‘Be Bold, Go Far’: IFFTI Conference Opens With Defiant Message

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By Ben Thompson
Image: IFFTI 2019 Film

Manchester Metropolitan University hosted the 21th annual International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institutes (IFFTI) this week, featuring a packed programme of events, workshops and keynote speeches centring around the theme of “Identity”.

Manchester Met’s Student Union hosted the Opening Ceremony on Wednesday, featuring four esteemed keynote speakers who addressed challenging subjects to a thoroughly engaged the audience.

First up was Katie Greenyer, the Creative Director of the Pentland Group, a global brand management company. Greenyer took the audience through her life working in the fashion industry – from early beginnings emulating her graphic design father, to her job working for the fashion brand, ‘Red or Dead’.

Greenyer’s talk delved into personal stories detailing highs of securing freelance work after staking out designer Wayne Hemingway’s office to leaving her “dream” high-end fashion job in Paris to care for her ill mother. A captivating storyteller, Greenyer used related her experiences to reveal how she went on to strive to continue to make it in the fashion world. “The worst that could happen has happened, so why should I be scared to be who I want to be?”

In working with Pentland Group, Greenyer aims to bring more young people into the fashion world, even those who may not think they have any opportunity to join the industry. Greenyer asked poignantly, “If you’re living on a council estate in Wolverhampton, how do you know how to get involved in the industry?”

But above all else, creativity is the centre of Greenyer’s passion for fashion. “We’re not about fast fashion and churning it out”, she told the audience. “Creativity is at the heart of everything we do.”

The next speaker to take to the stage, Cheddar Gorgeous, was dressed in the extravagant outfit he wore to the protests against Donald Trump in July 2018. The drag artist/anthropologist coyly remarked, “I got a retweet off Donald Trump Junior, that’s my claim to fame.”

Cheddar admitted that he was a little bewildered to have been asked to speak at IFFTI, commenting that he “knows very little about the fashion world”. What he does know a lot about is, “making a spectacle” of himself – something that intertwines the drag world and the fashion world, rather nicely in his view.

However, his speech tackled the problems that the fashion industry continues to wrestle with – gender policing, environmental damage, animal cruelty, etc. When asked whether he felt awkward raising these topics with a room full of figures from the industry, he stood by his message: “I didn’t feel awkward… the time has passed to worry about offending. We needed to be talking about these issues twenty years ago.”

After a short break, the former fashion editor of i-D magazine, Caryn Franklin headed up to deliver a key-note speech about imagery in advertising. Franklin displayed a plethora of advertisements to document the abundantly clear ways that women are portrayed differently from men in fashion advertising.  

Of one particularly egregious ad, Franklin dryly remarked: “Here we have a woman doing what most women do when they get a new dress… dropping to the floor in a public corridor and pleasuring herself.”

Franklin’s overall thesis was that the imagery within fashion advertising perpetuated stereotypes about men and women  – men were dynamic whereas women were passive. Although she praised the younger generation for seeing through the disingenuous presentations, she still lamented that they are still bombarded with such imagery in the fashion world.

The take-away message from Franklin’s speech was that more people should question what they see, and look beyond the imagery – “What did I just see? How often do we ask that?”

The final speaker of the opening ceremony was Professor Chris Breward, the Director of Collection and Research at the National Galleries of Scotland. His speech was presented in the form of a list entitled ‘A short manifesto for the twenty-first century curator’, in which he outlined the ways curators and museums must shift their identities in the modern age.

How does Breward propose curators adopt to the new age? His manifesto lays out some proposals – that curators must engage with the public more often (“curators cannot afford to work in ivory towers”), seek to work on a local, national and international level and aim to be sustainable – particularly in an age of shrinking public spending.

Above all else, Breward emphasised that curatorship will continue to be a vocation and a profession, to anticipate the needs of future generations of audiences.

All of the speakers were well received, and when time would allow, questions were asked between each speech.

IFFTI events continue throughout the week with a fashion show on Thursday 11th April featuring designer Nabil Nayal showcasing 20 looks from London Fashion Week collection alongside student designers.

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