Merging Science, Culture and Tech in Fashion Education with Gabi Asfour


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker, Gabi Asfour


December 20, 2022


Bret Schnitker 00:01

We love going down the rabbit hole because it's a passion for both of us the intersection of technology and fashion. Is that a topic that's going on when you're teaching your students? It's obviously a daily thing that's happening when you're a designer.


Gabi Asfour 00:14

Yeah. But I realized that it's only for special cases. And I was expecting more cases than I actually find. And I realized that in general, they're actually more interested in craft. So, there are some that are starting to understand that there is craft in technology because when you are doing a 3D printed textile, for example, you have to sit in front of the computer and craft it step by step with the mouse. So it's a same type of thing.


Emily Lane 00:52

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


Bret Schnitker 01:00

I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward and discuss solutions to real industry challenges.


Emily Lane 01:08

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


Emily Lane 01:19

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. We have a delightful conversation planned for you today. We are joined by celebrated fashion designer and esteemed educator in the fashion industry. Gabi Asfour from threeASFOUR  thank you so much for joining us, Gabi.


Gabi Asfour 01:38

Thanks for having me.


Emily Lane 01:39

Yes. And welcome to our home office.


Gabi Asfour 01:42

Yes. Pleasure to be here.


Emily Lane 01:44

Yeah. So Bret, I know you have so many questions on your mind.


Bret Schnitker 01:49

Well, we both been involved in, you know, some you much more heavily than I in education and the passion for our next generation, you know, years ago, and we started in this business in different areas, of course, but the minds that we had were not like the minds of today, the students of today, they, you know, in some of the fashion finals that we're seeing from seniors graduating from universities, you know, they're really wrestling with some very, very challenging topics when we were younger. I think we were all about the party, but I'm speaking for myself. But, you know, what are you seeing today with with your experience with the students.


Gabi Asfour 02:27

There was lot of party on my side


Bret Schnitker 02:28

Yes, right.


Gabi Asfour 02:30

Now, I'm seeing that, in general, this is kind of a movement all over the world, consciousness is has risen up so many levels. And I think the the younger each generation that I mean, each year, I've been teaching since 2011. Every year, every cohort becomes more and more conscious. So it becomes something where consciousness with things like sustainability, social issues become something indented in them. It's not something they have to strive to learn about. It's it's part of the natural kind of awareness,


Bret Schnitker 03:05

and you have students from all over the world, are you finding that consciousness rising at the same level, regardless of country.


Gabi Asfour 03:11

it really feels like a global movement, it feels like every country is as consciousas the other.


Emily Lane 03:17

What do you attribute that growth in consciousness to?


Gabi Asfour 03:21

Well, first of all, these students are very aware of their own cultural heritage, their family difficulties or non difficulties, their country difficulties, the oppression, the famine, the garbage that's happening, social issues, justice issues, governmental issues, religious issues, they're aware of everything. And I get so many topics from so many different students, and they're very personalized. Each student really has something to express, but it's all related. In general, I can say consciousness, I cannot just say it's related to global warming or social issues only. It's all together.


Emily Lane 04:07

There's a great deal of thoughtfulness,


Gabi Asfour 04:09

Awareness. Yes. Yeah. So thoughtfulness is coming after awareness. And then there's the active action movement towards doing something about it, that has a worldwide impact, because they don't think about it anymore as a school project. They think of it as they're gonna finish and they're gonna go into this full time seriously. So the the kind of these activists.


Emily Lane 04:38

Interesting, how is that getting translated then into their designs?


Gabi Asfour 04:43

Well, I teach the masters of textiles program, which is a newly launched program that I was invited by Li Edelkoort who the fashion icon in terms of trends setting, and she was invited by Parsons School of Design to start is a new type of MFA Master's of Textiles at Parsons. And she wanted to do something completely different, because she felt that the fashion industry was much more dependent now on the textile industry. So she wanted to do something that was very ahead of its time and visionary, because she's a trend setting service. So she saw that hybridity was the most exciting thing for the future, which means a collaboration and emerge between two things, craft and technology. Because craft in general, in the world, craftsmanship is starting to get lost. And if we don't do something about it, we might lose it completely. So right now, there's, for example, a kind of importing of craft from different countries in the world, without importing the culture that is associated with the crafts and the knowledge such as the spirituality or, you know, the cultural association. So then the know how becomes more about somebody who is westernizing, the crafts to make objects or things that Western culture needs.


Bret Schnitker 06:12

We cultural appropriate other people's cultures all the time here.


Gabi Asfour 06:16

yeah. And I feel like that's why it has to be cheap. So I see that very soon, this whole thing is going to turn around, where the craft will be about the culture will be about the history of the region, the history of the craft itself, the appreciation of it, the objects, or whatever it is that is made out of it, the actual objects that that craft is meant to make, because you can make a vase, or you can make a carpet or a piece of clothing, small example or a basket. So I think the only way to preserve this is for the mass public to become aware of the preciousness of the craft, but that's related to the history of it, and the culture that is associated with it. So we cannot really appreciate it, if you see it at any Western store. You have to see it in the context of where it's coming from, and why. So there's lots of things such as colors, materials, patterns, that people don't think about. But these patterns have certain meanings and certain associations. So that I think merged with high technology. Which means it doesn't mean that we have to get 3d printing mixed with basketry, but maybe as high technology in terms of how to dig deeper into the cultural craft. And that's the kind of, at least that's what I see that's going to turn around this whole appreciation and value of craft.


Bret Schnitker 07:51

Well, and as civilizations of all technology evolves, so does craft. Yeah, I mean, they have more availability to different materials, more and availability, different machinery. So you can still maintain a cultural heritage evolved from a place that was years ago, to a new space today. And I think that's an exciting conversation.


Gabi Asfour 08:12

Yeah, imagine doing basketry with 3D printing, right? So, but then without losing the cultural heritage of how a basket is formed, you know, so step one, step two, step three, until the end, and then what colors are involved and  materials, because then we can print it with straw, or we can print with cotton can print with wool. So that's the kind of what I see as a very exciting place to preserve lost cultures and history that somehow we forgot, that actually helps us a lot in terms of understanding our world better.


Bret Schnitker 08:49

Well, I think that's, you know, not to get too esoteric, but that's kind of the challenges we're dealing right. Yeah, we're forgetting to appreciate other culture, we're being very egocentric in terms of many are being very egocentricin terms of their thought process. They're afraid to walk across borders, they're afraid to understand other cultures. And, in a way, this trend with the youth as a way of again, breaking down the barriers and letting people know that hey, we're just human beings to with a different background.


Gabi Asfour 09:19

Yeah. And we are more exciting with different backgrounds. Yeah, less exciting with the same background. So it's kind of common sense. Because you have variety. You have education involved in it. You have, you know, a quest for knowledge for interest in an understanding of different culture and interest and understanding a difference.


Emily Lane 09:41

How is this you know, some of these shifts that you've seen among your students, and how does this informed you as a designer and what you're doing now with your own collections,


Gabi Asfour 09:52

I have to say it's very inspiring to see that there's always room to learn about something new, there's always room to challenge yourself to be more creative, if you think a little bit different. So what happens when you have a cycle like fashion is that you get used to the mundane of the repetition of every six months, and doing kind of something that is predictable. So why by watching the students and the variety of topics, it gives me ideas about my own topics that I didn't have before. So it's, it's kind of a refreshing way. And I call it a vacation for my own business, because I go on vacation for one day, I meet all these wonderful young kids and have all these ideas. And I get great pleasure if I can share with them my knowledge, and take from them, their inspiration and their ideas. But, you know, have that basically inform my own kind of style and my own direction. In my own practice


Bret Schnitker 10:57

That's such a good phrase, you know, taking a vacation from your business, I feel the same way. When I go to the universities and interact with these kids, I get energy walking away, like, there's so much creative energy, and they're just so passionate at their stage in life, I probably have a difficult question for you. But you know, when you're when you're with these students, and you've moved from student, to master designer, to educator, what's the number one thing you always want to tell your students what's, you know, if you could tell them, Hey, I was where you were, here's what I would do, or I wouldn't do differently.


Gabi Asfour 11:33

The main thing, and that's kind of the biggest struggle is how much you can be yourself, express yourself. And I say, bring the spark out, because everybody has as park. Sure, and each spark is different. So if every student will focus and go deeper into themselves, they're going to be unique. And then the second one is stand out, right. So be outstanding. So the third thing is bring something to the world that is productive and inspiring and solve problem solving. Yeah, so this is what excites me the most is when I'm able to help on assist each one of them find their own path. And I really realized that there's so many paths, if you dig deeper, so it's more about me listening to them, then them listening tome. So I'm kind of becoming more and more and the more I do this, the more attentive I become, towards, you know, any problems, they have the cultural background, their history, their family, situation, the government, you know, and so on. And I have so many international students. And it makes the variety of issues. So exciting. But then there's a unified type of consciousness that is, you know, related to a few things such as gender issues, such as, you know, government issues, religious issues, state. So, consciousness and how to use materials consciousness, and why it's why to do a certain practice, why not todo other practices. So there's the becomes, it becomes really about essential things purpose. Yeah. So purpose, is really about your own personal purpose. It is not a purpose of society. It's like what do you want to do for society? What do you want to bring in? How can you bring something exciting and new and different?


Bret Schnitker 13:30

That's amazing. How many? How many instances do you find of students that you've educated and have left and gone off to learn the world and five or 10 relators? They come back? And, and, and they still have that kind of spark? And distillation? I would imagine, the world has these pressures on them to become more homogenized fit into a mold to a degree whether it's culturally or from a, you know, a place that they work.


Gabi Asfour 13:55

Yeah, it's a it's a very varied situation in that sense, because some of them dive straight into, for example, a business that in their own business or in their family business that they were planning to do, or land into a job that is exactly fitting to their practice that, you know, their thesis in school, and some actually changed trajectory. Yeah, so I have a few few students that moved into the art industry, for example. And they some of them work in galleries and museums. And I have some that went into fashion industry. So from textile to fashion, but then I have others that went into wallpaper and carpets. And, and I realized that they come back to me talking about the times we had together school where they could really be themselves. Yeah. And they missed that. Yeah. And I'm like, but they are striving for it and then realizing that they don't have it. But then that makes them appreciate the time that they had.


Bret Schnitker 14:53

It's interesting doctors and lawyers always have to go back for refreshers exams and updates and things like that. You almost feel like In the designer and creator space, you kind of need this opportunity to go back and revisit when you were when that spark was bright, you know, come back and get recharged, engage with community of other designers that you feel engaged to go back out, I think that's something that would be an interesting thing to add to an educational system were 5 10 years back, you know, you, you have the opportunity to comeback and get a refresher and be surrounded by by those in the community can help support that vision and passion.


Gabi Asfour 15:29

Well, luckily, because they're exposed to the opposite. When you go into industry, you're working for somebody, you're working for somebody's vision or somebody's needs, and somebody demands, that contrast makes you strive for wanting your own thing again, right. So it's actually really necessary to have the contrast, if you don't have the contrast, you wouldn't know you will take it for granted.


Bret Schnitker 15:51

So when we throw all this stuff in, and then we talk about the advent of technology, this is something that you and I get pretty deep in sometimes we love going down the rabbit hole, because it's a passion for both of us the the the intersection of technology and fashion, is that a topic that's going on when you're when you're teaching your students, it's obviously a daily thing that's happening when you're the designer?


Gabi Asfour 16:13

Yeah. But I realized that it's only for special cases, and I was expecting more cases than I actually find. And I realized that in general, they're actually more interested in craft. So there's some that are starting to understand that there is craft in technology, because when you are doing a 3D printed textile, for example, you have to sit in front of the computer and craft it step by step with the mouse. So it's the same type of thing, are you building it in 3D, and there is rule sets and tool sets. So you have to, you have to kind of craft it and which means you need to spend the amount of intricate time on it and pay attention to detail. Otherwise, it's the same thing, if you do it fast, is going to look fast. So this is the kind of stuff where craft and technology, I think merge in a place where the student is very excited about the method, the method of building, so the craft itself. And you know, they go into meditation doing it.


Bret Schnitker 17:19

And you just spoke at MIT. Yeah, that's got to be a pretty revolutionary thought in our industry for a artist designer to go hang out at MIT, with all these kind of numbers, people and physicist and how did that go? What was that? Like?


Gabi Asfour 17:37

Yeah, they, they have been interested to bring fashion to MIT for a while, actually Harvard as well. And we been in conversation for a bit. And this time, it kind of clicked, because FIT was also invited, there was a few. So it became kind of a festival of technology and fashion. And of course, they saw what we did with digital fashion. So they invited us to talk about technology and fashion.


Bret Schnitker 18:06

What were the main topics?


Gabi Asfour 18:08

So the topics became the topics we presented were virtual fashion. So that's number one. 3D printing, AI, VR, XR, digital environments. So because we have used all these things, so we didn't even bother to talk about laser cutting, or digital printing, because that's like so old. But there was no time to talk about it. And director of the museum actually, was was very surprised at the themes that the scientific themes and the mathematical themes and the physics that we were. So we had a really nice response from, you know, mathematicians, and engineers, and architects and medicine people, like, wow, this is they're interested. But it feels to me that the world is also more conscious of fashion. And that's why this happened. So it may it's a great pleasure to merge fashion with all of these fields.


Emily Lane 19:13

You've always been scientifically minded, even your designs incorporate, you know, the, the sacred geometry. And there is a beautiful intersection of science and art throughout history. So I'm glad to see, you know, great institutions like MIT and Harvard, seeking to bring those together and more intentionally.


Gabi Asfour 19:39

I'm actually a great pleasure because what will happen through this is maybe collaborating with a chemist or an engineer, and that's a dream come true, because they're gonna bring to the table things that will actually make the fashion more augmented in that space, which means it's going to be new And so innovation is going to be in the forefront of something like this. So I'm very excited actually, if we get a chance to, which I think we will, soon that I can't wait, because we've worked with mathematicians before. And we've worked with architects before. And the result has always been augmented, augmented in that sense, and which is a great inspiration and the learning experience for us. But again, a new territory to explore, which means innovation is in the forefront. That's what I'm interested in.


Emily Lane 20:34

There are a lot of really interesting, innovative projects, who your students are involved in right now, would you mind to share some of those incredible futuristic thoughts?


Gabi Asfour 20:45

Yeah, there's so many. But, you know, I can start with the ones that come to my head immediately, which means the my last cohort, one of my students was had the idea to go into the landfill, and pick up all the trash, the black trash bags, and the clear trash bags that were left. So she would take all of them empty the the insides, and go wash them, and cut off the top. And, you know, because they have that drawstring in the top, and slowly turn them into yarn. And she became a professional in terms of making that yarn go into a knitting machine and a sewing machine because it has to be very strong. So from there, she was making woven fabric, knitted fabric, crochet, and so many other things like you can also do laser cutting, you can do all kinds of things from really a very simple. It's a nylon yarn. So that's one example. Another one was making a type of new leather, leather replacement, out of coffee waste, and shrimp waste, and all kinds of ways. And she's very successful right now she started her own company that sounds like you'd have to be a chemist. Yes, she actually is working with a chemist. So material science. Yeah, so it's a lot of formulas .And it's also a secret formula, because you cannot reveal those formulas, because the whole business is built on, of course, Coca Cola. So it's, these are some examples that I have students that are doing 3D printing, you know, text with textiles with PLA based, this students that are doing old school basketry, for example, mixing it with high tech technologies, like led and, you know, conductive fabrics and stuff like that. So there's so many, and it's always very exciting. So the more varied these projects are, the more excited I become,


Emily Lane 22:49

yeah, you have this amazing opportunity where you get to take that daily or weekly vacation, you know, one day a week and go get inspired by your students. What would you recommend for maybe some of your colleagues who are, you know, maybe been designing it for many years, like yourself, that don't have that opportunity to get their source of inspiration from young minds?


Gabi Asfour 23:16

Yeah, I think for me, the this becomes more like social service, where the pleasure of sharing is in the forefront. But I think if if we have more people from the industry doing that type of contribution, even if it's one hour per week, it would help the youngsters be in touch much more with real, real life, real industry, because they're so detached from it. So the more of us being there and sharing with them, things like obstacles and dreams, and the closer they will be and prepared for when they graduate. Because usually they graduate and they go into this forest and they don't they get lost and they don't know what to do. So the preparation is really crucial. So I think the integration of industry into education is crucial.


Emily Lane 24:17

Yeah. You know, we we've talked about that many times, Bret, where, you know, we feel that a lot of times education doesn't necessarily prepare people for what's next the the realities of working in our industry.


Bret Schnitker 24:32

And education is chasing technology. I mean, it's moving so fast by the time people get it into their curricula curriculum. The technology's changed again. And so, you know, you have to create kind of a new way of thinking and an educational system to keep up with the constant evolution of what's happening in our industry.


Gabi Asfour 24:48

Yeah, I think the educational sector is completely changing. There's a lot of old paradigms that are completely not functioning anymore. The students don't want it right. They don't accept They refuse it actually. Yeah. So I have been extremely adamant on turning the focus from establishment to individual, I think that's how we're gonna get better results. Because at the end, if we have stronger individuals, we'll have a stronger system, we'll have a stronger government, community, country and so on. So there is no other way around it. And I think the students are understanding that. So you cannot tell them, you don't know. You have to tell them? Can you share with me what you know? Yeah, this is the type of angle that and then I tell them, can I help you find out more? How can I help you further. So this becomes a whole different approach where I'm the assistant and the aide and instead of becoming the dictator that tells them you have to be like this. And this is the way the system is works. And that's how the industry works. And there is no other way I say, can you present new solutions to the problems we have in industry?


Emily Lane 26:00

Well, this has been incredibly insightful, I love being the concept of kind of being a constant student and life while also providing mentorship and, and also I love what's happening, the immersion of what the sciences can bring to this, this world that we we work in, in the fashion industry. So thank you for helping to walk us through some things that are bringing you inspiration in today's world and any other final thoughts to share for fellow colleagues.


Gabi Asfour 26:35

Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be with you.


Bret Schnitker 26:37

Great tohave you.


Gabi Asfour 26:39

And great conversation. Yeah.


Emily Lane 26:41

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Merging Science, Culture and Tech in Fashion Education with Gabi Asfour