Article written by Alice Janssens (Erasmus University Rotterdam).
Both media and academia are currently calling for the fashion industry’s development. Technology is evolving, but the structures of the industry and education systems have not changed. This rift is causing significant issues in the fast-paced sector. Exploring how traditional fashion rules can be broken to resolve these problems, the inspirational and stimulating IFFTI conference 2017 took place in Amsterdam this past week.
Hosted by AMFI, the conference provided delegates with the opportunity to visit three beautiful locations; the Rijksmuseum, Hermitage Museum and the AMFI campus while attending keynote speeches, workshops, paper presentations and social events. Exploring how fashion can develop in a world full of new technologies and processes, but structured within old paradigms, the delegates pushed the boundaries of how fashion is conceptualised, understood and communicated. Breaking the fashion rules, current problems were dissected and proposals were made for new retailing and communication systems, the restructuring of fashion education and the development of sustainable practices.
Opened by Souraya Bouwmans-Sarraf, former Managing Director at AMFI, ambassador of the institute and organiser of the IFFTI 2017 conference, the summit began in the beautifully designed lecture hall of the Rijksmuseum. The first day’s keynote speakers, representatives of conservation, design and marketing, explored how we conceptualise and foster innovation within fashion.
Bianca du Mortier, curator of costume at the Rijksmuseum gave the first keynote lecture on how the fashion collection of the museum developed by sidestepping traditional display and collection mores. Telling the story of fashion’s fight with Dutch museum management and its champion, the draftswoman Johanna Henriette der Kinderen-Besier, du Mortier shared the story of the Rijksmuseum’s fashion collection. Given its history of subverting traditional expectations via online exhibitions and catalogues disguised as glossy magazines the Rijksmuseum was a perfect location for the discussion of fashion futures.
Liam Maher’s talk highlighted the industry’s obligation to consumers, critiquing the constructs of traditional supply and demand creation. Mahler, the Global Creative Director of international footwear brand Ecco, spoke about personal style as an extension of the wearer’s past, present and future. Connecting it to the IFFTI vision he highlighted the key roles of identity, community, industry and the global economy which can only be linked through the breaking of traditional industry structures. Sharing the story of his past and his great grandfather’s role as a tailor in Ireland, Mahler emphasized that those in the fashion sector should hold their position in reverence – they are the painters of meaning and are obligated to its construction.
Bringing Mahler’s comments into context, Rudolph Holmond, the head of collection at Chasin’, shared how meaning can be translated into design. A former military officer, ARTES and AMFI alumni, Holmond spoke about a Chasin’ project which recycled navy denim.
These opening keynotes brought together various aspects of the fashion sector from research and curation to conception, design and marketing. They provided views into how the traditional structures of the industry can be subverted for the benefit of designs and all those involved. Following this innovative and inspiring session, conference attendees toured the Rijksmuseum collection and the day concluded with a visit to the Heineken Experience.
Day 2, March 29
With a warm welcome from Geylen Meijer, the Dean of the Faculty of Digital Media and Creative Industries, the second day of the conference began at the Wibauthaus. Mr Meijer emphasised that the digital fields and creative industries are developing fast and the key role of industry crossovers in supporting these developments.
This call for innovation was followed by 10-minute pitches for breakout sessions where AMFI and international educators shared topics they wished to discuss with conference attendees. Separated into four sections, the presentations addressed virtual learning, the AMFI reality school programmes, sustainability and current projects. Subjects ranged from the development of the Hypercraft minor programme which combines virtual pattern design and 3d prototyping, to the sustainability focused Beyond Green event, which fosters collaborations and provides practical solutions for industry problems. Highlights of these pitches included filmmaker Kerry Murphy’s discussion of animated fashion and his work with AMFI students to digitise their designs.
Conference attendees had the opportunity to follow a pitcher to another location and discuss further. The visual methodologies topic group explored AMFI’s Fashion Technology Lab and interacted with students developing projects through hands-on creation.
Fashion disruptive technology, fashion activism and disruptive business models were the themes for the afternoon’s paper sessions. In the fashion activism stream Lily Ye (Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology) discussed the development of Chinese fashion identity, while Julie King (University of Northampton) explored colour trends, assessing the cyclical use of 1970s colour pallets within 2014 and 2015 Pantone and Promostyl colour forecasting.
The fashion disruptive technology stream included Anthony Kent’s (Nottingham Trent University) discussion of consumer acceptance of smart textiles, which presented positive conclusions for the use of smart healthcare products. Jochen Strähle (Reutlingen University) presented the surprising and disappointing conclusion that transparent communication about sustainability has little effect upon consumer behaviour.
In the disruptive business models track, Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas and Rosemary Varley (London College of Fashion) explored how sustainability can be effectively addressed within fashion pedagogy. They explained how their institution embeds sustainability in fashion business education using case studies, audits and collaboration with other institutions.
Day 3, March 30
Starting a day-long exploration of sustainability, photographer Jimmy Nelson’s keynote on his creative development opened the third day of the conference at the lecture hall of the Hermitage Museum. Nelson spoke about his background exploring Tibet as a teenager and his challenges in photographing indigenous peoples. His passion for the work and the importance of communication in creative development shined throughout the lecture, providing inspiration for the following talks.
Passion and dedication to sustainability and nature were similarly present in Mihela Hladin Wolfe’s (Patagonia) keynote on the outdoor brand Patagonia. Hladin Wolfe spoke about the brand’s dedication to the environment and its campaigns to reduce its footprint and increase the awareness of consumers. These included an anti-consumption “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign and the Worn Wear Circular Economy Initiative where craftsmen travelling the world in a van mend clothing. Isaac Nicholson (Sustainable Source Studios) followed this with a discussion of the state of textile recycling, circularity and sustainability, introducing innovations in the synthetic and chemical recycling processes by firms including Recover and Lenzig. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition’s Pascale Moreau concluded the talks with a discussion of the Higg Index and its potential for design, management, marketing and fashion education.
Breakout sessions addressing various aspects of sustainability followed. Leslie Holden (AMFI) and Linnemore Nefdt (AMFI) questioned how sustainable design is approached in education, fostering a discussion of the different ways that pedagogy can address the area.
A sunny lunch on a boat tour of the Amsterdam canals preceded the afternoon paper presentations. Highlights included Savita Sheoran Rana and Kripal Mathur’s (National Institute of Fashion Technology Dehli) paper on transitions in the Indian Varanasi handloom weaving cluster from child labour usage to sustainable craft. Conversations about sustainability continued throughout the afternoon and the day closed with a private evening tour of the Hermitage Museum.
With presenters from all over the globe focused on the development of fashion creation, management and education, the IFFTI Conference 2017 provided key ideas and innovation suggestions for the future. The 30 paper presentations, keynotes and discussions showed delegates’ passion for the sector and intention to support its sustainable evolution. Ultimately, the conference was an excellent exploration of the future of fashion and what paradigms can be broken and reset in industry, research and education. It pushed boundaries, provided networking opportunities and reminded delegates about the importance of striving for the best in their work.