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Digital verses Traditional Illustration?

/Start Rant #2

Here's another one for you.

A while back I had a play with an AI fashion design app called Resleeve ... it was a lot of fun, although really time consuming to actually get anything you like out of it. I'll admit quite openly that the software has a lot of bugs and that thing's like Clo3D might have been a littler faster to get what I specifically wanted, but I was really looking to see if it could inspire new designs ... Clo3D doesn't do that. I posted an image of 5 designs that came out of that app. In here there were a few negative comments on how badly it rendered hands, or where a line might be wrong, or how something might not have a seam where one was needed, but when all you can see is the problems with the software you tend to completely miss why you're doing it in the first place ... and that was to get an idea.

Following my post about digital pattern making yesterday I received a long email about how digital design was killing an industry and how bad I am for supporting AI. Well let's start out by saying that I neither support nor negate the use of digital pattern making wholly in and of itself. The various apps available are merely tools which may help you to achieve a desired result. I fully support the use of a generic CAD program if you can use one, for the innumerable reasons I've mentioned over the last few years. If you can't then paper is fine too.

This email absolutely slammed people for using Clo3D or AI apps for designing fashion saying they were taking away from traditional designers ... also highlighting a number of the problems I'd already mentioned. But she completely missed the point I was trying to make ... and that was, in the hands of a trained designer or pattern maker, these apps are great tools. They aren't putting a designer out of work if that designer has put down a paint brush and picked up a mouse ... same designer, same job. If you aren't a professional designer then you may be lucky enough to create something beautiful in those apps but you won't know if it can really be constructed or if the pattern the app spits out is any good ... especially if you haven't sewn anything in your life as we're finding out.

But after a while something occurred to me. I remember a very elitist teacher of a fashion school that I had to audit for compliance with the Australian education department's set curriculum. The school had dropped almost all the pattern making and completely removed sewing/machining from the course. This was significant grounds for marking them as non-compliant and causing their funding to be cut. The teacher (also school co-ordinator) made a comment that stuck with me forever ... she said the school was about teaching students how to design and not to be factory workers in a production line. I asked how many students from the last graduating class of 18 had now found jobs as designers ... she replied none and abruptly explained that employers weren't willing to trust new designers without experience and it was our job to change that perception. I went away feeling rather sad as I had found personally that I was a better designer because I had the underlying skills to know what worked and what didn't ... these new kids had no such foundation.

Later that week I was consulting to a manufacturer and I got to talking to the production manager over coffee about my week so far. He picked up on my comment about the school audit and said he had interviewed three young women from the school for a position helping their current senior designer and that they rejected all three candidates. The reason he gave was not because they lacked design experience at all, but that they lacked ANY experience, particularly they had no idea about garment manufacture ... laughingly he added at the end that he had no intention of having to explain what a seam allowance was to someone who'd just finished 3 years of fashion school. Fashion is more than drawing a pretty picture.

So what was it that had occurred to me? I've spent the last 35 years travelling the world fixing so many problems in production and pattern making that I've taken for granted that those at the so-called top know very little about garment manufacture. Most designers I've met can't sew, can't make patterns, don't know anything about the construction process and quite frankly have no desire to know ... but it's supposed to be their job to explain all the details of production (that's what the pattern makers or production managers end up doing. Really, the best designers I've met are pattern makers that replaced a leaving designer.

You need proof? The mean email person above said that a traditional fashion illustration was a way better source of instruction to the pattern maker and production crew than a digital design ever could be. Well I need to take exception to that for two reasons. Firstly, production never see that pretty illustration ... they see practical sketches drawn by the pattern maker who's job it is to interpret that illustration. Secondly, the illustration is almost always distorted/exaggerated, not in any logical proportion, frequently missing seams, commonly missing any construction hints and so on. It's a terrible image to work from but it's all pretty and helps get approval from management who generally have even less of a clue. The digital design however is in perfect proportion, shaded and shadowed to create a better 3D visualisation, contains the appropriate seams and details even if they are slightly mis-located ... as a pattern maker trying to make someone else's design into reality, the digital design wins hands down. Are some digital designs unworkable? Most certainly ... but I've come across way more traditional fashion illustrations that I've had to interpret and modify soooo far that they're barely memories of what the designer believes they intended (and yes that caused a lot of personal issues for designers when you have to point out they don't have a clue what they're doing). Cue me saying "I can do you job, but you can't do mine!" ... I took a long time for me to learn diplomacy!

So there I was yesterday saying that in the hands of a professional designer, the digital design app could be a good tool ... I want to amend that to say in the hands of someone with construction and pattern making experience the app could be a good tool. But there's something else ... and it's a warning to industry ... if you only train design and not construction, then you're creating people with less skill than the apps that are now commercially available ... your students are irrelevant before they even graduate. Any pattern maker could come along, create designs and replace you .... it happens all the time, now it just got easier ... right? Wrong ... pattern making is being dropped in total course hours every year at almost every school I know in favour of design ... so where are we going to find good pattern makers.

Do you understand why we have problems with things like curvy sizes now ... and why the new trend in inclusivity is a one size fits all string tie bikini? Because fashion education is letting down industry. We have several big fashion schools represented in this group ... I'd be interested to hear their take on this issue.

/End Rant #2


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