Courtesy of Rory Parnell-Mooney

The online initiative connecting fashion students and established designers

‘Class of 2020’ is Rory Parnell-Mooney’s initiative to support final year fashion students in the wake of their school’s closures.

by Mahoro Seward
03 April 2020, 4:00pm

Courtesy of Rory Parnell-Mooney

As a result of the ongoing pandemic, the fashion industry is currently experiencing testing times, with everything from shoots to supply chains ground to a halt. And, as we discussed last month, even those yet to formally enter its workforce have also been affected, with final-year students that just weeks ago were gearing up to start work on their graduate collections, now barred access to their school’s studios and the resources on which they typically rely.

Still, there’s light amid the gloom. The coronavirus crisis has brought with it an uptick in community-minded gestures in a vast spread of fields, and fashion education is no exception. To support affected students in the formative final months of their degrees, London-based menswear designer Rory Parnell-Mooney has created ‘Class of 2020’, an online initiative to pair students with designers and industry professionals, offering feedback on their work and career advice as they create their final collections.

“Those final six months of fashion school are when you really learn how to be a designer, and I just thought it was really unfortunate that this year’s graduating student would no longer have that really formative experience,” he says. “Your final year is when you really sit down and think about how collections come together, building a range of clothes that have meaningful relationships to each other and the world. “It's really a rock and a hard place situation. We all understand why the schools have had to close, but we're now swimming in uncharted waters. I basically just want to be a really small cog in the wheel, allowing students to have experiences and conversations they might otherwise miss.”

Parnell Mooney AW20
Parnell Mooney AW20

Through the self-organised scheme, students that sign up will be placed in touch with an industry member with experience in their particular field of interest. “I'm trying to group as many students and as many designers, fashion editors and other industry workers into two lists,” Rory explains. “I'm asking students to send their Instagram handles, along with a short bit of information about their practice, and will then hopefully be able to draw lines between the two. If there’s a designer who's spent fifteen years at Marc Jacobs, for example, who really understands New York and working in a more commercial fashion environment, and a student who really wants to move into that side of the industry, I’d put them together. It's almost like an open university set up,” he says.

Valuable as the exchanges it will facilitate will be, ‘Class of 2020’ is not an attempt to replace the familiar models of showcasing graduate work. Rather, it aims to offer a private online setting where the formative conversations that often come of them can be held. “When I graduated from the MA at CSM, I remember speaking with Francisco Costa, who was designing all of the womenswear at Calvin Klein at the time, at my exhibition -- it was a mindblowing conversation,” says Rory. “What I want to do is people together for, says, a half an hour conversation, where students can openly ask things like 'How did you get a job at this company?’ or even things like ‘Here are a few pages from my portfolio -- do you think they'd appeal to the HR team at this brand?’”

At a time when it’s easy to feel disconnected, ‘Class of 2020’ lets students know that they are part of a global community that’s eager to support them. Above all, it underscores the importance of open communication in the face of uncertainty, of drawing on one another’s experiences to chart the territories that lie ahead. “I think that the hard thing for students right now is the uncertainty. That's the scariest thing. The more we can communicate, the more clear I think things will become,” says Rory. “It's about having, say, somebody who's worked as a freelance knitwear designer for the last ten years sit down with students and say, ‘We don't know what’s going to happen, but it’s going to be fine. I've always worked, and this is how things panned out for me.’”

With ‘term’ set to start on April 14th, information on how to take part in ‘Class of 2020’ is available here for anyone interested -- students and established designers alike.

Parnell Mooney AW20
Parnell Mooney AW20
rory parnell-mooney
fashion education