Industry Mentors Share Ideas and Wisdom at School of Fashion Panel
Panel moderator and School of Fashion Executive Director Simon Ungless, Director of Education and Professional Development for the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Sara Kozlowski and Chief Critic of Vogue.com Sarah Mower spoke in front of a packed audience at 625 Polk. Photo by Bob Toy.
The relationship between fashion and technology and the evolution of the fashion industry figured prominently in the conversation at a panel discussion hosted by the School of Fashion on May 5 at 625 Polk Street. Students packed the room for a chance to hear from panelists Sarah Mower, chief critic for Vogue.com and the British Fashion Council’s ambassador for emerging talent, and Sara Kozlowski, director of educational and professional development for the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
Kozlowski is a familiar face at the Academy, where she taught for six years after designing her own line and before moving on to the School of Fashion at Parsons—her alma mater—and, ultimately, CFDA. She points to joining CFDA as a career turning point.
“I really wanted to make a change and still educate, but from a different vantage point,” Kozlowski said. “My education is something I think about every day. “I always wanted to give back. For me, it’s like oxygen. I like to be with young designers, and I like to be in the studio.”
Mower, too, described the jolt of excitement that comes with seeing a young designer’s work. Spending time with emerging talent gave Mower an understanding of the support designers need beyond their formal fashion education.
“I became very aware that in London we had generations and generations of designers who had fallen, gone bankrupt, left the country,” Mower said. “I realized that perhaps I could step outside my journalistic career to help make London a platform for young designers.”
School of Fashion Executive Director Simon Ungless moderated the discussion, at first steering the conversation and later inviting questions from the audience. Ungless addressed one of the industry’s current roadblocks by asking for panelists’ advice to students entering a challenging job market.
“When you can’t get a job, you do your own thing. You have to trust your own resourcefulness,” Mower said. “All the people I know who’ve made a success of themselves are now working with their moms, their brothers, their grannies who knit. There’s no reason people like this will not be the next corporations.”
(L–R) Director of Education and Professional Development for the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Sara Kozlowski and Chief Critic of Vogue.com Sarah Mower took part in a panel hosted by the School of Fashion on May 5. Photo by Bob Toy.
To stay relevant and profitable in an era of rapid change, the fashion industry must adapt to a new value set that prioritizes experiences over possessions. The future is in flux, and today’s students will play a part in determining its direction. “This generation is a huge paradigm shift,” Kozlowski said. “The fashion system is past the tipping point. Change is not easy, but you are the answer.”
Technology, another agent of change, figured in several audience questions. Kozlowski cited digital manufacturing and material innovation as catalysts for modernizing production, and the intersection of editorial and retail content online as an evolution of ecommerce.
Technology also affects how people consume fashion. One student raised the issue of protecting intellectual property online, referencing social media’s potential to foster not only connection and recognition, but also vulnerability. Ungless advised a nuanced approach. “With your creative work, you open the kimono but you don’t show the whole thing. You want to get people interested in what you do without giving them the full package,” he said.
Overall, the discussion struck a balance between realism and optimism. Hard work and long hours are requirements for, but not guarantors of, success. “Fashion is not a job, it’s a life. There’s no such thing as nine to five, and often there’s no such thing as holidays,” Mower said.
But opportunities for creative expression and innovation are limitless. “It’s in your hands to create new ways of collaborating, new ways of living, new ways of creating sustainably,” Mower said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what you’re going to produce. Go out there and show us.”