The fashion educational system needs an overhaul and designer Keanan Duffty is doing his part to change it.
The British-born, New York-based Duffty has worn many hats over the course of his career: fashion designer, author, musician, and now, educator.
He had his own eponymous label and also created the David Bowie collection for Target and worked with brands as diverse as John Varvatos Star USA, Reebok, Moods of Norway and Lamb. And now, he has joined the staff of The New School’s Parsons School of Design as the program director of the new Master of Professional Studies—Fashion Management and associate professor of fashion.
Duffty is spearheading the new program that will launch on site at the school’s New York City campus in the fall of 2019 and online for fall 2020.
“This is very unique, it’s the only program of its kind,” Duffty said. “It’s like a traditional MBA on fashion steroids.”
He said the degree is intended to merge the commerce and creativity parts of fashion. It is being targeted to people who are already working in the industry or those with undergraduate degrees and background in other fields that can be applied to fashion and retail.
The course will be one-year long and limited to around 20 students the first year. There will be nine separate courses in five-week blocks, that will be held mainly on nights and weekends.
“It’s targeted to the working professional looking to change lanes or enhance their current career,” Duffty said.
Parsons said students will gain in-depth knowledge of global and local manufacturing, ethical production, marketing and merchandising. Social media, sustainability, gross margin performance and budgeting will all be addressed.
But what makes this course unique, Duffty said, is that “strategic partners” from within the industry, will be involved and will create content aligned to each course within the curriculum. The exact participants have not yet been revealed, but they are expected to come from all aspects of the field, from streetwear and e-commerce experts to denim and luxury labels.
Duffty said the brands who get involved will have “direct exposure to raw talent and get plugged into young minds” who can offer a fresh take on the industry.
Kozlowski, director of education and professional development for CFDA, said: “This new Parsons program is exactly what our industry needs today. As fashion systems transform, we need leaders with sophisticated creative acumen.”
And the industry is already getting behind the program. In October, the school tapped several executives for a curriculum brainstorming session that included Morty Singer of Marvin Traub Associates, Chris Lacy of Barneys New York and Sara Kozlowski of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
To kick off the program, Parsons will host a series of talks during New York Fashion Week in February that will include Dylan Jones, editor in chief of British GQ; Jonathan Cheung, creative director of Levi’s; Sam Ben-Avraham, founder of Project and Liberty Fairs; and Jeff Carvalho, managing director of Highsnobiety, who will take on the issue of “Reinventing Retail.” Another panel will discuss sustainability and other talks will include fashion marketing and the changing landscape of fashion over the past 40 years.
Parsons isn’t Duffty’s only educational experience. He started dabbling in that part of the business in 2012 when he joined San Francisco’s Academy of Art University as senior director of the fashion merchandising program. He developed a master’s program in fashion business for New York University in 2016 and became a mentor for the Master in Fashion Styling program at Polimoda Institute in Florence, Italy, in 2017.
With that as a backdrop, Duffty was blunt, saying he believes that “most fashion education today is irrelevant. They’re teaching an outmoded system and fashion is evolving so fast.” He continued: “Fashion is not fine art, we’re in the business of selling stuff. It’s very healthy to have a balance between creativity and commerce.”
He pointed to Marco Bizzarri, chief executive officer of Gucci, as someone who has the formula figured out. “They threw out the rule book and took a leap of faith to invigorate the brand,” he said. “He knows that unless you take risk, you won’t be successful. And young people have an innate sense to take risks.”
In other Parsons news, the school has named Rachel Schreiber executive dean. She succeeds Joel Towers, who will step down after a 10-year tenure. Most recently, Schreiber was provost and senior vice president of San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). She will formally join Parsons on July 1, 2019.