Fashion and farming, a fitting match for FIT students
8 Oct 2019
Fashion and farming happen to be two of the oldest words in the English language yet are on the tongues of today’s emerging design talent. The dual industries also happen to be top sources of pollution, also something which preoccupies the upcoming generation. A group of students from Fashion Institute of Technology’s MFA Fashion Design program, which launched in 2017, traveled to Peru for a two-week field trip to explore the country’s sourcing and manufacturing operations. They presented their individual findings in a symposium which covered topics from Peru’s economy, its ethical credentials, knitwear capabilities, to agriculture and shearing practices.
Fashion Institute of Technology brings students to Peru
Students on the course, under the guidance of Professor James Mendolia, are encouraged to investigate how they as creatives will engage with the supply chains of the future. A stop in the cosmopolitan capital of Lima allowed the group to explore the country’s major retail landscape and to meet with companies who employ artisans and craftspeople located in the remote parts of the country, often women working from their homes in the Andean villages at high altitudes above sea level.
Their second stop, the southern city of Arequipa, is the hub of alpaca and vicuña farming which is becoming much buzzed about in our industry due to the animals’ natural ability to preserve the land. When vicuña and alpaca graze, they cut the grass mid-stalk allowing for continued growth whereas, say, a cashmere goat, pulls the grass out from the root. The vicuña, worshipped by the Incas for its fine coat known as “the golden fleece of the Andes,” was recovered from extinction due to poaching in the 70s, and now roams wild and free in government-protected spaces. Investment in vicuña by Italian luxury mill, Loro Piana, in the late twentieth century contributed heavily to the population’s regrowth. Alpaca which is more expensive than cashmere, but more affordable than the fine, rare vicuña fiber provides an income for one million of Peru’s small farmers.
From farm to fiber to fashion
The Peru trip, a component of the MFA program’s international making seminars, “enables the fashion design students to be immersed in experiential learning so they can assess global and local fashion systems, as well as understand a wide range of manufacturing capabilities,” James Mendolia explained to FashionUnited
The students also learned about other local materials such as the natural fibers from the fique plant, rice straw, and jute. Working in partnership with the department chair, Kyle Farmer, Mendolia says, “it is important that fashion design students understand how their sourcing decisions impact humanity, the environment, social enterprises as well as their creativity.”
While the school does not fund the making seminars, they are required as part of the MFA Fashion degree program. Says Mendolia, “They are one of the highlights of the program that the applicants have continuously pointed out and I believe they keep FIT's MFA Design program competitive and in the know regarding the changing role of a fashion designer.”
The Fashion Farming course changes locations each year to provide a hands-on opportunity to explore global fashion, the first location was Japan to research selvedge denim.
The planned port of call for the next intake of FIT’s MFA students will be India.
Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.