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MA Fashion Platforms: Designed to Reshape the Future of Fashion

Offered across the MA Fashion Programmes, a series of platforms provide students with focused opportunities to expand and challenge their practices: Future Systems, Mixed & Virtual Realities, Sports as Identity, Bio-design and Sublime Design. 

Fashion is undergoing fundamental changes as new digital tools, machines, networks and robotics usher in an unprecedented era of growth and disruption. RCA Fashion Menswear and Fashion Womenswear are responding with platforms that offer distinct but interrelated ways to engage with a rapidly developing and changing fashion industry, encouraging an experimental and provocative approach that will train the designers of tomorrow to reshape the industry. 

The Future Systems Platform examines the future of the fashion industry. Students take a holistic approach to identify and discuss the complex systems, business models and innovations that will define the industry over the coming decades – and how their inputs might reshape the global fashion industry. This year’s outcomes reflect students’ ongoing concerns for sustainability at all stages of a garment’s production; the incorporation of technology and specific user’s needs; and a focused engagement with materials supported through scientific insights.

The School of Design Work-in-progress Show will display the Future Systems group project, Unplugged, which demonstrates how wearable technology can become culturally visible through different approaches. Man Loy Chan has been working on a seamless woven garment that embeds technology into the weaving so that the fabric itself becomes a technology.

He explained: ‘When we add technology on to a garment, it’s not the garment interacting with the user but the technology. Seamless weaving comes into play when we spin whatever kinds of “tech” into yarn, then into a garment. Besides the advantages of zero-waste production and longevity, the garment has a seamless technology that can interact directly with the user.’

From virtual and online selling spaces to virtual showrooms and fitting rooms, the potential applications for emerging digital technologies in the fashion industry are huge. The Mixed & Virtual Realities Platform asks students to consider ways to engage with fashion through speculative and virtual environments. This year they focused on wearable technology and worked with sensors to create interactive garments.

Mengqi Xue worked on a group project that addresses cyberbullying. A video displays the insults faced by a girl being bullied online. By pulling a string on a garment, viewers can influence the video, placing them in the position of the bully, so they feel the harm caused ‘in a direct and forceful way so that they have more empathy for the bullied’, Mengqi explained.

Although she has worked with video before, the project introduced Mengqi to technical sides of VR that were totally new. ‘We needed to design code for the sensor on the computer, which was very challenging as our sensor is quite complicated. Because of the interactive nature, I also needed to take into account how the VR would impact on the emotions and feelings of the viewer.’

Hi-tech engineered materials and the integration of emergent techniques are now prevalent in both traditional and emerging forms of sportswear. The Sports as Identity Platform encourages students to think through ways that fashion can optimise performance, working with new materials or existing ones in new ways. A high level of precision is required to create work that is practical and user focused – thinking about the individual body in motion, across temperatures and global differences.

Eleana Burrows created a highly technical base layer from coated merino wool and lycra. She chose to use her knowledge of sailing and its clothing demands to design a high-performance garment, that manages temperature but also feels good to wear. She explained that existing base layers are often made of ‘horrible synthetic materials’ so she chose to explore how to make the most of the natural properties of wool, a material she loves.

The garment is carefully created to act as a second skin. Eleana altered the structure of the knit in different areas to meet specific needs. This includes lace holes to allow heat to escape, thickening the knit in areas of more abrasion such as the shoulders and elbows, and denser ribbing in areas of less body fat for added warmth. The natural and synthetic fibres are knitted in such a way that at the end of the garment’s life, they can be unraveled separately for recycling, demonstrating a sustainable approach underpinning her design.

The Bio-design Platform explores a dynamic range of new material and textile technologies through developing potential applications for fashion, from energy storage to physical performance, recyclability and launder-ability. Applying insights from science, students create new smart textile and product outcomes addressing a range of future needs. This includes integrating biomimicry – imitating structures and behaviours from nature – as well as growing new materials at a cellular level.

Jake Treddenick has incorporated clay into a fitted T-shirt to help improve hygiene levels while undertaking endurance sports. Discussing his reason for choosing this platform he stated: ‘Biology is a natural process that gives us an understanding of our human evolution as well as the space we surround ourselves in. Using this to influence design seems a way of progressing fashion design.’

Drawing on ideas from science fiction, science fantasy and theories of speculative design, the Sublime Design platform references key writers as prompts towards evolving imaginary networked societies, which in turn are the basis for producing body-related design and 3D outputs. The platform investigates the design possibilities that can be achieved through engaging with fiction, the creation of fictional worlds or imagining future scenarios. 

These methods are used to expand students’ written and emotional vocabularies, which become tools to prompt new aesthetics and design ideologies. Mariana Malta has worked on a project that imagines a speculative world in which it is possible to scan human souls to reveal their colours. Her garment proposes a scenario where, she explains ‘body, garment and movement align to heal the soul and enhance human physical expression’.

Find out more about Fashion Menswear and Fashion Womenswear at the RCA and how to apply.