A fashion student’s educational experience is usually defined by a curriculum steeped in fashion history, patternmaking, figure drawing, fabrication, construction, textiles, merchandising, marketing, costs analysis, and a plethora of other required courses. This barrage of needed instruction aims to produce individuals who possess a mastery of skills and are well-equipped to handle the ever-changed needs of today’s robust fashion market.
What is sometimes missing from the rigorous course load at most prestigious fashion institutions is instruction in respect and appreciation for American institutions and industries that has made the US one of the most vibrant and productive markets. Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is breaking that mold. And assistant professor Lisa Donofrio is at the forefront of FIT’s expansive approach to introducing its students to points of view and causes that will affect their careers post-graduation.
On January 13, 2012 FIT students were engaged in a guerilla protest tactic that sparked dialogue and raised consciousness on the fate of the Garment Center. The continuing demise of garment manufacturing in the US has been an evolving concern for industry professionals for the last decade. Noted fashion designers Nanette Lepore, Anna Sui, Yeohlee and even the revered CFDA have lent their time and resources to gain state and national attention to the sad of state of homegrown manufacturing. Now, FIT students are taking up the cause.
“My relationship with the Save the Garment Center started because I am a member of the union at FIT (UCE of FIT) which encompasses the faculty at the college. There was a screening of the documentary “Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags” at FIT, which inspired some students to do something about the demise of garment manufacturing in NYC. Whether FIT students are domestic or international, once they come to NYC, many of them want to stay here and develop careers,” explained Donofrio.
In celebration of Lion Brands 130-year anniversary, FIT knitwear students partnered with Lion Brand and the Save the Garment organization to create sweaters that spoke to the growing need to preserve the Garment Center. “Lion Brand is celebrating their 130-year anniversary and wanted to work on a project with FIT students, so I put together a Made in New York program for the students using Lion Brand yarn … Save the Garment District said we could use the logo as long as we used the correct font. Erica Wolf from Save the Garment Center sent over the logo, and Nick Matteo, our knit tech, knitted the logo electronically. Out students understood that a part of their assignment was to incorporate the Save the Garment Center logo into their design. It could be an insert, an armband, a label, etc. It was more about bring awareness. Once the project was complete, we did a photo shoot with professional models and a guerilla tactic on the streets in the Garment Center. All this took place on January 14, 2013, one of the coldest days of winter. We did cause a lot of attention and we were stopped by lots of people. So, we got to share our message and hopefully raised some awareness,” detailed Donofrio.
Student awareness of the ramifications of the continued demise of NYC’s Garment District is of particular interest to Lisa Donofrio. “I could really identify with the documentary “Schamatta” because I grew up at a time when the Garment District was very vibrant and my mother, as an assistant bridal designer, was a part of all that,” contends Donofrio. “I have seen the entire evolution of production move offshore. Now, based on what some high NYC officials want to do by rezoning and redistricting the Garment District, it could be disastrous for the fashion industry.”
Still, for Donofrio and other faculty at FIT, the motivation goes beyond rhetoric and a few thought-provoking documentaries. Action is the key. “The students at FIT want to go back to the craft of design. They want to go beyond specifications sheets and sending product out for someone else to design and make. A lot of them are hands-on and are interested in opening up their own boutiques. So this time is a great opportunity for them because in NYC we now have maybe four megastores. The genesis of design is going to come from these young, emerging designers, going out on their own and creating their own points of view and perhaps, even their own boutiques. Remember, that is how many of the hallowed names in the industry did it in decades past.”
—William S. Gooch