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What the future of fashion looks like through the lens of FIT graduates during a pandemic

It’s safe to say no one could have predicted that the class of 2020 would be blindsided by a global health crisis, ultimately altering their milestone moment. Graduating college into the coronavirus pandemic comes with a lot of tumultuous challenges. From the economic decline to hiring freezes and rescinded offer letters, plans for the future have been placed on hold.

The effects of the pandemic can be seen throughout almost every industry, with fashion taking one of the hardest hits. As brick-and-mortar stores shutter due to manufacturing complications, order cancellations and postponed releases, the desire to spend money producing or buying new clothing has lessened.

Earlier this month, The New York Times published an article titled “Who Wants to Go to Fashion School in a Pandemic?” citing “travel bans could result in a significant drop in enrollment at top art and design schools.” However, the article explains that receiving a degree from schools such as The Fashion Institute of Technology [FIT] is still a “valuable asset for those looking to enter a notoriously competitive industry.”

FIT, which consistently holds the top spot for the best fashion school in the world, holds an annual runway show called Future of Fashion to showcase designs from the school’s top graduating students. With buyers from major department stores taking a front-row seat and a panel of A-list judges, the event gives students the opportunity to get their designs in front of instrumental industry professionals. However, this year things looked a lot different by way of a virtual presentation to spotlight the class of 2020’s fashion designs.

While it’s easy to feel discouraged graduating into a time of the unknown, students around the world has shown their resilience while facing social-distancing challenges. I spoke with 10 of FIT’s top graduating design students to hear their take on what the future of fashion looks like through their eyes during a pandemic.

Check out the video above to hear from FIT alums Jamie Fernandez, Tracy Garcia, Jordain Williams and scroll on to read about these talented students’ plans to contribute to the future of the fashion industry.

Selda Palaci, Istanbul (Sportswear)

How did the pandemic affect your design process for the FoF collection?

“The pandemic affected me mentally. I had to leave New York to go back to my home country of Istanbul, Turkey. Before I returned home, I was able to purchase my materials from the Garment District while wearing a mask and gloves. I knew that I would not be able to get any materials in Turkey while I went under quarantine for 2 weeks. After the quarantine was lifted, I started my final garment. I was lucky that I had all of the stuff for the construction like a sewing machine, mannequin [and] pattern paper. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish my second garment. But, I did complete the first one and am very happy with the garment’s outcome.”

What has been the biggest shift in your plans after graduation given these unpredictable circumstances?

“Everything in my life has changed. I had to leave my house in New York. I was planning to do a summer internship. Unpredictable things always happen. But it is not an obstacle for my dream career. I am still confident I will follow through on my plans and things will improve, for the better in New York.”

Do you think that the future of the fashion industry is shifting for the better? 

“I think the whole fashion industry is changing and it will never be the same again. I can’t say that it’s going to be better or worse, but there are always positive and negative outcomes. People are more conscious about shopping and have been purchasing more comfortable, sustainably made clothes. It seems that under these new circumstances most people prefer staying at home. While this has been great for larger companies, the smaller ones are suffering and most of them had to close.”

Diego Arturo Jimenez, Washington, D.C. (Intimate Apparel)

What has been the biggest shift in your plans after graduation given these unpredictable circumstances?

“I had plans to invest in a workspace in the future, but the time came sooner than I thought and I lost a lot of resources when transitioning to Washington D.C. Part of being an intimate apparel student is being committed to the details and functionality of your garment. There are some components in shapewear that require more than a single-stitch machine. Directly after readjusting to my new living space, I decided to fund my at-home workspace. 

“However, this decision affected any plans I had for a stable living situation post-graduation. I am considered a dependent student and with no financial support, I had to plan for my new circumstances and adjust. I put other plans on hold to make my new location comfortable for working and remote learning. 

“Living in Washington D.C. has put a barrier on available jobs and/or opportunities in intimate apparel. I’m still questioning what’s next for me as everything remains inaccessible and unpredictable.”

How do you personally hope to contribute to the future of the fashion industry? 

“When I begin my journey in the industry, I hope to bring quality and beauty for all sizes. Being a full-time student, I’ve had a hard time scheduling a regular job to fund my education. A part of my income comes from making custom garments. I’ve worked with various body types and identities. Through the years of trial and error, it has been important for me to hear directly from the customer. I have gained invaluable experience designing custom pieces for my clients and by listening carefully to their needs. Once I decided to specialize in intimate apparel, I learned to excel in silhouettes that are body sensitive and functional. What I hope to do is collaborate with a company that will allow me to test out new formulas that can serve this purpose for improved design and fit.”

Chadeese Perriel, Florida (Sportswear)

How did the pandemic affect your design process for the FoF collection?

“Due to the pandemic my three-look collection was narrowed down to only one look. This had changed my design process because my thesis was now based on one look. I had to ensure that my look was strong enough to convey my inspiration and my overall aesthetic as a designer.”

Do you think that the future of the fashion industry is shifting for the better? 

“I believe that the future of the fashion industry is shifting for the better because companies are now looking at ways to be more inclusive and environmentally-friendly. Especially with the Black Lives Matter movement, I’m hoping that this will open more doors for black designers.”

How do you personally hope to contribute to the future of the fashion industry? 

“I hope to contribute to the future of the fashion industry by coming up with innovative ways of being more sustainable and using technology as a creative source for my designs.”

Ananda Corriette, Brooklyn (Intimate Apparel)

How did the pandemic affect your design process for the FoF collection?

“The pandemic affected my design process tremendously. Although the closure of the garment district was of course necessary, it was also extremely heartbreaking. The garment district is not only a constant source for materials, it’s an infinite source for inspiration. This forced me to think outside of the box and make the best of whatever resources I had available at the time.

“I also felt as though a rug had been pulled out from under me. My entire college career culminated in the FoF thesis collection. So when the college closed, I couldn’t help but feel discouraged. I lost the opportunity to complete my full collection, the influence of my design critic and to potentially have my garment on display or featured in the annual fashion show. However, these obstacles propelled my ability to become a stronger designer. I learned to trust myself and my vision, effectively problem-solve and strengthen my resilience.”

Do you think that the future of the fashion industry is shifting for the better? 

“I’m certain the future of the fashion industry is shifting for the better. I think that creativity and innovation will be at an all-time high…The powerful impression that the Black Lives Matter movement has left on society will help fuel change within the fashion industry as well. The message of unity and equality has opened the doors to great opportunities for people of color who have been silenced, discriminated against and overlooked for so long in the fashion industry and society.”

How do you personally hope to contribute to the future of the fashion industry? 

“I’m thrilled to contribute my story, culture, passion, talent and voice to the future of the fashion industry. Most of all, I wish to contribute courage and inspiration. I want to inspire people regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or religion, to feel free to truly express themselves within the industry and go for what they want despite the odds set against them.

“I see the future of fashion heading in an increasingly positive, exciting and digitally driven direction. Creativity drives innovation, and innovation drives us forward, always.”

Yesica Hernandez, Texas (Knitwear)

What is one element that you think all fashion brands need to have to survive right now? Is it sustainability, virtual fashion shows, etc.? 

“Transparency. Whether it is how clothes are made, who we show in them or the ideals of a company, all customers really want right now is transparency. In this current climate, we need to be open about mistakes and be open about how things will improve. Customers want truth and accountability and I feel like as long as fashion brands can be open and transparent; they can weather change and keep customers who value that transparency.”

Do you think that the future of the fashion industry is shifting for the better? 

“The fashion industry really is at a tipping point to change for the better. Although the pandemic was a scary way to face it head on, it’s a perfect time to look at every aspect of the industry and see what needs to be changed and what we can actually change. We need more representation. We need to be more aware of the how our industry affects everybody’s day-to-day life. We need to listen to what is being called out and acknowledge the change that is happening in the world. I’m hopeful that we can shift for the better and make great progress.”

How do you personally hope to contribute to the future of the fashion industry? 

“I personally want to work on designing body inclusive size fashion. As a plus size woman myself, I want to see more variety and more options of clothes that women like myself can wear. I don’t want to hide my curves. I don’t want to be limited to what is currently available. I want to see more fun and bright clothes out in the world.”

Cristina Mota, Bronx (Sportswear)

What has been the biggest shift in your plans after graduation given these unpredictable circumstances?

“The biggest shift in my plans after graduation, is not being able to find employment in the industry. I wanted to begin working immediately so I could learn everything about running a fashion company. I also had to adjust my way of living. I now take extra precautions when commuting, only going out when needed and keeping a social distance from other individuals.”

Do you think that the future of the fashion industry is shifting for the better? 

“The future looks very diverse. I believe that more Black and brown designers are going to make a name for themselves, tipping the fashion industry on its head. I see more representation for race, sexual orientation and body types. The fashion runways will become a place where more models and designers from different backgrounds will more presence. I, as a Dominican designer, will commit to the future of diversity in the fashion industry.”

How do you personally hope to contribute to the future of the fashion industry? 

“I want to go against the status quo of what the fashion industry has deemed to be acceptable or beautiful. I want my brand to represent different heights, body types, races, etc. I want people to feel confident in their skin and believe that they are enough. I want my brand to be inclusive of people who have been overlooked when defining “beauty standards.” My voice and my experiences will lead me towards a fashion company that will be accepting of diverse styles and cultures. Street wear is an avenue that is not very popular or “commercial” in the industry. With my brand, I intend to cater towards the styles of urban communities.”

Breeyana Burroughs, Brooklyn (Children’s Wear)

Do you think that the future of the fashion industry is shifting for the better? 

“I do believe that the fashion industry is shifting towards a better future. I’ve been seeing more brands bring awareness and showing support for different causes and movements that are happening in the world right now. And there are companies that are focusing on sustainability. Also, some designers are erasing their usual seasonal fashion calendar so collections can be shown whenever they’re ready and not on a specific week, which has also placed time constraints on designers.”

“I see the future of fashion heading in a positive, more progressive, more adaptive path. I think a lot of designers, both well-known and new, are trying to revamp the fashion industry so that it aligns with today’s society.”

How do you personally hope to contribute to the future of the fashion industry?

“I’d like to contribute by being thoughtful and impactful by incorporating inclusivity with race, gender, disability and size. And by using some sustainable practices for the production of my garments.”

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