You might expect the turbulent conclusion of their studies to have embittered the graduates, but most still have faith in a better tomorrow. Their visions forward look quite different. Qingzi Gao dreams of a techno-futurism where designers make clothes for virtual reality avatars. On the other hand, Chi Yu Han longs for a return to solid garment construction, to craftsmanship over creativity. Karen Heshi espouses a turn to functional fashion where designers become essential workers. The future’s already happening for Jessica Guzman, who feels a micro-utopia around her as friends design for each other rather than just producing to fill orders.
Then again, maybe the future is false, a fantasy to rehearse amid pinpricks, forgotten seam allowances, and tear-jerking critiques. Kaiwen Shi alludes to the cruel irony of students graduating with staggering debt, anticipating jobs that aren’t there. And for the beleaguered graduates who finally do find employment, the future isn’t a belief at all but a dire necessity. As Zhuoran Li and Lily Xu acknowledge, even after six-plus years of school and hundreds of thousands of tuition dollars, fashion is all they know. “I don’t have another skill,” says Li. “I need to continue it.”
The alumni were hesitant to offer guidance to future students. “It’s hard because you don’t want to crush anyone’s dreams,” Xu quips. But they eventually lavished advice with a few common refrains: do your research, motivate yourself, and interrogate your intentions. Ultimately, generations of design students to come will usher in the future of fashion. “Educators should listen to their students,” Guzman says. “We are at the forefront of the conversation.”