Today, we departed from Marigold Hotel and the city of Hyderabad, but before we left, we had one final stop: the Hyderabad campus of the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT).
NIFT is a national statutory university that has 15 campuses across India. Students at these schools can fulfill their undergraduate studies in specific areas of fashion and textile design, as well as fashion communication and fashion management.
NIFT was founded in 1986 by the Ministry of Textiles, a division of the Indian government. It obtained its statutory status from the Government of India in 2008. NIFT is one of the top national institutions for educating the future of the Indian fashion industry. Upon arriving at NIFT, we were escorted around the small gated campus by a faculty member. He explained the structure of the NIFT curriculum . All students take the same foundation classes in their first year (it is similar to the "core curriculum" style seen at some American universities). In doing so, students are able to explore all areas of the fashion industry, from design to business, and decide where their skills are best applied. Following their first year, students begin to concentrate in one particular aspect of the field.
We were brought to the dyeing studios, where we met with one of the university's professors who specializes in dyeing techniques. NIFT has excellent dyeing facilities, and students learn how to do cotton, silk, and polyester dyeing for both yarn and fabric. Students are required to take a color chemistry class, so they know the science behind chemical dyeing as well. For their final projects, students are required to dye their own fabrics. Since the university only has a certain combination of colors, evaluators can tell whether the student dyed their fabrics or purchased them from an outside producer, and this policy forces students to independently create their product from start to finish. In Cornell's Fiber Science and Apparel Design major, we study the different dyeing and printing processes in depth, but we don't have a lot of opportunities to apply our knowledge and dye fabrics, so seeing this process being taught at a university was very exciting.
Next, we were brought to the fashion and lifestyle accessories workshop. Here, students are taught a variety of ways to use materials such as wood, metal, clay, and plastic to create three-dimensional items. NIFT has an incredible amount of machinery for the students to learn how to operate and use in their design projects.
We were shown a vacuum forming machine, which can be used to create 3D objects out of plastic. Students create their own molds out of wood or metal, and then place the molds in the machine, where plastic is heated to take the form of the object. Creating the initial mold can take up to an hour, but once it is set in the machine, objects can be made within minutes! Many of the machines are made in India, however some of them are imported from China. Having these machines on campus provides students with an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of the manufacturing aspect of the industry, which is such valuable knowledge to have.
My favorite room of the NIFT campus was a loom studio, where they had 30 hand looms set up that students can use to practice the skill. Just yesterday, we toured Pochampally Loom park, where we saw textiles being made at a larger scale, but today, we saw the way students are taught this process on smaller personal looms. One of the professors demonstrated how to use these looms, and allowed us to try it out!
For the final part of our NIFT tour, we met with the director of the Hyderabad campus. In addition to being a professor, he oversees the campus' operations. He informed us of the admissions process for NIFT. Admission is based on an exam score, and students do not submit a portfolio. This is very different from American universities with fashion programs, where a portfolio is often highly suggested or required and constitutes a large part of the application decision. The campus is extremely small, and while it is located in urban Hyderabad, it is gated and separated from the *craziness* of the city. Female students are offered housing in a nearby hostel, but male students commute from home. Most NIFT undergraduates remain in India at the conclusion of their studies, either to work for an Indian fashion company or continue their education with a graduate degree. NIFT incorporates an excellent combination of new technological innovations and traditional textile-making processes, so their students graduate with the ability to adapt to the constantly changing world of fashion while also having a thorough understanding of the basic garment construction process. We also were informed of the different grading processes used at NIFT to asses students' work. While students take traditional exams like us, they also complete projects that demonstrate the techniques they learned in class. These projects are then judged by a "Jury," which consists of one industry expert, two NIFT Hyderabad faculty members, and one faculty member from another NIFT campus. Students are present as their work is being critiqued, so they have the opportunity to explain and defend their creations. A program called "Fashion Olympia" gives NIFT students the opportunity to display their work in a competition setting against other students from all of the NIFT campuses. Students compete for cash prizes, and this competition follows the similar "Jury" format in terms of evaluation. This is a great way for students to display their talents as well as to learn about the opportunities available on other NIFT campuses. Students at NIFT Hyderabad are encouraged to spend their 6th semester of school at another NIFT campus to broaden their educational experience. I was initially excited to visit NIFT because I was looking forward to seeing students in such an incredibly different environment studying something similar to me, but I found our visit to be a very eye-opening experience, and it really caused me to think about the American education system and the goals of my particular major at Cornell. Within my major, Fiber Science and Apparel Design, there are three departments: Fiber Science, Apparel Design, and Fashion Management. Within Fashion Management is three more sub-concentrations: Communications, Business Management, and Product Development. I am studying in the Fashion Management, Business Management concentration. Having five distinct concentrations is great, because it means that each program is highly specialized. But, this also means that we sacrifice having a wide variety of technical skills that NIFT students possess. FSAD does not push students to really venture out of their particular department, so for a management student such as myself, I lose out on learning about the technical construction of garments. For example, I wanted to take an introductory sewing class this past semester, but the only class offered has a reputation of being very labor intensive and, as someone with very limited knowledge in apparel design, I was too intimidated to enroll in the course. Cornell's FSAD program is extremely advanced, and we are lucky to have so much cutting-edge technology and beautiful facilities. I just wish that there was more of an emphasis on learning the basics dyeing, printing, and construction techniques that NIFT students are exposed to. After our visit at NIFT, we had a group discussion about the differences in educational styles between Cornell and NIFT, and this caused me to think more about the overall differences between the US as well as other western countries compared to India and other developing nations. In India, students take a test after completing their 12th year of school. The number score they receive on this assessment determines what kind of career they will have permission to pursue. The highest scoring students follow the route of becoming doctors, a career that is viewed very favorably in India. In order to pursue a career of fashion, students must achieve a 70% on this exam. This is incredibly different from the educational system in America, where we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pursue whatever kind of career we desire. But, a similar underlying issue exists: the disparity in wealth leads to disparity in opportunities. In America, we take the SATS or ACTs to prepare for college applications. We also write lengthy essays, take leadership roles in clubs, and perform well in school. An argument that often arises when looking at the college admissions process is that wealthier children have a higher chance of being admitted to top tier universities because they have access to resources such as tutors, private schools, and college counselors. In India, a very similar issue exists. Children from wealthy families are tutored and prepared for this exam from a young age so they may go on to pursue lucrative careers. While the test is still an assessment of academic skills, it favors children with more opportunities. In the US, universities are attempting to fight this issue with "affirmative action," which requires schools to accept a certain number of underprivileged students. Many universities are now seeking students who have faced adversity in their childhood, however without good scores and a high GPA, it is still impossible to be accepted to top tier schools. While educational opportunities in the US and India have a lot of basic differences, it's interesting to take note of some of the similarities. I can't help but feel thankful for being able to study at Cornell and for having the opportunity to study fashion, something I truly love! We had a quick lunch at the hotel before heading to the airport to catch our flight to Bangalore. Upon arriving at the airport, we found out that our flight had been cancelled! While this was by no means ideal, it gave us an opportunity to hang out and do some FSAD bonding! We rebooked for a 3:30 AM flight and headed to the mall to do some shopping and have dinner! Now, I'm back at the airport waiting to go through security and get on my next plane! I'm certainly sad to leave Hyderabad. The locals have been so friendly and welcoming during my first few days in India. But, another adventure lies ahead in Bangalore, and I'm so excited to see this new city! More to come soon, but first, some sleep! Xo!