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Date 24.09.2015
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Suzanne Mancini


Suzanne Mancini, Senior Critic, Rhode Island School of Design

We have a tremendous responsibility as educators. Are we trade schools, training designers for an existing, unsustainable industry or do we want to shape a future? Through collaboration and higher levels of questioning, design can evolve. But good design takes time and cannot be rushed by a predetermined finished product. Making is an important component of the process but just as a student of architecture does not make a building, or an Industrial designer does not make more than a prototype, we should focus more on the process of design and ELIMINATE fashion shows.

At The Rhode Island School of Design we devote twice as much time to making than to design. We are so focused on the finished product and creating collections that we rush through the process of design. The message is to create more product, faster, and with less thought. I propose it should be the opposite. Two thirds of the time devoted to design and discovery and one third of the time in making. Fashion Design should be approached as a research project. We need to devote more time to in depth discovery, asking “What if” instead of “How”.

I was recently involved in a group research project between RISD and NIKE. The focus of the study was to collaboratively explore, discuss, and develop new insights into skin as a unique medium of artistic and design exploration. The study involved students and faculty across many disciplines. We were challenged to develop our own ideas through brainstorming, researching past and present solutions and developing a future scenario.
During the initial stages, we developed material samples based on our research and, in group working sessions, we experimented with materials and machinery from various departments while receiving input from artists, industry experts and scientists. This forced us to get out of our own studios and our known processes.

One of the interesting outcomes of this project was the discussion of the future and innovation. Nike was founded based on need and innovation. They develop product daily based on the Nike brand to better the performance of the athlete. Yet this project allowed them to step outside the boundary of the brand and look at larger, global concerns. Suddenly the conversation became about humanity and environment. Not only the needs of the individual athlete, but the needs of the society.

If we challenge our students to envision the future and design with purpose, then we can hope to shape a better world. We cannot rely on business to make the shift, it must come through design and innovation.

If we approach design from a research perspective, we’d best ask the following questions:
1. What is the problem / question?
2. Why is this important / relevant?
3. What are the historical solutions to the problem?
4. What are the current solutions to the problem?
5. What are the future needs and possible solutions


Suzanne ManciniSuzanne Mancini earned a BFA in Apparel Design at RISD. Upon graduating from RISD she received a Textron fellowship. She lived and worked in New York City at the beginning of her career. Designing at Mass Market, Private Label and Designer levels gave Ms. Mancini a broad scope of the fashion industry.

After receiving an MA in Education from NYU she returned to Rhode Island to combine her two loves: fashion and teaching. Over the past twenty years she has taught in the areas of design and collection development while maintaining her own freelance work in the areas of lingerie, menswear and home goods.

While teaching at RISD Ms. Mancini has collaborated on work with the RISD Museum, Nike, Levi’s, Urban Outfitters and JC Penney. She has also co-taught with the Textiles Department at RISD. Most recently Ms. Mancini received a professional development grant to further her studies in digital pattern making.

Her work not only focuses in the area of digital patternmaking for apparel, but also includes virtual prototyping of garments. This technology and research have been pivotal in her most recent work and classes.

A lifelong learner, Ms. Mancini resides in Rhode Island with her family, while continuing to teach, study, research and collaborate.