Sustaining the lifeblood of the industry amid a pandemic means a focus on a number of groups: garment workers, designers and retail workers, the largest private employment sector in the United States. But in May – during graduation season – the struggles of new and recent graduates become a heightened focus for companies like Nineteenth Amendment and organizations including the Fashion Scholarship Fund.
FASHION GRADS DESIGN ON-DEMAND: Typically partnering school by school with the likes of FIT, Drexel, MassArt, Marist or the small screen with Bravo’s “Project Runway,” the on-demand production platform N.A.bld is broadening its base yet again. Starting June 1, any fashion design graduate student can showcase their collections on the platform, displaying their school’s badge on their brand page if they so choose.
“The response was very positive so we quickly decided to expand our offering to any fashion design graduates instead of going school by school since the need is so large,” said Amanda Curtis, founder of Nineteenth Amendment, the U.S.-based on-demand manufacturing platform behind N.A.bld.
For young designers, the experience is non-committal. As what Curtis calls the “ultimate testing platform,” recent grads and graduate students are able to showcase their talents without running the risk of paying for and holding inventory – making production “inherently sustainable.”
Currently, they are working alongside the N.A.bld team to digitize their tech packs to later receive manufacturing bids from the in-network manufacturers.
In her opinion, the present state is a “golden opportunity” for the industry to rethink supply chains more sustainably with recent graduates as the ticket to creative ingenuity, bringing “new offerings to the table.”
“The professors we’ve spoken to are most excited that their students will have an opportunity to oversee production, use a PLM system, and experience their products being made at scale. This experience is absolutely one that will make students more hireable and set them apart from other design candidates,” she reiterated.
FSF FIGHTS FOR NEXT-GEN: Now, more than ever — recent grads need the support of the industry, said the Fashion Scholarship Fund’s executive director Peter Arnold.
Appropriately it’s the name of the organization’s latest campaign, as nearly all of FSF’s 150 corporate partners — which includes companies such as Macy’s Inc., Centric Brands Inc., Derek Lam and Gap Inc., among others — “have rescinded job offers or put off initiatives,” as Arnold professed.
The initiative spotlights some of the hundreds of FSF scholars, what Arnold calls the “best and brightest” talent pool the industry has yet to receive.
FSF is focusing on “hard skills we can work on in the next six months,” through digital offerings like workforce preparedness training and forums that fill the gaps between what’s taught in school and what’s learned on the job. It’s catered to not just current FSF scholars, but also the 1,500 or so scholarship alums who are “first to be furloughed or laid off.”
“We know the current industry challenges,” said Arnold frankly, underscoring that “our industry needs talent — it will always need talent, fresh ideas and innovation,” calling for support during these challenging times.
“They need a scholarship more than they’ve ever needed it before. In many cases, their parents have lost their jobs and can’t afford to send them back,” he reiterated.
One narrative from the Now More Than Ever campaign is of FSF scholar Javier Uriegas, a fashion student at the University of Texas who is currently quarantined in a studio off-campus.
“I’ve been scared and worried my whole life — I don’t come from a very financially stable background,” said Uriegas in the spotlight video. He goes on to share how his paid internship from the past semester supported the bulk of his food expenditures but shared: “that’s what I’m currently lacking.”
When WWD asked what skills will be most needed from entry-level applicants, Arnold said it will be “on the more practical side” merging the creative with the commercial.
“It’s more of a digital play than it’s ever been,” he said, adding that the focus for FSF has usually been on analytics and supply chain expertise.
And as for sustainability, Arnold said there is “a level of consciousness of the importance, now, of sustainability. I think the world has changed.”
As a judge to senior projects from FSF scholars, Arnold determined “[sustainability] is not a question for them, it’s a given.” He thinks they’ve embraced the concept more fully than the industry at present. Arnold projects one year from now, “The breadth of opportunity is going to be smaller,” with “just as many kids” competing for fewer jobs. He added: “A Macy’s or a Kohl’s are not going to be the same institution — not the same hiring needs.”
“These are very talented and deserving kids, and the problem of supporting talent should be one of the [priorities],” he stressed.