BA (Hons) Fashion Design and Development student Ashwini Suhas Despande has been named an East London Innovator with her project Art-Z, developed through the programme Accelerating the Future of Fashion launched by LCF in partnership with Microsoft. Ashwini will be now part of East London Innovators, an initiative started by Here East to promote the work of 50 outstanding Londoners who are making a significant contribution to the business, cultural and social landscape in East London. To celebrate the great news, we had a chat with her to hear more about Art-Z and her thoughts on sustainability as a fashion entrepreneur.
Hi Ashwini. Congratulations for being selected as an East London Innovator! What does this mean for you and your career?
I feel honoured to be recognised as someone in the innovation space! Opportunities such as this provide visibility, help grow your network and connect you to other inspiring individuals. I have always been interested in fashion, but also in several other fields. Being an innovator usually involves being cross-disciplinary, which means that the possibilities are endless. I don’t have a definitive direction for my career in mind at this point, I just want to keep innovating, pushing myself and doing exciting things in the field of sustainable fashion and see where that takes me!
Tell us a bit more about your project Art-Z. What is it about and how did it all start?
Art-Z is the result of an opportunity that I got from an accelerator programme by Microsoft and London College of Fashion called Accelerating the Future of Fashion. Art-Z, which stands for 'artificial intelligence and zero waste', is a software that uses machine learning, amongst other technologies, to reduce the amount of fabric wastage in the fashion industry.
The fabric wastage, despite using existing lay planning technology, at a pattern cutting and production stage is between 15-20%. Art-Z helps reduce this waste, which now typically goes straight to landfills/ incinerators, with the eventual goal of zero waste. It does this by making small amendment to patterns using artificial intelligence in such a way that the aesthetic of the designer is not compromised.
Art-Z acts as a helping hand for designers who want to create beautiful garments with minimal wastage.
Being an East London Innovator means that you’re making a big contribution to the community through your business. Do you believe that fashion can be used to create positive change in society?
Fashion is a massive industry that employs tens of millions of people globally and everyone wears clothing — it is a universal medium of communication. I believe that fashion can certainly create positive change in society, and it is important that it does. We live in a world where something as beautiful as fashion, which should make people happy, is damaging the planet and ruining lives through unsustainable practices.
The fashion industry needs to undergo a radical transformation and it’s great to see that people are slowly becoming more aware and coming together to make this happen. I hope I can be a small part of making this transformation easier.
As a fashion entrepreneur, what encouraged you to focus on the sustainable side of the industry?
Technology has made fashion production faster and more cost efficient, it has made fashion democratic. However, it has also made it more and more unsustainable — Art-Z takes one step towards changing that. Fashion is one of the most polluting industries in the world, and I believe that the technology we have available now needs to be part of the solution to the environmental crisis.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the industry, and all the discussions around sustainability. Do you think brands and designers are heading in the right direction?
It is extremely encouraging to see that people are becoming more aware and so many brilliant minds in fashion are making an effort to change the industry for the good. Awareness is key and several brands, big and small, are making grand promises. I have faith that if we continue to move in the right direction, there is hope, despite the state of fashion at the moment.
The launch of Art-Z has brought amazing opportunities for you, like winning Accelerating the Future of Fashion and collaborating with Microsoft. How was this experience for you and how did it contribute to the development of your project?
Collaborating with top industry professional from other fields such as technology was an incredible experience. Microsoft, the Fashion Innovation Agency and LCF helped turn my vision into reality, as well as develop the business skills required to take Art-Z forward. The mentorship I have received and continue receiving is invaluable. After the Accelerating the Future of Fashion event, I was selected to spend a week at the Microsoft HQ in Seattle and a couple of days in the Silicon Valley office. I got to speak to experts in the field of AI and discuss my idea in depth, and to some other incredible people who are hacking the future of fashion through technology.
Art-Z has received a lot of publicity after winning Accelerating the Future of Fashion. It's been featured in Forbes magazine, the Evening Standard, the Microsoft InCulture website and podcast, and other digital media platforms. I have also been invited to speak about Art-Z during London Fashion Weekend at the Microsoft Flagship Store, and at the London Design Festival for the Sustainable Stories Exhibition hosted by Nirvana CPH. I'm now working with Microsoft to turn Art-Z into a business and make it available for companies to buy as an add-on software to other existing lay planning software. I'm also working on a collaboration with a sustainable brand in London and Microsoft.
On top of being an entrepreneur, you’re also currently studying the BA Fashion Design and Development at LCF. What attracted you about this course and what have you enjoyed the most so far?
The main reason I chose FDD is because it is a design course that also has a business element to it. I’ve absolutely loved my experience on it so far!
I’m currently doing a placement year, which is a great opportunity to get experience in the industry early on, before graduating. I’m interning for a sustainable, innovative east London brand: Raeburn.
For those interested in Fashion Design and Development, how would you describe the course?
FDD is an excellent course for anyone who wants to be a fashion designer but is also interested in the business side of the industry. It is a very flexible course that teaches you a wide range of skills, from pattern cutting to marketing and everything in between. The tutors are very encouraging. I would highly recommend it to those who are creative but also have an entrepreneurial side to them.
Garments designed by Ashwini Deshpande. Photographer: Ana Luísa Madeira; MUA: Molly Boardman; Models: Ahana Gupta and Kuwam.
What piece of advice would you give to new LCF students to make the most of their time here?
LCF is full of opportunities for all. There are so many resources available to us that many students are oblivious to. Make sure to read through the newsletters and keep an eye on the Instagram page.
Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for opportunities or help. Being a student at LCF is the best time to experiment and explore everything that you’re interested in, so make use of that.