Interactive Fashion, Our First Digital Fashion Course

A unique digital fashion lab kicked off in the Spring semester at NYU Shanghai, allowing students to use technology to enhance their creative skills in fashion design.

(Cover photo source: http://elle.godoymarcela.com)

As the university is located in the fashion hub of China, it is not surprising that many students are interested in fashion. A decade after the university’s founding, it is the first time that a class is offered to students who are interested in fashion. 

The lab course, Interactive Fashion, is taught by Marcela Godoy, Assistant Arts Professor of Interactive Media Arts (IMA), and the course was filled to the max after enrollment registrations opened. However, with the majority of international students unable to come to Shanghai due to strict entry and visa requirements, the course was downsized to 15 seats. 

Source: Marcela Godoy

Marcela Godoy is NYU Shanghai’s Assistant Arts Professor of Interactive Media Arts (IMA) and program coordinator

To Professor Godoy, who has a background in architecture, the interaction between buildings and space is “the same form as the relationship between space and body within fashion.” Interactive Fashion introduces students to specific methodologies such as designing wearables that reflect religious, social, and political issues occurring within the fashion sphere. In the course, students will do research and work with soft electronics and robotics as an extension of people’s bodies. 

During her time at NYU Shanghai, Professor Godoy has been actively involved in the community, supporting students’ interests by “overseeing Green Shanghai’s trash fashion show and offering workshops [to students] on how to use sewing machines and other software.” Her experience and knowledge in many different fields allow her to bridge the gap between technology and design by offering new perspectives and insights to students. 

Compared to other fashion courses offered at other NYU global sites, NYU Shanghai’s digital fashion class is the first to pave a way for the future use of technology in fashion. Courses offered in Italy, London, and New York include the history of Italian/British fashion, experiential learning seminars, and fashion business practicums. They mostly tend to focus on the business, marketing, and cultural aspects of fashion rather than the digital and fashion design features.

This is why Professor Godoy is optimistic about the possibility of an increase in digital fashion classes at NYU Shanghai in the future. “There seems to be a lot of interest coming from students, so I would encourage them to speak up and talk to their professors about their needs and interests so that professors know,” she said. “NYU Shanghai is a small university, there is much freedom to design new classes and hope that students will take advantage of this aspect.” 

Since mid-March, the rise of COVID-19 has shifted the Interactive Fashion course to remote learning. As an interactive, hands-on class, Professor Godoy has had to amend the schedule to ensure that students were still able to complete their projects. The disruption of the lockdown in Shanghai has shifted the priority of the class to be even more digitally focused. 

Currently, students in the course are working on creating wearables by turning them into 3D models and inputting them into AR software, such as Snapchat Lens, to create filters and make their designs come to life. “Technology allows for a multitude of dimensions as it helps create designs that people would not be able to produce on their own,” Professor Godoy said, “it creates new forms and shapes.” The designed wearables act as a second skin for people and can be transformed using a soft interface to gather information. “In this way, students are enabled to test their design in real-time by attaching it to a face and body,” she said.

Source: Marcela Godoy’s Website (http://elle.godoymarcela.com)

Professor Godoy developed a 3D jewelry wearable during her graduate program that resembled a self-defense weapon to empower women and raise awareness about sexual abuse.

The wearables project assigned to students was inspired by one of her projects as a graduate student when she made a numerical wearable vest that inflated according to proximity. “In society, men feel more entitled to take up more space and power, such as by spreading their legs,” she said. By “test[ing] how clothes can increase in size and allow[ing] new boundaries to be set for women’s bodies,” the wearable will act as an extension of women’s bodies in physical settings, giving them more physical space. 

The use of technological fashion design is an effective form of social and political statement. Another enabled wearable project she developed is 3D jewelry that resembles a self-defense weapon and is designed for women who have been sexually abused by partners.

Professor Godoy’s fascination with fashion prompted her to convert waste into eco sustainable consumption by repurposing discarded technological scraps into jewelry. “The electronic plugs are used as clasps for the necklace,” she said, “[there are also] video tutorials [created] to share with people who are interested in turning waste into recyclables.” Other than upcycling materials to be reused, she has also designed a collection of bags which can be found on her website. 

Source: Marcela Godoy’s Website (http://elle.godoymarcela.com)

As a graduate student, Professor Godoy was inspired to transform electronic cables into jewelry and encourage people to upcycle their electronic waste.

To succeed in the Interactive Fashion course, it is “recommended that students have a minimal background in coding or electronics.” Therefore, to enroll in the course, the prerequisite needed to register is Interaction Lab, which covers the fundamentals of coding. The majority of students who are taking the digital fashion lab come from the interactive media arts (IMA) major, since the course fulfills an IMA major or general elective. 

“Many students who are interested in the course are not taking it for a grade, but rather because they are passionate about fashion design and creative freedom,” Professor Godoy said. 

Besides Interactive Fashion, she also teaches digital fabrication, interaction lab, and topics in art and design. Her research interests include digital fabrication, wearable and upcyclable technology, and human-computer interaction. She believes there is potential in the digital fashion class to explore political thought using technology to open up conversations. 

To her, “fashion is a way to communicate social aspects of race, gender, and sexuality.” Moving forward, there is much to explore about what NYU Shanghai can do to develop future digital fashion classes.

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