Fashion industry needs budding engineers, mathematicians, according to Frock Club founders

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Hard hats, high-vis vests and lab coats may come to mind when you think of what fashion has to do with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

But two veteran figures in the fashion industry say there is a bigger link between fashion and the STEM industries than you might think.

Lois Hennes and Ruth Povall say just like architecture and engineering, fashion can involve maths and critical thinking.

As two of Australia’s leading pattern engineers, a role that involves building models for manufacturing prototypes, the women are on a mission to encourage bright minds to consider jobs in fashion, rather than pursuing stereotypical STEM careers.

They have created a group called Frock Club to tackle what they say are frivolous perceptions of fashion.

“The fashion industry has a lot to offer, it’s not just clothing,” Ms Hennes said.

“It’s about relationships and spatial design and anthropometry [the scientific study of the measurements and proportions of the human body].

“The engineering that goes on in a design room in that team between a designer, specialist technologists, fabricators, that is highly analytical problem-solving and an enormous process.”

Inspiring young people

Frock Club members meet monthly in Alstonville, where they study designs from bygone eras.

Ms Hennes said they focused on the past because the quality of fashion in Australia had been in sharp decline over the past decade.

“We want to show what good design was, the possibilities of how it arrived,” she said.

“There are answers, there is a system, there are processes, there is a scientific way of approaching the entire business of pattern-engineering and making clothes.”

In 2019, Frock Club will tour parts of regional Australia with the aim of inspiring young people and career-changers to follow in Ms Hennes’ and Ms Povall’s footsteps.

“We think it’s important to feed the soul as well as stock,” Ms Povall said.

“We also want to let young people know that if you train in pattern engineering you will be guaranteed a highly paid job virtually anywhere in the world.

“Old girls like Lois and I are getting towards the end of our working life and there are not many people coming in behind us.”

Don’t be fooled by social media

Ms Povall said she also hoped that an injection of fresh talent would revive the Australian fashion industry.

“We’re not a manufacturing powerhouse like we were back in the 1980s and 90s,” she said.

“There was a shift in government policy and they lowered trade tariffs, there was a lot of overseas apparel that came into Australia and the net result was that people were buying overseas garments because they were cheaper.

“Now, we have a situation where designers in Australia send their images offshore and they leave it up to China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, whoever is manufacturing the garment, to decide what size and shape it will be, and you end up with ill-fitting clothes.”

However, the pattern engineers had one warning for those who did choose to pursue careers in fashion: don’t be fooled by social media.

“The fashion industry seems to have been taken over by marketing people who put images on Facebook and Instagram and think that you can just draw a picture of a garment and send it to India,” Ms Povall said.

“People who believe that’s all there is to it have never witnessed what goes on in a design room.

“They’re completely out of touch with the scientific method that pattern engineers have used for centuries and the application of maths and science in that skill.”

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