Powerful fashion industry showing cracks

Fashion’s carefully constructed image of glitz, glamour and dreamy transport-me-away visions is starting to show cracks. Everyone knows and feels that the current fashion industry cannot go on like it is.

Not only because we are depleting the planet’s resources and letting people far away pay the price for our craving for trends. But also because values like what it means to be human are being commercialised and exploited for financial gain. Time to take a critical look – from an academic perspective – at the fashion system and its social dynamics. That’s what Daniëlle Bruggeman, the new professor in fashion at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts, seeks to achieve. Not only within ArtEZ, but also with those who have a part in this industry.

Interview Daniëlle Bruggeman

Professor of Fashion, ArtEZ University of the Arts

Atelier ArtEZ. Photo by Rosa van Ederen

“If we seek radical change in the fashion industry, to me the first step is to gain a better understanding of what fashion is. Not just the system, but also its underlying values. Once we get our head around that, we can look into what else fashion is or can be. But in a world where fashion is often trivialised, finding an answer won’t be easy.

Many people – academia included – see fashion as superficial, as nothing more than outward show in today’s consumer society. But that’s not the way it is. Just like with other cultural expressions, fashion is the materialisation of the spirit of the times in which we live. What we wear is dictated by the fashion industry, depending on what’s going on in society.

So any proper analysis of the fashion system must take account of the social context. This means there’s no getting round that the industry is part of capitalism, where economic values often prevail over human values. If you apply that to fashion, we often think of dehumanisation in the supply chain. But this has just as much to do with how we depict people: as objects to be used by a brand or industry.

The fashion industry has developed throughout the years into a global self-sustaining system that is growing all the time. If we keep feeding it in the same old way, nothing will ever change. We need to seek out new alternatives to reshape the industry with different input. I believe that research and education can play an extremely important role in this respect.

“Fashion has developed into a global self-sustaining system that is growing all the time”

Design in development, Fashion Design master student ArtEZ. Photo by Rosa van Ederen

An interdisciplinary research community

To obtain a better understanding of the fashion industry, I’ve been working within the professorship on the development of three core themes. The first is to analyse fashion as a system, such as by looking at alternatives to how the industry is currently structured. There are no real answers yet, but we do see more designers questioning the system. One good example is Elisa van Joolen, who turns Nike and Converse shoes inside out for her Invert Footwear project, where they lose their brand identity.

The second is to take a closer look at the human values within the industry, such as the identity of the wearer and the maker and knowing where your clothes come from. This can be about the role and impact which small and local initiatives can have and about the place of social entrepreneurship.

The third is to study materials and innovation. In the future, new materials will play a greater role in how clothes are designed and what they look like. We call this ‘material agency’. One good example is MycoTex, a material made of mycelium (root structure of mushrooms). Designer Aniela Hoitink is developing this material so it can eventually be used as a textile. The material is ‘alive’ and can, as it were, be modelled on the body to form a piece of clothing, without a single stitch of thread.

To design this area of study, I’d like to set up an interdisciplinary research community representing everyone in the fashion ecosystem, from professors and students to production, brands, journalism, etc. This way, we can link theoretical research to practical research and specific applications. José Teunissen, my predecessor, started this approach. She set up the Future Makers Centre of Expertise as part of the professorship in Fashion at ArtEZ. We have set up various projects within this centre where professionals from the industry and universities work together, such as Going Eco Going Dutch.

“Material agency is about new materials that will play a greater role in the future”

Office Daniëlle at ArtEZ. Photo by Rosa van Ederen 

‘Star designer’ is passé”

From within the professorship, I’m also closely involved in the master’s programmes in Fashion. For instance, Pascale Gatzen is working on a radically new curriculum for the master’s degree in Fashion Design. At present, workshops are used to highlight certain areas with a view to offering students a good programme September 2018. This new set-up is geared much more to value-based education.

We want students to be more critical of their own role within the fashion chain and to set their own goals and criteria for how they should be judged. For us, the ultimate result of this process does not necessarily have to be a collection. Students can graduate by presenting something completely different that they have created themselves. As far as we are concerned, becoming a star designer, like Karl Lagerfeld, and education geared to making collections are passé. I think that the dream of becoming a star designer which some students may have is partly a question of conditioning. They see it as the highest goal – within the traditional and unsustainable fashion system.

My inaugural speech on 25 April was entitled ‘Dissolving the Ego of Fashion’. This can be interpreted in different ways, and the ego of the star designer is one of them. Fashion journalism is another. Magazines often serve the industry rather than taking a critical look at it. ArtEZ’s Hanka van der Voet, head of the master’s programme in Fashion Strategy, is involved in this subject. Seeking change in this area, in February she launched the critical, but also visually attractive, magazine Press & Fold | Notes on Making and Doing Fashion.

By approaching fashion from an academic perspective, I hope to make it easier to be critical of the industry. Not that there is a total void of criticism – I already mentioned designers like Elisa van Joolen. But the challenges that we are facing as society and an industry are huge. To bring the ego of the fashion industry back to human values, where interaction between people – not brands or the industry – comes first, I have the feeling we need to shake up the fashion system from its very roots. So let’s start from the beginning: what is fashion?

Whether it’s climate impact or the lack of model diversity, the fashion industry has been under fire for several years now. A growing group of consumers – and even people within the industry itself – have been increasingly pressing for change. The big question is: how? And in the meantime, the industry hurtles on. This four-part series #changemakers gives innovative thinkers room to share their vision of the role that education could play in finding a solution. This part features Daniëlle Bruggeman, since January 2017 Professor of Fashion at ArtEZ University of the Arts.

Inaugural speech Daniëlle 

Daniëlle’s inaugural speech entitled ‘Dissolving the Ego of Fashion’ was presented on 25 April. She shared her vision of the fashion system and the direction she would like to pursue with her fashion professorship and engaged in dialogue with industry professionals. The publication ‘Dissolving the Ego of Fashion: Engaging with Human Matters’ was also presented. The book is available from ArtTEZ Press.

ArtEZ Fashion Professorship, ‘Dissolving the Ego of Fashion Engaging with Human Matters’. Inaugural lecture dr. Daniëlle Bruggeman, April 25, 2018. Photo by Sifra Kock

“I hope to set up a research community representing everyone in the fashion ecosystem”

About Daniëlle

Work experience

Jan 2017-present: Professor of Fashion, ArtEZ University of the Arts (Arnhem)
Nov 2015-apr 2017: Lecturer Art and Fashion Philosophy, Royal Academy of Art (KABK) (The Hague)
Sep 2014-feb 2016: Lecturer Appearance & Research, Fontys Academy for Creative Industries (Tilburg)
Feb 2015-nov 2015: Researcher Vlisco and Radboud University Nijmegen
Jan 2010-nov 2014: PhD, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen

PhD research:
More Than Meets the Eye: Dutch Fashion, Identity and New Materialism” – a research on the fluid, performative and embodied dimensions of identity in various case studies of Dutch fashion, as part of the interdisciplinary project “Dutch Fashion Identity in a Globalised World”.

Daniëlle was also a visiting scholar at Parsons in New York and London College of Fashion.


2010-2014: PhD Cultural Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen
2004-2008: BA and MA Cultural Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen
2003-2004: Psychology, Radboud University Nijmegen

Interesting links

State of Fashion

ArtEZ and State of Fashion are the driving forces behind the event the Fashion Colloquium, bringing creative professionals, business and academia together in search of the ‘new luxury’ in the fashion industry. This will take place end of May.  Several research projects from the Future Makers Centre of Expertise will also be on display at the LAB exhibition during State of Fashion.

State of Fashion is the first international fashion event to focus completely on a more sustainable and fairer fashion system. The exhibition Searching for the New Luxury runs from 1 June until 22 July 2018, in De Melkfabriek in Arnhem. Curator of State of Fashion is José Teunissen, Dean of the School of Design and Technology at London College of Fashion. She was also Professor of Fashion at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts.

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