Making it as a young designer gets harder every year. Crowded and competitive pools of talent, skyrocketing production costs and looming issues like Brexit all add up to an increasingly difficult formula for fashion’s next wave. This week, HERO comes to you from ITS festival in Trieste, Italy, an emerging designer platform helping rise up the next generation of fashion designers. 

Short for International Talent Support and sponsored by Diesel, ITS festival has been nurturing young talent for fifteen years now. Pulling together big name industry professionals, it spotlights – and supports – the next generation of designers shaping the future of fashion with a catwalk and award ceremony.

For 2016, the ITS jury included Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology NY, a curator and prolific author who has raised the cultural awareness of fashion through her books and prominent exhibitions. We caught five minutes with Steele, who told us why she feels creativity is so important in defining the next wave of designers.

This year, the talented finalists included Mayako Kano (who took home the ITS Fashion Award), Shinhwan Kim, Sero Oh and RCA MA Fashion graduates Paula Knorr, Niels Gundhoft Hansen and Stefanie Stchirky – read our interview with Valerie and see their collections in the gallery below.

Gallery: ITS Fashion 2016

Nazanin Shahnavaz: What excites you about this year’s ITS festival?
Valerie Steele: I was psyched because Barbara’s [Franchin, ITS founder] mandate was that we had to vote on creativity not on market feasibility, and that’s what I think we should be doing when we are looking at student work, because if they can’t be creative now, then they’re never going to be creative. And I was really impressed, it’s a really global group of students, they went through hundreds and hundreds of portfolios to whittle it down to eleven fashion and ten accessories competitors. We spent hours looking through their portfolios, hours looking at their work and we had a chance to ask them questions, there were quite a few strong contenders.

NS: What have been your highlights so far?
VS: There were several of the fashion contestants who were really strong both in menswear and womenswear.

Cheng Zong Yu, ITS 2016
Anna Bornhold, ITS 2016

NS: As a juror, what are you looking for in the contestant’s work?
VS: I’m looking for a person who seems to really have their own unique voice, a voice that is personal and has something to say.

“If they can’t be creative now, then they’re never going to be creative.”

NS: What advice would you give these young designers?
VS: One would be to hone their technical skills even more than they already have. The other is harder, as it has to do with improving their marketability and if they can try and get over being shy so that they can really talk up what they are doing. Some of them are really professional, but naturally some of the students are very shy and hesitant about speaking to a group of people, at a certain point you have to sell yourself.

NS: How does ITS help support young talent?
VS: It helps them a lot, because throughout their careers it’s going to be a constant “A-list, B-list” comparison; what school did they go to? Was it an “A-list school” or a “B-list school” or was it a school that nobody has ever heard of? It’s like being an actor in a way, you’re constantly being judged and you’re never really above that unless maybe your stratospheric or if there’s a big company behind you and you couldn’t give a flying fuck.

Stefanie Stchirky, ITS 2016

NS: Is ITS conscious of the debates surrounding fashion?
VS: To some extent yes, the students live in a little bit of a bubble but I think it also varies a lot from contestant to contestant how much the bigger issues impinge on them. Often if it doesn’t impinge on you directly then the natural thing would be to design in reaction to other things that are happening in the design world. It’s only when a big social, political, economic event directly impinges on you that it would have an impact on you. So far things like sustainability don’t really directly impact most people, they’re even benefiting from the fact there are so many cheap clothes – so they can be trendy for nothing. But, in fact it’s causing immense problems having this disposability of fast fashion.

For more information on ITS and the 2016 nominees and winners, head to the website


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