Representing the creative future

Fashion Institute of Technology’s MFA Class of 2021 is Unstoppable

Take a dive into the stories behind the collections of New York City’s latest fashion design graduates

With a new year comes a fresh wave of sartorial genius from design schools around the world. We’re starting off 2022 with the MFA graduates of New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology. After four semesters of experimentation and research – both on campus and at home – the group of aspiring designers was ready to present their last collections before entering the highly competitive fashion industry.

With a history of cultivating and nurturing artistic talent dating back nearly eight decades, it comes as no surprise that the graduates’ collections show an array of techniques, approaches, and inspirations. The collections’ themes are ranging from incorporating functionality in new ways, honouring tradition and family history, to addressing rebellion and trauma. All throughout, their designs are deeply personal without losing attention to craftsmanship and innovation.

At FIT, where creativity is currency, the MFA class of 2021 can only be described as rich. Here, in their own words, the designers speak to us about their final collections following the year’s theme “Unstoppable”.

Camerin Stoldt

“I invited my community into the design process to share how they feel about their clothes. I was also stuck wondering what my own relationship to myself was now that I’m not existing to ‘be seen’? My wardrobe became these few essentials that I felt upheld the pillars of who I was, offering comfort, identity, and familiarity. That led me to look at the basic identity of clothing. The collection titled ‘Clothing’ explores our relationship with textile archetypes through digital printing techniques. I scanned in articles of clothing to capture every detail and worked with Mimaki USA to turn them into sublimation and direct-to-fabric graphics. Some garments appear to be floating in space, while others feel almost untouched. No application can be duplicated exactly, so I had to embrace imperfections and uniqueness in the pieces. By the time I finished my final semester, I could look back and see how the seed that was planted the first semester had grown. I had entered my MFA wanting to create garments that made sense of questions I had about gender and identity. Considering the industry at large, we need to unlearn the way we shop and consume, and instead create accessible space for small creators, and individualise people’s approach based on identity, personal style, body type, etc. As someone who wears both traditionally masculine and feminine pieces, it’s nice to feel like there are fluid options that reverse the gaze. My aim is to evolve our understanding of gender in fashion and the sexualization of fashion items.”

Chuqiao Ouyang

“My work presents my self-exploratory journey. It shows the contradiction and struggle to rebel against the shackles of Chinese traditional values, but at the same time being deeply influenced by them. The Chinese aesthetics of implicitness affected how people dressed, suppressing expressions of emotion. ‘Tradition-Rebellion’ reflects my desire to break through the restraints while embracing the culture that is deeply rooted inside me. The elastic mesh represents privacy and my ‘intimate space’, while silk and beads represent the Chinese traditional aesthetics. All three of them create smooth drapes; however, the elastic mesh also allows me to create the feeling of tight restraint, which expresses the suppression I experience. The dangerous cut-outs and the saturated colours, meanwhile, symbolise my attempt to break through whatever binds me. For me, it is important to always look back in history to understand who I am and what I am trying to achieve. The biggest challenge today is balancing popularity and artistry. How to attract the mass market without losing personality? I see myself as an expressive creator. My works are and will always be derived from my own experience and feelings, but I hope they will not be self-entertaining. I want my designs to resonate with the outside world.”

Clara Son

“The initial idea for my collection originated during my solo trip to Amsterdam. Visiting the Stedeljik Museum, I checked out an exhibition called ‘Black Cloud’ by Carlos Amorales. Walking through, I stopped and stared at this gigantic, broken, dead moth. I cried as I recalled the worst time in my life. Back then, I remember telling my friend that I feel like a bug. Something worthless. Ironically enough, I hated every type of animal but bugs as a little girl. So, I started to research bugs and beetles –  their shapes, looks, and details. The colour scheme of the collection combines those of beetles with traditional workwear shades. The key detail running through the collection is ruching, derived from the insects’ surfaces. To mimic a bug’s hard shell and soft insides, I used different weights of fabrics. My design philosophy is deeply rooted in postgenderism. The purpose of my collection is to make it possible for the wearers to present themselves to the world by embracing both a man’s masculinity and vulnerability. I want to challenge traditional menswear by mixing delicate and heavy-weighted fabrics, evoking more powerful emotions than traditional designs do by providing unconventional silhouettes that nevertheless express societal power. The making of the collection reflects my struggles while also serving as a healing process. Turning my trauma into beautiful artistry, I simultaneously was able to share and release pain.”

Dongdong Zhang 

“‘The Fanatic’’ reflects my art world. How can a person be obsessed with geometry and space but crazy about the sublime dress? Minimalism and 18th-century dress seem to be two contradictory styles, so how could I combine them? The starting point of my journey is Bauhaus, and I mainly referred to the book Patterns of Fashion about 18th-century clothing. Corsets are traditionally made using whale bones. For my version, I used machine sewing and plastic fish bones. The bra is made of fabric, canvas, and lining. I tried two different thicknesses of batting and three types of interfacing. The hard batting can maintain a clean cylinder, emphasizing the geometry of the garment. Soft but thick batting plus fish bones give the garments a larger sense of volume. My fondest FIT memory is the project with the Cooper Hewitt Museum, for which I centered my work around Edward McKnight Kauffer. This was my first time focusing on contemporary art and Bauhaus, and I tried to link it with fashion design. On a more personal note, 2020-2021 was a very painful period for me. I am very grateful to the professors and school doctors for their encouragement. Whether it is the affirmation of my design, or the tolerance and concern for me when I am sick or absent, they helped me through it all. This brings me to work-life balance in the industry. Creatives face such pressures, working extremely long hours with no adequate pay. This is definitely a concern of mine regarding the future. Now, I’m working for an independent design workshop in China that combines traditional craft and art with modern fashion design. Following Yohji Yamamoto’s approach, I want my designs to be for everyone.”

Kai Ting Chen

“The concept of the collection is to live with all vulnerabilities and turn them into something powerful since they’re part of us. My inspiration comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile. My grandmother had a serious accident last year, and I reproduced the prints from her radiographs, trying to transform the negatives into positives. I defined the process of facing vulnerability as a four-stage storyline that runs through the collection – birth, wrecking, mind-changing, and integrity. The white skirt gradually collapsed, blended with the dark printed suits. It’s the metaphor that I finally accepted my own vulnerability and moved on. Most importantly, ‘Fit & Vulnerability’ pays tribute to all people who experienced Covid-19 during these past two years. To me, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to be more aware of one’s personal as well as design identity. Observe yourself and also be aware of the differences between your and other classmates’ identities, traits, and thoughts. These differences form your identity and make us and our work so unique. Don’t try to imitate someone else’s work, just be true to who you are.”

Mohan Shen

“With this collection, I want to spark people’s imagination and help them understand what designers can do within fashion technology. This collection is finished on a Shima Seiki SVR 123 SP platform and machinery, involving technical knitting design, textile design, and garment construction. I think the biggest lesson I took away from my studies is to embrace the imperfect side of myself. I used to throw away the pieces I considered a ‘failure’, but with the help and encouragement of my professors, I focused on the positives and was able to generate new ideas. This is particularly important thinking of the slow innovative rate in fashion right now. Every year, a lot of new technologies are released, fresh minds are producing ideas, and hot trends are thriving on social media. Nevertheless, the majority of the industry is still sticking with their safe lines instead of making use of those innovations for their product lines. As I am preparing my own brand, I am actively connecting with tech companies to absorb new knowledge. For the future, I hope crossover collections could be redefined.”


Papa Oppong

“My collection was born out of my love for home. As a womenswear designer, my primary source of inspiration has and will always be women – the curves, tone of voice, style of dressing and hair, their role in society. Growing up with my mother Cynthia and her little sister Stella, I was always enthralled by their glam processes and this would go on to shape my aesthetic. Therefore, ‘Yopoo’ celebrates Ghanaian women and their unique lifecycle, from birth through marriage and then ending/beginning in death. I drew inspiration from every stage. Authenticity plays a big role in my process. I worked with local Ghanaian textile weavers to create unique Kente weaves for the garments, which I blended with wools, chiffon, and neoprene to subtly announce my presence in both the USA and Ghana. I treated this collection as a pivotal stage in my journey as an African designer, challenging the status quo and going against the grain. I think one challenge that is dear to my heart stems from the word ‘ethical’. I think it’s important that the industry carefully examines its codes of conduct when it comes to the people without who there wouldn’t be an industry – from the beaders in India to the weavers in Ghana to the sample makers in China and the cotton farmers in the USA. I have always said that talent is in abundance in Africa, but opportunity isn’t. I quickly realized that there are so many factors that prevent people of colour from reaching their desired goals. In Africa, there aren’t competitions that will help place a Ghanaian designer in an internship at Dior, nor are any scholarships that will see a talented Senegalese tailor join Givenchy. I want to be able to leave a trail of open doors and opportunities on my path, so young African designers watching my journey have a blueprint as to how to reach their goals and dreams.”

Qian Wu

“The contrast between feminine and masculine is omnipresent in my inspiration. Sexiness and functionality are underestimated in fashion. Traditionally, sexiness has manifested itself in a way that people tend to blame others, primarily women, for dressing ‘provocatively’. By contrast, functionality tends to be considered unfashionable, only targeted at outdoor activities. What I aim to achieve with ‘Movement Creates’ is to see the sparks in the combination of these two contrasting elements. Initially, I was inspired by KT tape, which is applied to the skin to cure injured muscles. Eventually, it became part of my aesthetics by covering skin in royal blue, a key tone in my collection. Collaborating with a physical therapist, I based garment construction on the theory of the five basic lines of the human body – Superficial Back/ Front Line, Spiral Line, Arm Line, Lateral Line, and Deep Front Line. The eight looks were made of neoprene, nylon, and coated silk with a designed laser-cut pattern that provides breathability. Due to draping and ruching, the garments come in various silhouettes that are organic yet floating to present womenswear as hyperfeminine but functional. The biggest lesson for me is to think outside the box. My collaboration with a physical therapist made me realise how looking beyond fashion can inspire one’s perspective massively. Moving forward, what needs more attention is to see fashion in a financially sustainable way. In the current climate, you are lucky to find a low-salaried internship. Investing in your education for an outcome like this is not justifiable, so making sure that every fashion worker can be treated fairly is the biggest challenge.”

Rui Guo

“I wouldn’t say my education was perfect, but it was totally worth it. Being a student coming from a different major, it’s hard. The biggest lesson for me at FIT was how to manage my time. You have to make tons of decisions while also keeping up with work. I failed so many times, yet I had to have the courage to do it all over again, which requires focus and patience and, most of all, time. I think the biggest challenge for the industry right now is excess. Everything is too much. I feel like people are tired of seeing so many different things smashed together only for visual presentation. Personally, I would love to see more interesting yet consistent shapes in different unique looks  instead of too many elements being squeezed into one. It’s time to make clear decisions and arrange all the ideas that are floating around in abundance.”

Yidan Hu

“I was born into a family of construction mechanics. Having had access to factories since childhood, I have an exceptional interest in and fascination with the industry and its workers and machinery. Traditional handicrafts inspire me a lot. I have deep respect for handcrafted goods, which is why I like to experiment to develop new techniques that lead to excitingly different and new results. The biggest lesson I learned during my time at FIT is that as a creator, don’t go against your own nature. During my first semester, I began to inquire what kind of designer I am and why I am interested in textiles. It proved to be very difficult, so I somewhat lost my mind back then. Trying to come up with a concept, I did a lot of research, but that’s just not the right approach for me. I am a designer who has to touch material. My focus is on the making. Sometimes my hands will follow my brain, and other times my brain will follow my hands. For creatives, their respective craft is a lifeline. It means years of trial and error. It’s the mistakes that usually allow me to understand myself better. After graduation, one question that lingered in my mind was if we really need so many clothes. My family is engaged in traditional manufacturing, actually excessive repetitive manufacturing. Yet, my thoughts are not negative. I think as designers, we can definitely make a change in this industry.”

Yue Wu

“The purpose of this collection is to create my own philosophy evolving around dance, body, and space. Because I have a background in ballet, I wanted to visualise this abstract concept. The story deals with self-exploration, then breaking free and getting rid of the restrictions. I did my own dance experiments, taking photos of me dancing to catch the movement line. This resulted in a linear web which became the base for my garments. I cut holes in a basic dance bodysuit, but because my linear web has many curved lines, I used pieces of fabric to create knots. Additionally, there’s the influence of cyberpunk represented in abstract, distorted elements like electronic glitches. Cyberpunk states that the difference between humans and artificial intelligence is no longer obvious, so humans have no boundaries or emotions. It’s energy without physical bodies. At present, as a result of COVID-19, online working and teaching have been enabled and widely popularised. With the reduction of public demand for traditional clothing, virtual clothing has become more trendy and more easily accepted by the public. In the future, I think the role of these digital garments in real life needs more thinking and development, revamping the face of fashion as we know it. Nowadays, people are willing to pay attention to and participate in the fashion industry, so I think whoever has dreams can promote the development of the whole fashion world.”

Yushi Lin

“‘Dreamality’ is based on a topic which seems to have been done by many people. However, I have always wanted to work with the two worlds that are reality and dream, since they are inseparable from my own experience. Through constant research and exploration of the idea of the subconscious, I ended up settling for dreams as my starting point. It is my aim to transform the invisible subconscious into a tangible design. I teamed up with students from other fields to be able to use computer coding technology to interpret my dream in another form. Ultimately, my textiles should be made using a technique unique to me. I did various special deformation tests in Photoshop by using its distortion function to twist an ordinary T-shirt’s edges, but at the same time, still, keep its original shape. This helped me to predict the blurring effect, which I achieved through hand-cutting and a felting technique that creates an illusion in the pattern. That way, I connected the virtual with the real world. Speaking of the world, one of the biggest challenges our industry is facing is sustainability. Fashion is one of the biggest polluters in the world. We’ve discussed these issues during our study at FIT many times. It’s every emerging designer’s responsibility to do something about the environmental pollution caused by the industry.”