As anyone with cable TV knows, there are so many online colleges these days that you can learn just about any trade whilst sitting on your couch in your pajamas. Now, you can add fashion design to that list of trades thanks to newly-launched University of Fashion, an online video library of fashion design lessons.
It's not technically a school, as in you can't actually graduate with a degree. But A: How many designers have actually done that? And B: With legitimate professors from F.I.T., Parsons, and other esteemed fashion design schools leading the lessons, it's the next best thing, at the very least. It's certainly better than YouTube.
Former Chair of F.I.T.'s Fashion Design Program Francesca Sterlacci told us she launched University of Fashion to preserve the art of fashion design (particularly in the U.S.) and make it accessible to people who can't necessarily move to a city like New York and spend tens of thousands of dollars on a proper education.
"I just felt that there needed to be something that people who couldn't afford to go to fashion school, but wanted to be a designer, that they had a place to go," Sterlacci said.
She realized that, as time went on, fewer people in the industry actually knew how to make clothes. While interviewing candidates at F.I.T., she says prospectives "really didn't have any hands-on skills anymore because the fashion industry, since the late '70s, started moving offshore. It was just harder and harder to find teachers who had any hands-on skill." Sterlacci also hopes that inspiring people to want to make clothes might help preserve Made in the U.S.A.
"When I had my business, I made everything in New York and I watched through the years as companies were folding and designers didn't have a place to manufacture anymore and they didn't have the skills," she explained. "I felt like I needed to preserve this craft if I could."
It was when she began teaching at the Academy of Art University that Sterlacci realized students "didn’t want to rely on books [ed note: who does?]; they wanted videos." So that's how the idea began. She went to school herself to learn film editing, but ended up hiring someone else to do the editing when she realized she wouldn't be able to do all of it herself. She then began filming videos that would help aspiring designers learn the basics. "I felt that kids really needed to start from scratch, like learning the beginning, how to draw the basic figure, how to drape the basic silhouettes that are the basis for a lot of different designs, how to learn pattern-making." She's filmed up to a significant 125 videos for the site, and has a list of over 300 more to complete.
Currently Sterlacci and her husband, the CEO of a medical device company, fund the venture privately and hope to turn a profit in a few years.
"I thought [funding and creating the site] was going to be kind of easy; we were just going to make videos and throw them up on the internet, and that was going to be that, but because I’m a pain in the neck when it comes to things having to look right, creating a website became the biggest challenge. Doing the films was easy, although it’s expensive because we pay the instructors and of course have to pay the editor." Something they're working on now that could help increase both profits and the site's profile is partnering with colleges--so schools would buy subscriptions and the library would become available to students through their libraries.
Which leads to another fascinating aspect of University of Fashion: who and why people will use it.
"I think it can be whatever you want it to be," Sterlacci explained when we asked whether it's meant to be a supplement to or a replacement for fashion school. Of course, one segment is current students--both those at schools that don't offer fashion design programs, as well as, those who who are and just want to reinforce what they learn. Additionally, the programs can allow aspiring designers to start learning the craft at a young age, even before college. And, potentially help them get into a design school when the time comes.
"When I was at FIT, I used to oversee all of their student portfolio days and my heart broke when so many of these kids came in with these portfolios which were pretty lame, but only because their high school didn’t offer an art class that specialized in how to put your portfolio together," Sterlacci further explained. "At fashion school, you have to have the whole package a lot of the time, so [many prospective students] were already out before they were in and I just felt like somebody needed to do something about that."
"I figured between what I’ve learned through the years as a designer--what I taught at FIT, what I taught at the Academy of Art, that I was a pretty good judge of what somebody needed to get the skills up to the place where they could either get into school or start their own business because not every designer who’s out there has gone to fashion school, let’s face it." She says many of the latter have been moms who can't start over and go to fashion school, but "want to be able to start a little collection and sell it online."
In addition to adding more tutorials (which are very simple and well-done), Sterlacci is working on adding other informative, interesting videos like lectures on topics ranging from merchandising to color theory, as well as an "On Location" series which follow established industry figures into their studios to see what they do day-to-day. Other features, like a blog and a Pinterest account, serve to make the site more interactive. They also plan to launch design contests.
All in all, it's a pretty awesome idea that we could see taking off--especially with the legitimate industry cred it has behind it. We also think it's good timing. With fashion reality TV shows almost reaching a saturation point, general interest in fashion design is likely at a high. And the price point is low. At $19.95 for a monthly subscription, it's cheaper than a gym membership. Sign us up!