Filling the Gap in Fashion Education with Cathy Cole of Motif


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


October 24, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture, a fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:17 

I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward 

Emily Lane 00:21 

and discuss solutions to real industry challenges. 

Bret Schnitker 00:24 

Clothing Coulture is brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience. 

Emily Lane 00:35 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Once again, we're back at our corporate offices. And it's wonderful to continue these conversations in season two. 

Bret Schnitker 00:46 

It really is. 

Emily Lane 00:47 

So I am very delighted that we are welcoming back Cathy Cole, who is the CEO of Motif. We had a conversation with her earlier about 3d tech Fest and the report that came from this festival in the last year fashions digital future 3d Metaverse and NFTs. And that conversation was so fascinating. We really love what is happening with Motif that we wanted to welcome, Cathy back to learn a little bit more about Motif's mission, you know, very like minded to us, we are often having conversations here about how do we impart knowledge in the industry that, you know, people like yourself, Bret, who have been in the industry for what do we say 10s of years now? How do we how do we take that information and share it with these younger generations and also those who may have been in the workforce for a little while but are having to take on more expanded roles in this is a mission that Kathy, you two have really taken on through Motif? Do you want to tell us a little bit about the foundation of of this company and you know what brought it to life? 

Cathy Cole 01:59 

Sure. It's great to be back Bret and Emily, good to see you guys again. So Motif was founded because there's so much disruption going on in the fashion industry, it's been going on for years. And we've seen even more kind of pain and disruption just in the last two years because of the pandemic. But Motif was founded because we are trying to enable change in the industry. And we're a young company, we're actually only five years old. We were incubated inside of Alvanon which is Alvanon is a body technology company. And we were incubated because they work with global brands. And they were starting to see in all the brands that they work with this kind of loss of fundamental technical skills, you have the last generation with production floor expertise that's retiring in the next five to 10 years, if it hasn't already. And with this loss of fundamental technical base knowledge across the industry, we have an urgent need for a new blend of skills. And that's because of the these industry imperatives for things like sustainability, and 3d digitization. So we have, add to the loss of core skills, you have an urgent need of new blend of skills. And what you see is that our industry has a serious future of work problem, we are facing disruption and things are breaking, and we need to put them back together. And then also we need to adapt for this new kind of new reality of the industry. So our vision was to create a platform, there's so much expertise across the industry. And the problem is it's so spread out it's so disparate around the world. This is what the most global industry out there and expertise is so spread out. So we want to be that platform, a learning experience platform that's a hub for this expertise. And the when we were first founded, the idea was let's just take some of this core knowledge and we will create great online education online courses, because there's a lot of general online courses out there. Coursera, Masterclass are platforms out there, even LinkedIn learning, but there's no deep vertical for our industry. And so that was our goal was to create this platform with great content. And we as I said, we're we're still a young company, we split out from Alvanon in early 2019 and Alvanon invested in us as well as The Mills Fabrica. So we're now our own entity. And we're slowly gaining momentum as we work with industry partners to create great content, deliver it to a very global professional audience. That was quite long. 

Bret Schnitker 04:56 

I'm really excited about this. This is a this is something that for years We have absolutely needed I, I know that, you know, being on some of the advisory board for universities and talking with some of the larger educators in the industry on some of our podcasts also, you know, they've, they've expressed the challenges of the difficulty to really dive in deeply technical, they kind of lay a liberal arts base, they give you kind of a a nice, good overview of the industry, it helps define some paths for, you know, young students or young people looking to get in the industry. And as Josh said, on one of our podcasts from Parsons, you know, the the hope and the desire is that the industry picks up the ball with these young talents as they come in, and they educate them on the job. That's really the hope of a lot of the education systems, I think the challenge that we're dealing with is that not only do you have to sit down and recognize that there's a dearth of education for technical aspects in actual physical manufacturing, you know, people simplify manufacturing, you know, when I sit down, and I start talking about gauges, and constructions, and dye staffs, and finishes finishing and pad baths, you know, people's eyes spin, it's just, these are terms that the current generation, they really don't understand, you know, they're they're hoping that there's this technology that exists to help support people through there. Hence, I think, there can be challenges in manufacturing, you know, I'm getting calls from overseas, and there's challenges with large scale production on, you know, I'm consulting on things that, you know, are not really related. And they're like, you know, they haven't did the right gauge, therefore, there's issues in terms of shrinkage. And I've got Asian factories and facilities calling and saying, and so, you know, for a while, I thought it was, hey, we abdicated manufacturing years ago in the US, any country that's abdicated, manufacturing really isn't going to have a technical school to teach that. Certainly overseas, since the the environment in the manufacturing exists. There's enough technical skill to continue. But I think there are a combination of things happening. One, we're having a global deficiency in terms of technical education for current generations for future generations globally. Because even China's making event, you know, we've learned long ago, that apparel was the first step of industrialization in a major country. I remember spending time in African Ethiopia, we talked about, you know, moving from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy, and textile and manufacturing of apparel is a, I don't want to minimize it, but a simple enough program to teach operators to do on repetitive tasks. So it helps them move along that path to industrialization. A lot of the countries in Asia has moved past that point, and are now looking at appliances and technologies and iPhones. They don't want to go back to, you know, apparel manufacturing, if you will. So there is this sort of issue globally. And I think motif addresses a lot of that, I think you add to that the technology explosion, you know, what's happening in our industry, and you throw in technology, and digitization and all these other aspects. There's just a lot to digest for this generation in the apparel industry. And I'm really glad that Motif is taking this, if you will, large task seriously and providing the industry a good central place to go learn some of these aspects, 

Emily Lane 08:31 

You know, looking at that the rise of the digital Metaverse and all of these conversations that we had in an earlier conversation with, with Cathy, you know, the rise of this 3d entering the industry. And then also, you know, textiles and that part of this conversation. Cathy, what do you see are maybe some of the greatest needs from an education standpoint, those are two very diverse skill sets. Yeah, great. 

Cathy Cole 09:00 

So yeah, I don't; that's not a clear cut answer. My favorite thing I'd love to quote is I remember a couple years ago, talking to some startups, and they were saying they were looking for pattern makers with coding skills, and they couldn't find that. So they were having to take coders and teach them pattern making skills. So I think there's there's several things going on. Yeah. So that in itself is a huge, huge test. So I think there's several things going on, you have to have some of the basic fundamental skills and technical understanding. And I think when we first started, we thought we were going to go out and find great content that already existed and just poured it on, we would just be the platform for it. And what we found is, a lot of that content doesn't exist and you Even the basics, like our first course on the platform was apparel costing, how do you cost a garment? And I can tell you, it was one of the largest sourcing companies that came to us saying they had need for this. And so there's these fundamental technical skills that you need. Okay, that's one thing, then you have all this new world of fashion with 3d, 3d design. And as you said, Bret, you know, it's, we need all the new technology, the new design, the new tools that are being used, but also at the consumer retail level, you have all the data analytics and the retail analytics that we need to really transform the industry. So you have these technical skills, then what about sustainability, every company is talking about sustainability. That is such a broad topic that has so many layers and strategies and impacts every part of your organization. It's not just a marketing thing. So there's an education that's got to happen there. 

Bret Schnitker 11:11 

And the pipeline is not fully formed. 

Cathy Cole 11:14 

Yep. And there's an education that has to happen there across the organization. And my other comment is, so much of this, this industry happens in silos in organizations. So those need to be also broken down. So you can't just it's not enough to have a sustainability office, and then head of sustainability and call it a day, everyone in your organization has to know the fundamentals and understand how it impacts the business and the mission of the company. So I think those are it's kind of like a three pronged tool, but they're all very much interlinked, huh, yeah, 

Bret Schnitker 11:50 

it's wild. You know, we talked about sustainability as a general topic. And I think, you know, the masses just think, hey, we can just turn it on, you know, we see landfills filling all these issues by 2025. They're saying that we'll be using up the resource of two Earths, well, we only got one. So you know, everyone recognizes this challenge, but they don't realize that of all the metric tons that we produce every year, about 13% is even available and sustainable, and it's expensive. Generally, you got to jump through a number of hoops, you got to be the right person with the right brand to get a hold of it, it takes a long time to do it. Our system is really not set up to manage sustainable actions in any real form. Today, you know, polyester is prevalent in our industry over 60% of the fiber that we produces in polyester each and every year. Polyester takes 500 years to biodegrade in the landfill. That's an astounding number that most people don't really understand. They don't really biodegrade, either, they break down into micro particulates that entered all our systems. And I think that there has to be a fundamental shift in our industry to really combat sustainability. And it has to start at the highest levels. It can't be you know, so many people want to push it on the consumer. And it cannot happen at the consumer level, it's got to happen at the large scale manufacturing level. And for that to happen, there's got to be a groundswell one first education, we have to have education, so that people are aware of the real life challenges in the industry. And then we have to really apply professional pressure, to have evolution in polyester products and other things like that. I think it's just, it's such a large topic, I'd love to dive into that in the future, 

Emily Lane 13:31 

You know, education being key, it's not just about educating those in the industry, it's also educating consumers. You know, one of the things that you mentioned, Cathy was, you know, talking about, you know, the cost of a garment. And, certainly, you know, the sustainability plays into that as well. And really setting expectations not only with the consumer about, you know, what goes into a garment and how a garment is made and the various costs and I know that it's something that we deal with on a day to day basis, like helping our clients understand everything that goes into a garment, and what the true cost of that is, you know, making sure that we're accommodating client goals with profit margins and getting the most out of every investment that they can. 

Bret Schnitker 14:16 

I think this is where Motif comes in and is super important because when we're engaging with clients today, many buyers look at and it is business but they look at the bottom line, they say, Look, I'm going to negotiate with six different people and get the best price across six different people and that's the one if they all produce similarly that's the one I'm gonna go with. Typically in that costing because they really don't understand for every garment you can change things technically multiple different ways. They're getting apples and oranges costing, they can't really sit down and understand that you know, I'm using a specific grade of dye stuffs I'm using combed ring spun or carded open end. Remember again, having those conversations and people are looking at me going, what that does have some material impacts on the outcome of garments. And so, you know, we sit down and we talk about the importance of that education within the garment, the understanding of technical and reverse engineering, and making sure I always like saying, you know, in the old days, as a buyer, I didn't know as much as I do today, technically, on a garment. And the thrust from my boss was just go negotiate as best as you can. And I said, it doesn't make sense you have, you know, when you're building a house, you're investing into a house, you don't sit there and tell the architect and the builder, I'm not going to tell you how much I want to pay, I'm not going to tell you, I don't want pine or mahogny floors. Just build it as cheaply as you can. And I want it to look like a house, you know, you go through the steps and you say, I want pine or mahogany floors, I get into detail. I have detailed technical drawings, I have a lot of information about building that house because I want the house to survive. And this is where I think the education becomes 

Cathy Cole 16:02 

So so this we actually have a course that's just launched is on textile appreciation. And this is this is goes to companies, people and companies need to understand the fundamentals. So for example, that course, and it relates to sustainability to not just costing but when it goes into the fundamentals of fabrics and textiles, and that there's trade offs in any product development design decision you make, you know, with aesthetics, performance, cost, and sustainability. And that's where there needs to be more education. And something you just said, Bret one that reminded me when I talk to experts across the industry are people that have knowledge that we want to build good learning content with, I always ask them, What do you wish your clients knew, before you walked in that door, because you spend a lot of time having to educate your clients, and your, your buyers, everyone. So it's that that's the knowledge we want to capture. And let's spend more time on the good stuff and take that fundamental knowledge and put it in a way that can be scaled across organizations. 

Bret Schnitker 16:03 

We find with a lack of education today, it almost makes more sense to sit down and dialogue much like you just said with our clients about, hey, what type of a cost do you see that you need to achieve the profit that you want? Tell us what performance goals that you're looking to achieve and what aesthetic goals are. And then we reverse engineered garments to hit those price points because of that lack of education, if we can start with those key points, and reverse engineered garments. And if the industry would think that way, we end up as manufacturers, let's say there's three people and you say I need to be x price on a garment. And I have these goals, three manufacturers bidding on that program would all put in as much as they could to improve the quality of that garment while hitting that price. And talk to the clients about, hey, here's what we've done to make that garment better. The entire industry and its current form would end up having a better result as opposed to having an unknown target price. And those three vendors trying to pull as much out of the garment to be hit some unknown inexpensive price. 

Emily Lane 18:22 

Yeah, in the end, everybody wins in that scenario, you know, the companies, the companies win, and the consumer wins because they get 

Bret Schnitker 18:28 

a better product, you can have a dialogue about pros and cons about quality and country of manufacture. And you know, things like that. 

Emily Lane 18:34 

So Cathy, understanding that this is a very global industry, there are experts everywhere in all facets of this industry, but they're not necessarily people who are visible to everyone. How do you go about finding people who are going to be able to contribute great knowledge for your programs? And how do you you know, harness that expertise? Yep. 

Cathy Cole 18:58 

As you said that expertise is is so global, so spread out. Someday when I have more time, I would love to do a heat map of where the industry expertise kind of sits around the globe because I think we would find some quite interesting patterns. But I'd like to say I think I have one of the best jobs in the world because all I I get to go around and meet people who are really good at what they do and have their subject matter expertise. So how do we find them? So we work with, we work across the industry we work with... We work with universities, so actually we're not competing with universities, we're meant to complement to universities so we work with universities, for example, LIM college out of New York City was the first university to package some of their bachelor's and master's programs into a short courses for a professional audience on Motif. And then we work with with companies that have a lot of in house expertise that that can be shared that helps lift the industry as a whole. And then individuals and a lot of these individuals have kind of risen to roles in their organizations where they're already starting to transfer some of the knowledge that they have. So for example, Eryn Gregory teaches our 3d Transformation Course. She actually, interestingly enough, she was introduced to us by Sharon Lim. But Eryn has a lot of experience with 3d transformation projects in Yes, yes, and some big brands. So, Eryn has got the experience and has worked in consulting roles in companies so she had material and content that's been vetted. We, Deborah Schulton teaches our textile appreciation course, she's based out of London and has worked for years with companies teaching, doing running workshops on the fundamentals of fabric. So those are examples of individuals that have risen up in the industry and have a lot of expertise to share. And I'm constantly meeting new people, we can't produce these courses fast enough. We're moving to a live masterclass format, because that allows us to do them much quicker. And then we can turn them into recorded courses afterwards. 

Bret Schnitker 21:22 

Yeah, that's fascinating. I mean, I think, you know, I remember years ago, you know, I started as a designer, I recognized that there was this lack of education. And much like you this journey of discovery of education has been a fascinating ride for me over 30 years, you know, I remember being in this retail organization and their version of going overseas, was we go to Hong Kong, we'd have wonderful dinners, vendors would come in, you'd negotiate a price, and you'd leave, right, you don't really learn that much technically, in a hotel room in Hong Kong. And I recognized at one point that, you know, my skill set, as a designer, my ability to create product was inherently linked to my ability to understand fabric and nuance. And so, you know, I happen to do pretty well in this organization, and I set something out with them. And I said, Look, I, I want to go learn, I need to go learn, technically, the repository of knowledge are in the most interesting parts of the world, I would go to Salem, India, the weaving center of India, and there were generations of weavers, you know, these were humble, wonderful people who invite me into their home. And I'd sit there watching them warping yarns and setting up a loom for weaving. And in those moments, you recognize the unbelievable care and artists and quality of people managing these that had, you know, been doing it their entire life, and then you know, moving into dyers and knitters and these technicians silently keep our industry moving forward. And you really, really never see them on big stages, they wouldn't want to be on stages. But when you sit down and have dialogue with them, in their home areas, you know, you sit down and have, you know, conversations and tea with them. It's amazing the knowledge that you get, I was just astounded coming out of some of these places where, you know, I learned so much in such a short time. 

Emily Lane 23:23 

You know, it is interesting, when you look at all of the areas of specialty that go into one garment. Oh, the number of people that touch it, and you know, the knowledge that that is there to make that come to life, it's really pretty astounding, you know, knowing that, you know, we are in this state of constant evolution. And you know, of course, where there's evolution, there's a need to constantly learn, what do you see, Cathy is some of the future of this industry that people are going to need to stay on top of and where education is going to continue to be needed. 

Cathy Cole 23:23 

So I think one of the big issues the industry has is the pipeline of skills. You know, it is an old industry, it's not necessarily attractive one, especially in the manufacturing supply chain side of it. So we're having an issue, attracting a younger generation. And you know, other industries have done this to the automotive industry in the US how the power industry in the US has all industries that have had pipeline issues and have come together as an industry to try to create solutions around this. So I think creating this pipeline of skills for the industry is very, very important. And then I think the question was, what's the industry need? Is that what was the 

Emily Lane 24:50 

Yes the future and future needs? Yes in the industry 

Cathy Cole 24:53 

So we know where my my my steam is running out of 

Emily Lane 25:02 

Yeah, we 

Cathy Cole 25:03 

We still as an industry need also these niche skills. So you were just talking about your travel around the world and have seen these these very specific skills. You know, think of lingerie, what about lingerie, the skill sets that are needed there. And I still remember I was at Texprocess probably four years ago, I think it was the CEO, CFO of Spanx was met her and she was talking about how that knowledge was contained, like in one person. And, you know, the fear is when that one person goes, what happens? So, you know, lingerie is very specific skills needed. So 

Bret Schnitker 25:42 

I think that person needs to ask for a raise. Yeah. 

Cathy Cole 25:45 

Yeah. So yeah, it's, it's, we've got to, yeah, we've got to focus on where's this pipeline of skills. And then, as an industry, we do need to break things to fix some of the issues. And I think the pandemic has raised a lot of exacerbated a lot of the the issues in the industry, so we've got to break things to fix them. So you do need people that are going to step outside their silo and, and try things a little bit, do things a little bit differently. 

Emily Lane 26:15 

So yeah, that's great. Well, thank you, Cathy, once again, for joining us. Do you have any other final thoughts to share? 

Cathy Cole 26:24 

The, I think the skill issues and we talked a little bit of, yeah, I think it's that, you know, we all have to be on a continuous learning journey. And this is a, it's an industry challenge as a whole, and there's got to be some collaboration, there's got to be a willingness to kind of break out of our competitive bubbles, and kind of raise the industry as a whole. So there has to be, you know, investment by companies and organizations, to really, to support education. In the industry, one of the biggest things we hear all the time, is companies, you know, they love, they'd love to talk about providing great training for their employees. But at the end of the day, people have so little bandwidth. And so little time that companies really aren't putting, they're not giving their employees, the time and the space to be able to go on this kind of continuous learning journey. And so that's kind of our ask for Motif is that companies really need to commit to this because I think as we move into a new era of more freelance workers are people able to do when you need to work on the engagement of your employees and provide them great experiences within your company. I think providing these is critical. Providing a opportunities to learn is critical, and giving them space and time to do it. 

Bret Schnitker 27:54 

And I would tell you, it's so counter intuitive, that these organizations don't provide education because the PO's that we see even at Stars [Design Group], let alone the industry on a larger scale. They're in the hundreds of 1000s, if not millions of dollars, invested by these organizations in purchase orders for garments and production around the world. Those are large investments. So you know, when you've got someone that's responsible for making those decisions on those investments, just like any other type of industry, you would want them to know what investment they're making, what decision they're making from a fabric or garment manufacturing standpoint. So I really hope people lean in heavily on Motif and take advantage of the real education platform that's being that is built and continuing to be built there. 

Emily Lane 28:44 

Absolutely. It's investing in ourselves investing in our future companies investing in their people. Sounds like a really great philosophy. Thank you, Cathy Cole, for joining us. Once again. We really appreciate the conversation best wishes to you and everyone at Motif. We think what you're doing is absolutely needed and wonderful. Make sure to subscribe to stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture 

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Filling the Gap in Fashion Education with Cathy Cole of Motif