Since our founding in 2008, the University of Fashion has always recruited the best instructors from the best fashion colleges, such as FIT and Parsons, to teach our lessons. And, because we film in New York City, the fashion capital of the world, we have been able to tap the brain trust of our industry for our design and business lessons.
Going on 13 years now, we have partnered with the best dress form companies in the business (Alvanon and Wolf) and collaborated with several top tool and fabric suppliers as well as other industry resources (and the list is growing).
When we decided to add affordable computerized pattern making lessons, we forged a partnership with Tukatech so that we could offer a special, affordable rate to our subscribers.
Promoting another school’s content on our site may have seemed like a bad business decision, but our recent partnership with Upcycle Design School now provides our subscribers the opportunity to learn how to start their own sustainable fashion brand.
So, it therefore comes as no surprise that we are introducing our subscribers to MOTIF, a new learning platform aimed at the working fashion professional. I recently had the opportunity to interview Catherine Cole, MOTIF’s CEO, about their mission, the results of their survey on the skill level needs of the industry, and other relevant topics that affect today’s fashion and textile industry.
Our founder, Francesca Sterlacci, recently interviewed Catherine to learn more about MOTIF and their unique and much needed learning platform.
Francesca: MOTIF is a relatively new fashion industry learning platform, can you give some background as to when and why it was founded and what role Alvanon played in its inception?
Catherine: The fashion industry is going through major disruption caused by changes in consumption patterns, increasing cost pressures, speed-to-market pressures, unwieldy and fragmented supply chains and then having to play catch up in things like sustainability and digitisation. These disruptions are making a growing skills gap more and more evident. The last generation that has production floor expertise is retiring in the next 5-10 years and add to that an urgent need for the next generation of skills that include data, 3D product design and development and digital marketing. MOTIF was started to meet the urgent need by fashion brands and other players in the supply chain, for an ability to onboard new employees effectively and upskill current employees. Originally an intrapreneurial venture within global innovations company Alvanon, MOTIF officially launched in October 2018 with a suite of online courses on motif.org, before becoming a separate legal entity in April 2019. Since then, we have received $2m in funding from The Mills Fabrica.
Francesca: What has been the impact of Motif’s recent increase in funding?
Catherine: The increased funding allowed us to launch new social and community features alongside our courses and also develop authoring tools for partners (experts across the industry) to launch their own courses in our marketplace. We continually strive to enhance our features and are building a state-of-the- art learning environment for our users.
Francesca: Is Motif’s learning platform offered to individuals as well as to school libraries?
Catherine: MOTIF’s courses are aimed at both individual professionals in the industry as well as corporate HR or business teams that need to make sure their workforce is equipped with sound fundamentals and cross-functional understanding. These courses cover technical skills as well as commercial and soft skills for the apparel / fashion industry. We publish our own courses and also distribute courses of partner publishers. These partners can range from academic institutions like LIM College, to organisations fostering the adoption of business best practices and technical standards in the industry such as WRAP, and even independent seasoned industry experts such as Roz McNulty who is teaching a series of superuser courses from beginner to advanced level on CLO 3D on MOTIF. Currently our courses are also used by professors who are looking to supplement their teaching with course material taught by practitioners.
Francesca: Alvanon conducted an industry survey back in 2018 entitled, The State of Skills in the Apparel Industry, and shared the results at a conference held in NYC. Can you discuss the findings of that survey, as it related to body sizing and the need for upskilling in the global fashion industry?
Catherine: MOTIF, with the support of Alvanon and 19 global industry associations, launched its second global State of Skills survey in early 2020 to see if anything had changed with regards to the urgency around skills and professional development since our first survey in 2018. The results were just released in October 2020 and can be found in a whitepaper on our site. The key findings were that the industry still views skills as a key business issue, but that budgets are not matching. So, one of our big problems is that there is a major mismatch between priorities and investments, especially when it comes to topics like sustainability and digitisation. Another key finding is the discrepancy between top management’s perception of how they are supporting their employees with continuous learning opportunities and how employees feel like they are not receiving the professional development they want.
Francesca: Does Motif’s curriculum reflect the needs of current fashion industry professionals? Does Motif recruit its instructors from the fashion industry?
Catherine: MOTIF exists to fill the skills gap in the industry on fundamental technical skills, as well as hot new skills that will enable professionals to be the best at what they do as well as future-proof their career in the industry. The first courses offered on the platform revolved around product development, fit and sizing, sustainability and then 3D. We’re progressively expanding our catalogue with courses covering training needs in the wider spectrum of the apparel and fashion supply chain. For example, we’ve recently published a course by AQM on how to safely resume operations and protect your factory workforce from Covid-19, and we will soon have a new course by WRAP on risk assessment in factories. All instructors teaching courses on the platform are highly experienced industry practitioners and experts, passionate and eager to share their knowledge for the betterment of business practices in the industry and committed to collaborate with our team to deliver enjoyable, efficient and highly applicable learning experiences.
Francesca: What importance does MOTIF put on having solid, hands-on, foundational knowledge in disciplines such as pattern making, draping, sewing and drawing before moving on to learn digital tools such as CAD, PDS and 3D?
Catherine: There are core skills that will always be critical in the industry. These are the fundamental skills that don’t change over time. They are also the “art and the science” or the craft in the industry. Any newcomer to the industry needs to have these fundamentals. Actually, it is not just the newcomers but even many seasoned professionals need refreshers in these skills as their careers evolve. What has changed over time is how we apply some of these skills or the new digital tools that we are using with them. You have many young start-ups looking for pattern makers with coding skills and it is this example of a new blend of skills that will be relevant in the future so that young brands and companies remain agile and innovative.
Francesca: Alvanon recently hosted the first 3D virtual conference, can you tell us what the industry’s reaction was to the inevitability of a 3D digital transformation? What are the pros and cons of implementing 3D in the workplace and what companies are leading this transformation?
Catherine: Alvanon, with MOTIF as its “Learning Partner”, organised the first 3D Tech Festival for Apparel and Fashion in September 2020, as an open and agnostic platform for 3D tech leaders to discuss and re-imagine how we live, work and learn in an apparel world gone digital. With over 60 speakers and thousands of participants from 94 different countries, the four-day virtual event was a resounding success with an innovative format combining a full-blown conference, 3D Tech vendor virtual showcases and the launch of the MOTIF 3D Fashion Tech Community. Aiming at quenching the thirst for practical knowledge and exchange around 3D adoption and implementation in the industry, the live event was offered entirely free and is now available on-demand on motif.org, while the MOTIF 3D Fashion Tech Community is also continuously growing with new members and ongoing conversation threads.
Like for all other major disruptive technology trends, there is a mix of excitement and apprehension or mistrust around the adoption of 3D and its benefits. The question of the pros and cons of implementing or adopting 3D, isn’t really the right one though. There is little doubt now that 3D already does and will increasingly bring efficiency and sustainability benefits to the industry. The first and foremost question is the fundamental WHY each organisation would adopt 3D and embark on a transformative journey. How does it support and enable execution of the vision and development strategy of an organisation? It’s about core business goals, streamlined processes and fostering a culture where people are embracing change, adhering to values and objectives underlying it. It’s about equipping your teams with the right skills and confidence that they can execute on the vision and that all stakeholders have a place in the transformational journey. It’s about mapping out the steps, from pilot to enterprise-wide deployment, and being able to demonstrate the return on investment at each stage. To help those that want and need to take the leap, MOTIF has developed a course that helps teams and individuals alike raise and answer the key questions, engage the right people and establish the milestones that will ease the way to the successful adoption and implementation of 3D.
There are many companies, large and small, and even start-ups, in the footwear and apparel industries that have started experimenting, adopting or embedding digital tech as the nexus of their business model or operations. We get excited when we talk to some of the most progressive ones now looking at building internal 3D or digital skills competency centers with an explicit mandate to ramp up the training of the workforce on transformational change project management and new tools or technologies. At MOTIF, our vision is to support these endeavours with a tool kit of courses and resources that can then be customized for brands or manufacturers.
Francesca: Do you think the industry is adequately addressing climate change? What more can be done?
Catherine: We would have to answer no to this question. Many companies are struggling with the HOW of integrating the ethos of the circle economy into their supply chains and to expedite the transformation around efficiency and transparency – both critical to tackle the problems of overproduction and waste. This is why MOTIF is launching a sustainability intervention in February 2021! We will be hosting a three-day event around this particular topic with speakers from across the supply chain in an effort to reconcile practices between design, production and consumer. Alongside this we will be launching our Sustainability Communities so that we can support the ongoing conversation. MOTIF is also launching a new virtual learning series in December of this year that will run monthly and bring in case studies around these key topics. Stay tuned for more information!
Francesca: What more can we do as an industry to stop the promotion, production and over-consumption of clothing?
Catherine: Overconsumption and overproduction are the two sides of the same coin, and we need to change currency. The urgency is undeniable yet there is no magic or easy way out or solution. On the consumer side, a change of societal values and education to buy less and better quality products produced or sourced responsibly, to prolong the life of our garments by upcycling, swapping, donating, reusing or recycling instead of just dumping them in a landfill, is paramount. Studies seem to show that Millennials and GenZ consumers are increasingly ready to pay more for quality products and have a genuine appetite for sustainable fashion, so we are heading in the right direction. Many brands, large and small are embedding sustainability practices throughout the entire product lifecycle and facilitating responsible customer initiatives by developing new services tied to the end of life of their products.
For many brands or retailers, it is also about ethos, values and legacy. It does take courage and integrity to, like Patagonia, refuse to participate in the Black Friday or CyberMonday orgies and encourage your customers not to buy a jacket in your new collection if the life of your current one can be extended. And it is not something you can preach or pull off unless you walk the talk. While we see real progress in the industry, the staggering, record sales numbers just reported by Alibaba and JD Express for the 2020 November Singles day (all consumer product categories included) show that old habits die hard and there are many contextual and cultural elements that come into play so there isn’t a one size fits all solution.
The progressive digitization of the industry and adoption of new technology are also enablers of systemic change, with the emergence of more circular business models. There is a pressing need to upskill the current people the industry employs on sustainability so that change can happen at scale. Waiting for a fresh generation of designers, product developers and supply chain professionals can’t be afforded. The responsibility of picking up these essential new skills, not only lies with the industry or corporations but also with professionals themselves, if they wish to become agents of change and future-proof their careers in the industry.
Sustainability is a strategic area of course and content development for us. As mentioned, when we launched our platform, we already had a beginner course on Sustainability and we have just released a brand new intermediate course taught by LIM College faculty.
Francesca: There has recently been a focus on social justice and our industry‘s lack of inclusivity. Do you think the fashion industry has more to do in this area and what is MOTIF doing to help?
Catherine: MOTIF is actively seeking out and working with partners that are developing content around these topics. From driving diversity and inclusion in our workplace all the way to how we bring in diversity and inclusion when designing for consumers and building socially responsible supply chains. Our vision is to have a catalogue of courses and resources valuable for the industry, but also that all material is taught through these lenses.
Francesca: Since the pandemic, people have been working remotely and making use of online tools. Have you seen an impact in online learning at MOTIF?
Catherine: Pre-Covid, companies still preferred onsite training even though online learning had established itself years ago as a viable and efficient training solution for individuals and corporations alike. The current crisis has only increased awareness and receptivity to the value of virtual learning environments and accelerated the adoption with many corporations now fully appreciating the efficiency, flexibility and scalability that elearning offers with real shared benefits for employees and employers. Once the pandemic gets under control, we expect that organisations will resume offline training, but we’re convinced that they will converge on more of a hybrid training model, a blended approach leveraging the best of both offline and online learning experiences, which MOTIF has already started to offer.
We’ve undoubtedly seen an increased traffic on the motif.org platform and stronger engagement from learners taking our courses. As more corporations, non-profit organisations or academic institutions are looking at accelerating the digitalisation of their training or educational content, this has also opened a lot of collaboration opportunities for us and enquiries on our instructional design and courses development services offering.
The University of Fashion is happy to welcome MOTIF to the online learning community. Together we shall both help to promote online fashion education for years to come!
CEO/University of Fashion