GRAPHIC DESIGNER Arushi Chopra
For some, Friday the 13th is a date synonymous with bad luck and evil spirits. For Ryerson Fashion students, it’s dually recognized as the day in March when all the fashion labs were closed, classes were cancelled, and the uncertainty of our education began to unfold. More than four months later, having acquainted ourselves with the pros and cons of remote learning, many of us are still wondering how to proceed with our Fashion studies for the upcoming year. For the remainder of this article I will be sharing the conversations I’ve had with my third year peers and professors in hopes of gaining the answer to the question- can design be taught online? Additionally I’m hoping this article can provide some relatability, reassurance and comfort to those of us who need it.
This article was fuelled by the current conversations happening between Ryerson Fashion Design students alongside the important discourses occurring globally. With our semester being cut short at such an awkward time in the year, it left many of us feeling like things were never wrapped up.
Traditionally, in third year, students work in small groups to create a capsule menswear collection. Much of this process depends on communication with team members, access to sewing machines, materials, pattern drafting spaces, and also having a “Jimmy” or mannequin, to assess the fit of the garment. Conversations with soon-to-be third year students revealed a reluctance to partake in these core design classes. One student mentions, “I plan on catching up with electives this year, and dropping my core design classes”.
Students observe that the teaching and learning objectives need to be reconstructed to not only reflect the current fashion industry, but also to ensure that every student has the opportunity to thrive.
Ryerson’s Fashion program is well known for its ability to produce students with strong technical skills. As a result of this, current students find it challenging to imagine a semester where they have to forfeit the components that had supported this learning objective in the past. While the interviewees agreed that it’s not impossible to teach design remotely, they acknowledged the likelihood of learning outcomes being compromised if their assignments are not approached in an innovative way. Students observe that the teaching and learning objectives need to be reconstructed to not only reflect the current fashion industry, but also to ensure that every student has the opportunity to thrive.
In order to uphold the necessary health and safety precautions, fashion students are forced to part with their labs, studios, and equipment. As a result, a sizable number of us are creating work in less than ideal environments and making do with the materials (or lack thereof) at home. Though these oftentimes challenging encounters can equip a student with critical thinking skills, the needs of numerous low income students get overlooked.
Although in fashion there exists the possibility to create amazing pieces with just about any material, it doesn’t excuse the fact that some students will feel limited in their options, and have to sacrifice their design vision due to finances.
It’s important to recognize the ways in which a financial strain is affecting fashion students. The struggle of securing a job or paid internship is becoming more and more difficult, and the challenge of earning enough money to pay for school is compounded again for visual minorities. According to a 2019 report from United Way Greater Toronto and the Toronto Research Data Centre, racialized young adults are considerably less likely to have a stable income due to systemic racism. Although in fashion there exists the possibility to create amazing pieces with just about any material, it doesn’t excuse the fact that some students will feel limited in their options, and have to sacrifice their design vision due to finances. In order to balance this out, projects should be geared towards providing students with access to the same materials and giving them complete freedom. In my conversation with Ryerson Professor, Tanya White, she explains her own design philosophy and how Ryerson Fashion staff are working to mitigate this concern:
“If a student is in any way blocked, we need to figure out how that can be nurtured or exercised in a way that is self guided and can inspire the student. For my course, Audrey [Ryerson’s Fashion Technician] and I are working on mailing every Material Sensibilities student a kit with all the tools and materials they need… Also I plan to do at least one weekly demo. I want students to know that we have a very student-focused team and we are all doing our best to make sure that everyone has what they need. Caron and P.Y. [two other design professors] have been very active in getting blocks and all sorts of equipment. Our team is working behind the scenes to do everything we can to make our students feel comfortable.”
We are in an “emergency remote learning situation” and it’s important to understand that each student at Ryerson is going to handle that differently. While some students choose to defer a semester, others choose to drop their design courses, while others might proceed as they normally would. But for the students that feel stressed and unsure of their plans for third year, I want to leave you with this quote from my conversation with Tanya:
“This pandemic has shifted the focus of everything… We need to look after each other, ourselves and our loved ones. Yes, fashion can be all-encompassing, but I think the industry-even in small ways- needs to change to reflect the social condition and the inequality. More people need to have a voice in this industry- every single student has an important place and a space- and the program is hopefully moving in that direction. This period of time is so life changing, so take full advantage of what self-isolation can give you.”