Thursday, September 14, 2006

I. ENGINEERING DESIGN: A. American Culture; 1. Engineering design in the fashion industry.

As we become more global and multicultural, we learn about all the cultures of the world. I asked what is America’s culture? We have given many things to the world, but I believe they all boil down to fundamentally two concepts: ENGINEERING and CAPITALISM. My simple definition of engineering is “the planning for building or producing a product or a system”. Designing by itself is “the planning for the realization of an idea, whether an original idea or the implementation of an existing idea.” Together, engineering design, involves the planning, building or producing of an innovative idea into a product or a system, within specific industries.
The fashion clothing industry has undergone both revolutionary and evolutionary changes in the 19th and 20th centuries. I would call every beginning of each part of the industry, engineering design. An interesting validation of clothing engineering is in the history of jeans, an American icon. When they were first designed they were engineered for rugged wearability by western cowboys. After many evolutionary changes, they are now the highest fashion in their shape and fit for all consumers, all over the world - & durability of little importance.
Since the early 90’s the fashion industry has become associated with the entertainment industry of fashion shows and Paris couture. The result is glamorizing market presentations, making designers appear romantically like movie stars, & their fashions created for art’s sake. Fashion schools all over the world promote this glamour to get a flood of students with stars in their eyes to attend. A few years after graduation and after a few frustrating business attempts, 95% fade away and change industries in order to make an income. Their education never included “engineering” for patterns & production, that would have prepared them for jobs that desperately need to be filled, nor business training to prepare them for entrepreneurship.
For most of the 20th century – before fashion school glamour – there was an “apprenticeship system”, primarily in Boston (first half of 20th century), where the apparel industry first started. The pattern engineers who shaped & planned patterns for production, e.g., cutting, stitching & pressing, were called “designers”. Those who first stitched in the industry were tailors & dressmakers, who learned their trade by apprenticeship – as I did in the 1940’s as a teenager. Ideas were a “dime a dozen”, copied from Paris, and engineered on each manufacturer’s own basic bodies (called slopers). For more apparel industry history, see

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