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At Polimoda, How Students Uncover ‘The Truth About Fashion’ | Education, Sponsored Feature


FLORENCE, Italy — In a new research project, conducted by Polimoda’s Fashion Marketing Management and Business of Fashion students and faculty, the Florentine fashion school sought to better understand how students of today perceive the fashion industry of tomorrow.

The study collected the views of over 300 undergraduates and postgraduates attending the fashion school, and fielded responses from additional Gen-Z and Millennial consumers further afield. Guided by two faculty members from the school’s business department, Lilit Boninsegni and Silvia Fossati, the students followed the traditional methodology used for school projects.

Each student group researched main values, references and questions that young generations would consider important for the future of fashion and designed 10 questions. This collaborative approach led to the creation of an online survey that was sent to all students between April and May 2020 via an online platform.

“We asked the students to establish the parameters and values of the research itself. If you want to do something for young people, you have to let them do it,” Polimoda’s director Danilo Venturi said of the project, whose sentiments were echoed by the research findings.

“Our survey revealed ‘freedom’ to be the main value the younger generation searches for,” Boninsegni added. “Students today turn to their educators to provide them with the tools to succeed, to guide them, but to let them be free. For the younger generations, education means a sense of belonging and authenticity.”

However, a discrepancy between perceived brand values and the younger generations’ beliefs became apparent. “The survey revealed that the students’ idea of inclusivity and diversity differs from brands’ work in this area. It’s not enough to show diverse faces on a runway and it all leads back to authenticity,” continued Boninsegni.

While the Gen-Z and Millennial students offered insight into the values and views of the largest consumer cohort today, the research project also identified their expectations as future fashion professionals. “This is the best part of being a teacher — the privilege of seeing many other points of view and that of the next generation of fashion professionals,” said Fossati. “There is a gap between how the system defines itself and how the younger generations perceive it,” she continued.

“The students’ participation has helped them better understand the career path they would like to take as they prepare to enter the industry. Overall, they are looking for meaning — meaningful brands, meaningful content, meaningful product — to create meaning in the future of fashion,” adds Fossati.

To learn more about studying at Polimoda, and how the “The Truth About Fashion” project increased their understanding of the industry and their awareness of it, BoF sits down with three of the students that conducted the research.

Ella van Niekerk, Business of Fashion student

How did your involvement in the survey come about?

Every third year at Polimoda takes part in an applied project, to allow us to experiment and go our own way instead of fitting into stricter educational regulations. This project was presented to us with very little information because the teachers wanted us to make it our own. They just said, « Figure out what the future of fashion is about. Do a survey, look into your own perceptions of what you think you need to be asking. » You can tell, from all the different survey questions created, that we all went with our gut.

How did the process of creating the project evolve over time?

The process plan in the beginning changed quite drastically when Covid happened. We started out having meetings in person to brainstorm ideas and then the pandemic hit. We had Zoom meetings with our lectures to help us throughout the process and, in hindsight, it was really nice because as a group, we figured out what we wanted to focus on with our teachers’ support. Eventually, we combined our ideas into one survey with 10 questions.

Students from over 50 different countries participated and it was great to see a common thread throughout our generation.

It was coincidental, when we started this project before the pandemic, that we were trying to figure out what kind of industry we wanted to go in to when we graduate. But now, during Covid, it has become a pertinent question and the findings we have offer a foundation for what might happen to the fashion industry. I think it’s important that we as students have this overall research that we can use and take with us after we graduate.

What was your initial response to the findings?

I grew up in South Africa and there isn’t a big fashion presence there, but when I was growing up, it was all about honesty, authenticity and durability. So, I found it really interesting that a lot of our findings reflected that. Students from over 50 different countries participated and it was great to see that there is a common thread throughout our generation — authenticity is a big part of what we want to see in the fashion industry. The fact that other Millennials or Gen-Zs also want education in a fashion brand and to be able to trust brands was amazing.

Why do you believe research like this is important to fashion education today?

I think it is amazing when fashion brands can actually stand for something rather than trying to connect with everyone and throwing a net out, hoping they catch something — even if it does mean losing out on some consumers. It’s important that we do this research, because this is where we’ll find the connections with the consumers.

I think a lot of research about our generation is done through online accounts, on social media, like the amount of clicks we generate and whether that means we will buy something. That’s interesting, but it’s more quantitative than qualitative. The data they get is not going to stick with an emotionally driven younger generation. It’s important for them to listen to what we have to say and not just what we’re posting, following and liking.

Camilla Chiarolanza, Fashion Marketing and Management student

How did your involvement in the survey come about?

The opportunity to take part in this initiative allowed us to have a voice in something we really care about. I was happy to participate, to work alongside friends and teachers I admire and can really learn from, who are keen to express their point of view, like me.

Our teachers were also present throughout the whole process of making the survey, because it was a new project for them too, so there was a real community feel in trying to make it together. Our teachers gave us the freedom to create it and really trusted us.

What did you learn from the process of working on this project?

If I didn’t have the opportunity to take part of this survey, maybe I would never have asked myself these questions, like what fashion really means to me and what does my generation really care about? It was also interesting to know how to ask the right questions to students. I think it was a really valuable process for me and my colleagues.

The medium of this project allowed us to listen directly to the voice of the youth of today without filtering information.

Brands need to be aware of the message that they send out because everyone is on social media nowadays and we are aware of what they say more than what they make. It’s not just about products anymore. I think they should be really careful of what they say to younger generations.

What was your initial response to the findings?

There were some responses that I was expecting, like the influence of social media or the lack of trust in magazines and papers. However, other responses did surprise me. For example, I believe diversity is not just what fashion brands show on the outside, but about the actions they take inside the company and I was happy to see that many others have the same opinion on this subject and believe that brands should use their power to send powerful messages through relevant and generational storytelling.

However, I was sad to see that 10 percent of students answered they don’t know any truly sustainable brands. But it all comes back to transparency. We want to know more about production systems within these brands. There is no real transparency around it and it’s important for us to know what they make, where they make it and who makes the products.

Why do you believe research like this is important to fashion education today?

In the future, I think everyone making fashion has to be able to educate people. Brands like Prada or Gucci are so powerful because they have a presence on everyone’s social media. The medium of this project allowed us to listen directly to the voice of the youth of today without filtering information through digital tools. I believe our survey created more precise learnings than studying the patterns and traces of our generation through the internet.

Anastasia Basano, Business of Fashion student

How did the process of creating the project evolve over time?

We had to first research and understand what the future of fashion means for ourselves and then each of us came up with around six to eight questions, which was then condensed to create 10 questions for the survey.

The project was launched in person, so we had everything in person. But then lockdown hit, so everything went online and Zoom and Skype became our best friend. There were about 11 groups of students across the business of fashion or fashion marketing management courses. All of us were in different parts of the world so it was hard to adapt at first, especially with the different time zones.

What did you learn from the process of working on this project?

All the groups are very international, so we had many different points of views and perceptions of fashion to learn from. For example, I’m Italian-Russian but I grew up in Abu Dhabi, so my perception of fashion was more conservative. Other people that grew up in London or New York often had a view that fashion could be more creative, more fast-paced.

I also learned a lot about collaboration between the students and with the teachers. I think that all of us appreciated that we were the ones in charge. I think we got to learn more because we taught each other in a way. We spoke from our backgrounds first to understand why we actually got into fashion, why we came to Polimoda, before asking deeper questions like, “What would we like to learn more about? Where would we like to see the industry go? »

What was your initial response to the findings?

It was really interesting to see how some many of us were all on the same page about inclusivity, both externally and internally within a brand. Our generation want the brands to be authentic — we want to see that they practice what they preach. I think it was really interesting how the findings really showed that.

When you make students aware that their opinion matters, it gives us confidence that the teachers are really listening to us.

Credibility is also an important topic for our generation — giving credit where credit is due — especially for those of us going into the workforce now. We want to work with brands and share ideas, but will we be able to? That changed my outlook a bit.

Why do you believe research like this is important to fashion education today?

This project was created by students for students. The teachers were there to guide us but when you really give students that power, making them aware that their opinion matters, it gives us confidence that the teachers are really listening to us, allowing us to freely express our opinions and thoughts. We were able to have a conversation and that’s how you learn.

As someone that’s going into the workforce, I feel more hopeful that my opinion and voice will be heard. Obviously, this is a starting point, but at least it’s starting. People are asking questions.

This is a sponsored feature paid for by Polimoda as part of a BoF Education partnership. To learn more about Polimoda, please click here.



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