

I had to create another sampler with several temporary and permanent hand stitches.

I was required to make a bodice with a faced neckline and armholes, a lapped zipper, and a hand-stitched hem.

We then moved on to a tailored skirt with darts that had a reinforced invisible zipper and a partly hand-sewn waistband and a completely hand-finished hem.
We used tailor tacks to mark the fabric for this and the final project, a shirt.

At least a month was devoted to constructing a tailored blouse that had front and back diamond darts, French seams, interfaced collar and cuffs, set-in sleeves and a double hand folded hem that was edge-stitched by machine. We had to use a button hole machine to make the button holes.

Although I was considerably older than the rest of the students, it was clear that most of them had been sewing for years. Several of the students produced shirts that looked professional.

I've seen other students at work on projects from heavy coats to the most delicate intimate wear. They bead, they bone; one pattern made out paper that I saw on a mannequin last summer had literally hundreds of numbered pieces.

Without a doubt, most of the students do not aspire to be sewers in a factory and the sewing class isn't worth many credits because it's considered a very basic course. They want to be designers and to that end take various courses in drawing, draping, pattern making, textiles, fashion history, in addition to upper-level courses and specialty classes in areas like evening wear, couture, tailoring and menswear.

The idea that they don't know how to design or construct garments is patently absurd.

Even though some of the things they make aren't to my taste (I don't care about fancy evening wear), I'm amazed at their level of skill.

I really can't imagine that things are different at schools like Parsons, or at Central Saint Martins (I heard a young woman telling a faculty member today that she'd been accepted, but she was wondering where she'd find the money.)

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Anonymous said...

Not all fashion courses neglect the science and success of a beautifully finished garment.

I would welcome you to visit the course I teach pattern drafting, garment construction, fit diagnosis and product development on. My students make very technically skilled workers as garment technicians, pattern cutters and fabric technologists to name but a few. We are the only BSc Fashion Technology course in England.