AMFI hosted IFFTI, the annual conference of leading fashion schools worldwide. The 2017 theme was ‘Breaking the rules’. Fashion students Hannah Woods and Geesje Remijnse evaluate the conference with two members of IFFTI’s Executive Committee, Sylivie Ebel and Barbara Bundy: “When you study fashion you are ‘in’ – which means that you can’t close your eyes for the problems this industry is facing.”
It was a splendid week full of fashion, education, technology and sustainability wherein influential associates from the most prominent fashion schools worldwide gathered to make a change. But above all: it was a week of learning from each other. Together with Sylvie Ebel, director of the training centre of Institut Francais de la Mode (ranked in the top three fashion schools in the world by Business of Fashion) and Barbara Bundy, Vice President of Education at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, we recapitulate the week of the IFFTI conference, hosted by our own school, and learn something very important about Breaking the Rules.
Could you tell us in your own words what IFFTI is and why does it exist?
Sylvie: “IFFTI is an association that was created almost twenty years ago and its mission is to build a network between fashion institutes all around the world that share the same values on education. Of course, we are specialised in fashion in all its dimensions – like management, technology and design.”
Barbara: “It is a wonderful forum to get together, to share practices and to talk about changes in the industry.”
How did you personally get into the fashion industry, what’s your story?
Sylvie: “I didn’t know I would work in fashion education at all. I graduated from business school and after that I started as a buyer. Don’t ask me why, since not a lot of people that graduated from business school start like that. I worked there a number of years and then after two kids I felt the urge to change my career and so it happened that I started working in the fashion education. I love it and I wouldn’t want to change, because I think we are very lucky to work with young and passionate people like you are.”
Barbara: “Ditto! I studied political science, I was determined to join the foreign service. I got side tracked when I was in school I took a job in a store in Los Angeles, worked for a fabulous buyer and got very excited. I thought: it’s just going to be a little bit of a left turn, for a short period of time. It turned out to be a career!”
What is IFFTI’s purpose?
Barbara: “We will bridge that gap between education and industry. And while all of the IFFTI schools are involved with the industry, some are very globally involved and others are very locally involved. The challenge is: how do we enlarge that scope without stepping on relationships that already exist.”
“If you don’t break the rules, nothing will change.”
The theme of IFFTI This year is “Breaking the rules”- what rules need to be broken?
Sylvie: “We talked about sustainability on Thursday morning and it certainly is a big subject. Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. It has to be looked from a negative perspective and it is truly a big problem! I was discussing this with my students and the question was should we be ‘in’ or ‘out’? When you are studying fashion, you choose to be ‘in’. It is certainly a subject that has to be addressed and faced. There’s no way that this industry can continue as it does now, rules will have to be broken.
At the same time as a designer one has to break the rules. It is always about having completely different ways of designing. It’s always about renewing, always about breaking rules. If you don’t break the rules, nothing will change.”
Barbara: “And you, both of you and all of your peers are breaking the rules. You as students are showing us a new perspective. I also think the perfect example is H&M. Fast Fashion happens and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but we are at the point now that we have to always consider sustainability. I love the H&M story of ‘bring your clothes and we will recycle them.’ So it turns a negative into a positive. And I think that’s our challenge.”
Do you think the keynote speakers will have an impact on the fashion industry and the way things are handled?
Sylvie: “I would like to answer yes, but I don’t think that one person can just change things that easily, especially when it is a whole industry. But they make us think differently and can give us different ideas on how we handle fashion education.”
So fashion education is very important?
Sylvie: “Yes, it is very important. We have to try to put the subjects of the conference into one piece. Give it more intensity. We all have a responsibility. I believe it is important that we all are on the same page, every member of IFFTI should fulfil the same requirements.”
“It is good to hear how companies like Patagonia make a positive change.”
Barbara: “I completely agree. It is incredibly important to also understand that we all have different approaches on how we educate fashion. Thus our goal is very similar, all of the countries have slightly different requirements, slightly different markets that we cater. It is important that we all come together and listen to people talking about their successes. It is good to hear what’s going on in the way that companies like Patagonia are influencing other people.”
Looking back at the other conferences – we guess sustainability has been a big topic in the last years – can you feel a change every year when you talk about sustainability? Did you see any improvement?
Sylvie: “Actually, we only recently started focusing on sustainability. In the previous years there were only a few papers discussing this subject, but I wouldn’t say it was emphasised. AMFI was the one school that took initiative first and then the board decided that it should reoccur.”
Barbara: “And the way that IFFTI works, is that the host university chooses the topic. So you as a host choose what is important to the university.“
Sylvie: “Probably Shanghai will host next year and they will address the subject of sustainability in a different way. That should be interesting. Every year is different.”
What will happen to all the information and inspiration you got from last week? How are you going to implement that? What’s after the IFFTI conference?
Sylvie: “I have a very concrete answer to that. I was in a group discussion and we have the opportunity to build a platform on sustainability for students and for teachers. It will be totally global and open so we can make sustainability happen.
As for my school for example is what we learned about The Higg Index. [see also our article on the talk of Pascale Moreau ] We were explained how it works and we hope to implement this at school.”
Barbara: “I was not familiar with the Higg Index neither. It is interesting to see that certain brands are synonymous with sustainability and have very high ethically processes. Just as interesting to see where others fall on the scale. I also look forward to go back to my department, share the importance of sustainability and a review of how we are all addressing it. See if we have comment to our classes, where we need to expand this knowledge.”
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Do have any last words for us and fashion students around the world?
“Students are the next generation. You’re here to change things”
Barbara: “I do! I want to say: you as students have talent and inspiration. Keep your eyes and ears open to everything around you. I think probably the greatest skill is a ‘natural curiosity’. Stay curious about everything around you, read everything you can and analyse it.
We are looking to you! You inspire us.”
Sylvie: “Yes indeed, you are here to change things. We can’t change it ourselves, we are getting too old. Stay curious and open-minded. Break the rules!”
This was the last report on the IFFTI event that was hosted by AMFI – Amsterdam Fashion Institute. More info on IFFTI you can find on www.iffti.com/
Interview and photos by Geesje Remijnse and Hannah Woods.