Any Other Fashion System: Changing Fashion Design Knowledges and Beliefs in Australia

Assoc Prof Ricarda Bigolin and Prof Robyn Healy (RMIT University)
2021 Conference

This paper is about the practice of changing fashion design curricula over recent years in the School of Fashion and Textiles at RMIT University. It proposes the key concerns that influence the design and implementation of a ‘living’ fashion curriculum in Melbourne, Australia. It addresses the need to challenge knowledge systems around ethics, place, environment, industry systems, gender and reconciliation. Australia as a colonised country that sits unreconciled with indigenous sovereignty implicates the basis of knowledge systems. The diaspora of European migration in Australia further adds to complexities around origins of disciplinary knowledge and place. Fashion systems are bound in models of industry practices derived from specific places. We refer to the origins of RMIT Fashion Design in the founding institution of Emily McPherson College of Domestic Economy from the early twentieth century. 


The key elements of curriculum design try to address inequalities in learning experience and ethical paradigms of disciplinary knowledges and belief systems. The research contributes to scholarship around ‘transforming’ fashion education, decolonial contexts and curriculum for diversity specifically in an Australian context.  In questioning the epistemological nature of disciplinary knowledge in fashion design we reflect on how dress and wider clothing practices and cultures are marginal to ‘fashion’ industries. Conducted via the first phase of implementing a new curriculum, flexible program structures and specialisations soften disciplinary boundaries, supporting diverse ways of doing and making fashion. The theoretical and historical framework provides a way to discuss how the new curriculum supports alternate learning, knowledge systems and approaches to the discipline. 

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About the author

Professor Robyn Healy 

Professor Robyn Healy is Associate Deputy-Vice Chancellor of Learning, Teaching and Quality in the College of Design and Social Context, at RMIT University, Melbourne Australia. She provides high-level strategic leadership for the College with attention to enable respectful engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, supporting dynamic learning experiences, and innovative, and inclusive learning environments. Previously Dean of the School of Fashion and Textiles Healy led the School through a critical period of change and expansion, driving a new set of contemporary education offerings with more agile and forward-looking learning and teaching models. Bringing together design, technology, and enterprise through an interconnected network of undergraduate and postgraduate programs and research, attuned to current industry needs and future practice. Positioning RMIT at the global forefront of education, training and research in fashion; working in close collaboration with industry to foster the next generation design and business leaders.


Associate Professor Ricarda Bigolin 

Ricarda Bigolin is an Associate Professor, practice-based researcher, educator and designer and the Associate Dean of Fashion and Textiles Design, at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. In the Associate Dean role since 2019, Ricarda oversees the strategic leadership of the discipline, including new curriculum development, drawing on diverse industry conditions and key shifts in the Discipline to expand the understanding of what fashion designers do. Her practice-based research explores and questions social, cultural, ethical, and political contexts of fashion production and consumption. This extends to researching outlier practices of fashion and the agency of dress, performance, and fashion bodies. Her research has won major international awards, been shortlisted for Australian prizes and commissioned by festivals, and museums worldwide. Ricarda maintains ongoing teaching and research collaborations with the Swedish School of Textiles, University of the Arts Arnhem, a PhD research lab with RMIT, London College of Fashion and Aalto University and is a member of the AHRC funded International Upcycling Research Network led by De Montfort University.