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Tokyo fashion institute develops talent for digital era

Industry insiders worry industry is too slow in adopting latest tech

Students learn the ins and outs of fashion at Tokyo Fashion Technology Lab.

TOKYO -- A different sort of fashion institute opened its doors in Tokyo in April. Unlike traditional schools teaching how to design patterns and create clothes in a rather manual manner, Tokyo Fashion Technology Lab aims to adopt technologies and incorporate them into the industry.

The institute stands in a corner of Tokyo's famous Harajuku district, a center of youth culture and not far from the flagship stores of Beams and United Arrows, pioneers of select shops of imported clothing.

"We aim to develop industry leaders who can make the most of technologies," said Yuji Ichikawa, president of the operating company of the school. Ichikawa has experience working at a fashion college, and he has grown skeptical of the conventional and outdated methods that are practiced in many schools. Even in the digital era, with the e-commerce sector growing rapidly and many industries keen to incorporate the internet of things and other advanced technologies, design schools seemed to be sticking to fashion alone.

The idea of setting up a new type of school has grown among those who shared a similar sense of urgency.

The school's directors come from different backgrounds -- Yasunori Fujita, a Keio University professor in economics, and Satoshi Amanuma, president and CEO of airCloset, a fixed-rate clothing rental service, are two of them. The school is headed by Osamu Saito, former CEO of Issey Miyake Europe.

Students also show diverse portfolios, including a former shop manager of a major clothing chain, a telecom engineer and a startup founder. In addition to one-year courses running three days a week, students who have regular jobs can study part-time, attending classes weekends for a year.

With domestic consumption being slow to pick up, positive news is scarce in the fashion industry. But "there are potentially plenty of people who want to work in fashion," Ichikawa said. 

A total of 25 students are currently studying at the school. The second semester starts in October with about 75 students.

The intensive one-year courses are intended to focus on practices. For example, a program for people who want to start their own business requires students to actually set up an online shopping website and experience producing, selling and marketing products with assistance from tutors. The programs also offer collaboration projects with real businesses.

Wanna-be designers, on the other hand, will have a chance to learn how to leverage technology for designing, using tools such as computer-aided design software and touch-pen tablets. The school also plans to send some students to participate in collection shows overseas. 

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