Monday 9 November 2015

Bunka Fashion College: The Future Everyday

Education is at the heart of building a sustainable fashion model. If students aren't aware of the environmental or societal impact of the clothes they design, then it's impossible to move forward. Let's put it like this: in order to break the mould, there has to be someone willing to break it and to offer a viable alternative.

I mention this as if it's a new notion. But for the fashion students of Japan, one school has been offering an education in fashion that would seem head-manglingly radical to Westerners. And it's been open since the nineteen-twenties. Let's take a look at the Bunka Fashion College.

Opened in 1923 as a dressmaking school by Isaburo Namiki, the school prides itself on operating under five key principles: craft, sustainability, contribution to society, self-expression and most importantly, collaboration. Tutors encourage their students to work together on projects, bringing their individual strengths to bear on a problem and its solution.

A vital part of the education at Bunka is the knowledge and understanding of human anatomy. The mannekins that the students use are based on their own body shapes, rather than the generic models in use in nearly other fashion school on the planet. The intention is to make students realise that there is no one shape, no one fit. They are urged to think about clothes that work for everyone–the young, the old, the disabled. It shouldn't be a strange idea. After all, we all need clothes. Yet, as those of us that are taller, shorter, wider or narrower than a percieved norm know only too well, it often feels as if fashion is simply not designed for the likes of us.

With a focus on Japanese concepts such as satori (the enlightenment achieved through intense concentration on a particular task) and kaizen (continuous improvement) the students at Bunka are stretched to the limit to find their own voice and vision, and applying it in a way that ensures it has benefit to the world outside. It's a holistic approach that can offer great rewards–many Bunka graduates go on to work at famous fashion houses like Issey Miyake or Yohji Yamamoto.

It's notoriously difficult to get into Bunka as a Westerner. Nearly all classes are taught in Japanese, and until very recently there was no outreach project to other schools. That's beginning to change, gradually, as exchange programs are now run with Central St. Martins, Nottingham Trent University and Parsons NYU. And, although it's tough, 20% of Bunka students are now from overseas. The challenge is clearly worth it.

There's a lot to be learned from schools like Bunka for the forward-thinking fashion student. Its focus on holistic and collaborative education is a step-change up from many other colleges, and making sustainability a core part of the curriculum is something we'll see a lot more of in the next few years. Bunka Fashion College is one of those places where the future has always been the logical place to operate.

For more, check out this piece on the Business Of Fashion site.

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