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AMFI summer course Virtual Fashion Design 2024 prepares fashion students and professionals for digitalisation

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Credits: AMFI

The intensive two-week Virtual Fashion Design summer course “THE NEW REAL” offers professionals and fashion students (bachelor or master level) the chance to become part of the latest digital developments in fashion. Including materials from AMFI’s 3D Research & Technology department, the curriculum encourages new ways of thinking, with sustainability, creativity, and future-proofing as its core principles. FashionUnited speaks with coordinator and lecturer Ineke Siersema, an expert in Digitalisation and 3D, about the importance of digital fashion and THE NEW REAL.

What makes digital transformation challenging for fashion companies?

At AMFI, we have been working for years on a transition project to normalize digitalisation in fashion. Part of the industry can't see the forest for the trees and needs information. Professionals also find it difficult to make decisions as all software developers claim to have 'the best' solution. The lack of digital expertise within fashion companies leads to inefficient decision-making and missed opportunities for innovation. This happens while digitalisation affects the entire chain, from digital sampling to digital manufacturing—what challenges arise when producing digitally, digital try-on, virtual worlds—what happens in the Metaverse, and should companies be involved? Digitalisation also includes NFTs, AI, User Experience (XR), Mixed Reality (MR), personalisation—which many companies aim to leverage, blockchain, Web3, circular fashion, upcycling, and zero-waste design (creating patterns with minimal waste).

Companies need employees who not only understand these technologies but can also integrate and use them. This requires continuous training of employees—not just a single course, but an ongoing learning process. Embracing change also takes time. There is a fear of losing craftsmanship, traditional knowledge, work methods, traditions, and positions. I saw this during the transition to 2D digital work in the 90s. It was only later, through graduation projects from students and companies that successfully implemented it, that it became clear that Digitalisation actually enriches the field. One reinforces the other, and new roles emerge.

Why is it important for fashion professionals to explore the possibilities of digital fashion?

In today's fashion industry, digitalisation is no longer an option but a necessity. Designers like Ruben Jurrien’s, who are adept with digital tools, demonstrate how integral digitalisation is to the design process. Digital approaches allow for exploring and manipulating garments layer by layer, leading to a deeper and more interactive design experience. Additionally, new 3D work methods utilizing digitalisation contribute to a more sustainable workflow.

AMFI (Amsterdam Fashion Institute) plays a crucial role in this transformation by offering a forward-looking digitalisation curriculum, particularly focused on 3D Virtual Fashion Design and 3D Research & Technology. The summer program THE NEW REAL is notable for the diverse and international composition of participants, ranging from industry professionals and bachelor’s and master’s students to educators. This diversity fosters a rich exchange of knowledge and ideas, further stimulated by the intensive structure of the program.

What benefits do new digital techniques offer in transforming the design and execution of products?

With digital fashion, you can make design and production processes more efficient and environmentally friendly. Sustainability is one of AMFI's core values; we encourage students to integrate these values into their vision and design. Digital techniques allow for duplication and targeted adjustments without the copying and printing typical of technical drawings still frequently used in the industry. Digitalisation also eliminates the need for physical prototypes and samples; you can immediately see how a fabric or design behaves and fits on a body [avatar].

Moreover, digital work offers a new creative space. 3D designs on an avatar provide direct feedback, allowing for a more intuitive design. Designers have more freedom in their creativity, as adjusting pleats, wrinkles, volumes, fit, and silhouette or adding a pocket is quick and easy. The playful application of these tools adds creative value. It gives designers the freedom to experiment and quickly switch between ideas, almost like sculpting.

The availability and quality of digital fashion programs have significantly increased, with realistic [AI-supported] representations and accessible, intuitive tools. The speed of processes such as "rendering," which simulates how shadow and light shape the product in 3D, has significantly improved. However, the fundamental principles remain the same. You still need to understand the content of what you're doing, such as when simulating a knit. Many 2D basic tools have been transformed into a new environment. In 3D fashion design programs, you can draw patterns, which are also vector objects [as in Illustrator]. And when you "drag and drop" a texture onto your clothing, those are just pixels [as in Photoshop]. The advent of 3D software has introduced new challenging work methods, intelligent tools, and a new vocabulary related to the gaming industry and 3D modelling. Meaningful innovations are our focus in the summer course.

Credits: AMFI

How does the curriculum of THE NEW REAL look?

The curriculum consists of two intensive weeks of theoretical and practical education, focusing on design and experimentation (week 1) and product development and presentation (week 2). Participants work on two major individual design assignments and a group project, with intensive guidance from instructors who are also professionals in the fashion industry. Additionally, participants have the opportunity to present their work and receive feedback, providing a valuable learning experience.

In the AMFI curriculum, theory and practice go hand in hand. "Learning by doing" and "Blended learning" are essential methods that provide a broad framework, focused on experimentation, research, and realization. We combine the physical learning environment with the digital online learning environment and self-study. By working practically in 3D applications, students develop their style faster, have more time for design, and gain a deeper understanding of their design process.

In 2014, through a 3D software comparison with students in a research project, we discovered that Clo3D was the most user-friendly, intuitive, and versatile—highly suitable for the new fashion industry. Since then, the program has formed the basis of our work, and we closely monitor new developments. Instructors in the Summer course also map out the broader landscape with influential software such as Meta-Human, Substance, Blender, Spark AR, Gravity Sketch, and AI for designing materials, textures, and prints. We have a wealth of knowledge in-house.

Since its inception in 2019, the program has continually evolved through close collaboration with students and professionals. This iterative process has led to an increasingly improved learning experience, with new software and technologies quickly integrated into the curriculum. During the pandemic, we developed a fully online version of the course, making the program accessible worldwide.

What do alumni do with the knowledge and skills from the summer program?

A notable example of an alumnus who benefited from the AMFI summer program is Flavia Bon. Together with Anita Michaluszko, whom she met during the 2021 summer course, she initiated the "Augmented Weaving" project. This project explores new ways to combine jacquard weaving techniques with digital forms of craftsmanship. Their work has already been showcased at the Dutch Design Week and has received multiple prestigious nominations and awards.

For practical information and registration, visit the AMFI website.

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