UTS design lecturer Armando Chant creates a safe space for students to experiment
With the pandemic preventing young designers from moving overseas to kickstart their careers, we talk to Armando Chant about the importance of supporting experimental design here in Australia.
Armando Chant has been running the University of Technology Sydney’s leading fashion design course for ten years. The artist, designer and lecturer has helped countless young Australian designers discover their voices over the years, but he emphasises that his students are the ones who drive important conversations forward through their work. His job, he explains, is to create a safe bubble for students to share challenging ideas, experiment and develop their design identity.
We sat down with Armando to discuss the potential of Australia’s fashion industry, how we can best to support young makers and the ideas that his students are interested in right now.
Charlotte Agnew: What do you think of fashion in Australia right now?
Armando Chant: I like to think I’m an optimist [laughs]. I’m now a citizen of Australia but I was born in Spain, grew up in London and moved here in ‘07. I believe there is so much opportunity in Australia — opportunity for new voices and a broader set of voices to be heard. There is a huge amount of talent and creativity in Australia, we just need people to showcase that and there are so many platforms that could showcase that. The talent is there, the creativity is there, the belief is there so we just need to make that connection to the platforms that can support it.
In Australia, it is up to the individual to shape their path and often their limited options lead them to going overseas.
And this is where we lose a lot of talent. People beyond university still need a lot of nurturing because the real world is a very different space. We need more mentorship here and a more established mentorship scheme. This is something I feel very passionate about and have been fighting for forever. The industry needs a mobilisation of some kind.
What do you mean by that?
I think one of the things is that it’s very hard to do something as an individual — you need a group of people who will rally around the cause to make that thing a reality. The reason why you take London as a city that has been successful is because they've had X, Y and Z organisations who have believed in that cause. You've had the British Fashion Council (BFC) as an organisation recognise the need for nurturing young designer talent for the future and establishing new designers in the industry. You've got media who have said ‘yes’ to supporting young designers and showcasing their work. And you've got the retailers such as Browns or Matches who have believed in young designers and dedicated space to nurture that talent, and most importantly not asking the designers to change for those retailers. And also, the support from consumers. It requires a big gamut of people.
We in Australia need the support and assistance of the people in all of these communities to [provide] structure and support a similar version.
The accepted understanding of the megacities — London, New York, Paris, Milan — as the places where success can evolve has been disrupted by COVID-19. We are now looking everywhere for new ideas and good work, which has given me a fresh sense of what the future ‘fashion world’ is going to look like.
There is so much dominance of London, Paris, Milan and New York but an actual fact is that some of the most interesting work is coming out of Shanghai, Seoul, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Sao Paulo Fashion Week — there are incredible things coming from those cities that are not part of those megacities. In this globalised world where we are all living on the internet, you can live anywhere and be producing amazing work, you just need a platform to highlight that.
As academic institutions, wherever in the world you are, you have X amount of students who are local and X amount of students who are international and then they're going back to their own countries. So really in many ways, there are these amazing talents who aren't travelling, aren't moving who are absorbing all these different cultural influences and learning all these different things and then contributing back to their own fashion sphere.
That goes for Australia as well. I started pushing the students who wanted to study internationally, which is one of the structures I’m most proud of simply for the long-game approach. We've had students who have completed these world-renowned courses, worked for top designers in those megacities and have come back to Sydney producing their own work and some even teaching on the programme here [at UTS]. That is win-win for the students and the industry.
What do you focus on with your teaching to help these developing minds?
As much as I teach them and have these great discussions, I also learn from them with all of the things that are important to them now. I always remember that sense of freedom that I had during my masters, that safe space that allowed me to do something that was challenging and an allowance to feel okay about doing that. I like that I can provide that for the students because as soon as they leave a whole other set of constraints are going to come piling on. They’re at a point where they need to be able to do anything, to say anything in a safe space.
To have room to debate and have an ‘othered’ opinion.
Absolutely — an outside mainstream opinion or idea, and to create a place where they can do and say and create in that othered opinion. The longer that I can provide the bubble for them [the better]. It’s so hard for any artist, whether you’re a writer, performer, designer or musician, to stay there and be true to that. They are expressing that individuality in their work because they’re addressing those questions of ‘why are you here? Why have you chosen to come back to create this body of work?’ And subsequently ‘what do I want to say?’ Fashion can be a very powerful medium for people to say important things and that’s why we hope with the group of students that we have, they’re all saying very different things.
What are the students thinking about with their making right now?
The concerns these students are thinking of are sustainability, but this varies [depending on their] different perspectives. We have some students thinking about this in their materials and resources. Some students who come from a cultural point of view. Some students who are Australian and after the bushfires felt very strongly about the need for good design that someone is going to want to buy and have as part of their key items in their wardrobeInternational students who come from different cultural backgrounds will have a multicultural [viewpoint]. Other students are very aware of social media and technology and the impact that that has on them. And also, how they use that to show themselves, to empower themselves.
It’s very interesting learning about all the different things they’re all looking at. These are the concerns in their brains going into the industry — what can I address and not necessarily fix, but contribute in some way to a solution of some kind?
I am really interested in that you do this whole body of research, but that research then needs to become something tangible to be demonstrated. So how do you link the research to creating that form? I learn so much from how they make those links in their creating.