The business of desire; Jason Steel takes on AOD’s Bachelor’s Degree fashion reins to nurture young talent to master the new metrics of future fashion

The business of desire; Jason Steel takes on AOD’s Bachelor’s Degree fashion reins to nurture young talent to master the new metrics of future fashion

AOD is proud to announce the appointment of internationally commissioned British designer-educator Jason Steel who chooses AOD as his next point of influence following LAU and Elie Saab tenures. 

Part educator, part inhabitant of the high-fashion world, part artist, part entrepreneur, part advocate of empathy—Jason Steel is no stranger to playing the fine line between fantasy, functionality, relatability and making good business, all the while remaining in touch with what makes your life meaningful. Set to officially start his new role as the voice of fashion for AOD in 2021, Jason is looking to shape the kind of designers who have a thorough understanding of the ways in which human desire works, and how this applies to creating products that sell and bring meaning. The learning experience he sets out to deliver is not for those who want to create the one millionth on-trend fashion collection that just looks good on Instagram; it’s for those who want to understand the social, political and economic significance of design, and channel this knowledge to enter new thinking and aesthetics in the fashion practice. Looking at the influence he had in Lebanon’s fashion scene with LAU (Lebanese American University), what can be expected from his work in Sri Lanka is nothing short of a revival of sorts—an opportunity for young people who are serious about the fashion business, to understand what it really means to push boundaries in a 1.5 trillion dollar global industry. Here’s a look at what gives off the coming of a revival with the influence of Jason Steel at AOD, and how he sets out to transform the learning experience for fashion in Sri Lanka. 

A history with giants

In 2011, Jason accepted the position of Program Director at the London College for Fashion Studies in Hanoi. Here, he rewrote and restructured the fashion programme, transformed the college from a mere training school supplying to existing market needs, into a fully-fledged fashion school with the vision to lead the industry and truly push the market boundaries. Before this, Jason lectured at Northumbria University in the UK, Tsinghua University in China, Shih Chien University in Taiwan, and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore as well. This series of experiences in mentorship roles really prepared Jason for his outstanding academic leadership in Hanoi where his deep understanding of the fashion practice was put to its optimal use. 

It was this success that took Jason to the next hallmark of his career as the Assistant Professor of Fashion Design at the prestigious Lebanese American University. Here, Jason started working side by side with the iconic designer Elie Saab, who was a pioneering figure behind LAU. Working together with Elie Saab, and the University of the Arts in London, Jason became instrumental to the institute’s growth by writing and launching Beirut’s leading fashion degree there.

The fashion programme that Jason developed for LAU was a major success for two reasons; stringent academic structuring, and his culturally sensitive teaching methods that were responsive to the education and the upbringing of Beirut’s young people, while encouraging entrepreneurship, experimentation and creative freedom. 

Cultural sensitivity as the key to succeeding fashion

In fact, Jason’s sensitivity to diverse cultures has been a key reason behind his success as a fashion academic far beyond his familiar settings in the UK. Living in societies with a completely different viewpoint towards creativity and its commercial applications, Jason was able to understand why the study of contemporary design as an educational pathway leading to successful careers was an alien concept to many parents, particularly in Eastern societies.

With his new role at AOD in Sri Lanka too, Jason knows that he is stepping into similar territory where parents are yet to fully understand the relevance, rewards and significance tied to creative careers in the fashion business, compared to traditional careers that are seen as more ‘prestigious’. To Jason, it is a real pleasure to see these perceptions changed and challenged through the work he does. This becomes particularly rewarding when observing the empowerment that young designers feel as they realize that their creativity can have serious social and economic impact.

With Jason, students at AOD will have access to a mentor who will not only tell them, but also show how to use the intuition, emotional intelligence and cognitive abilities as tools to perceive surrounding cultures—a skill that is central to succeeding as designers who can create for consumers from diverse cultures, by being sensitive to their needs, desires and beliefs.

Design, empathy and the business of desire

This human-centricity of fashion and all other design disciplines stem from one all-important trait that Jason truly embodies and hopes to bring to AOD’s learning culture at large; this is empathy.

Learning and working between the settings of a £26 billion fashion industry, and a €13 billion luxury market, all the while helping people with drug dependency recover from life-threatening habits, you get remarkable insights into why people want what they want. And, that’s the kind of complex knowledge that Jason Steel brings to AOD fashion.

With years of voluntary work, Jason uses his empathy as a way to help those who need it the most. Nurturing empathy this way has had a deep impact on his persona, allowing him to remain sensitive to those around him, and respond to their conflicts. A trait that has proved to be extremely useful in his role as a teacher and a mentor to young people, as well as his own design work for privately commissioned garments and textile based artworks, and his experimental brand ‘Schlendrianocratie’. 

Fashion is always a response to the world around us, and what people desire to see in it. Often, what people desire is simply used to generate more sales and bring in more profits for business. But, Jason believes that fashion—an industry that is so deeply intertwined with human desire—can do much more than just selling what people want, to move on towards solutions that improve lives and address real issues. In this kind of conscious design where you use empathy as a tool to understand what people are troubled by, and how they truly desire to live their lives, solutions become ways to improve things and, essentially, better the world.

To Jason, operating right through social layers as polar as those who can afford high fashion and those who are homeless, was a way to stay attuned to desires and issues that preoccupy the society at its many levels.

Fashion as a voice

Jason believes that fashion is also a voice, and has immense capacity to give young people opportunities to have meaningful conversations with their society and grow into designers who understand the gravity of their role as creative minds, and who can solve problems for their communities, and the rest of the world. 

During his program Beirut, he encouraged young designers to explore what it means to be alive in their times, without shying away from challenging topics like climate change, gender, identity, politics and religion.

Young people find a voice to express where they come from, their heritage, their politics, and their dreams through fashion. With Jason at AOD’s fashion helm, the aim is to encourage young South Asians to take this on whole-heartedly and understand how this kind of authentic storytelling is precisely what drives the desirability of products. Could it be the beginning of the fashion revival Sri Lanka really needs? 

 Studying fashion with Jason at AOD in 2021

Jason’s plans for being the voice of AOD Fashion in 2021 are many. For him, developing confidence in students is key to nurturing future designers who can go on to create impact in stagnant markets—something the fashion industry is expecting to battle in the post-pandemic world. As he takes on AOD Fashion in 2021, developing this professional confidence will be something that a significant focus will be placed upon. This means familiarising AOD students in all aspects of the fashion practice, with assignments including everything from ideation, design, textiles, and traditional crafts to tailoring, digital marketing, product storytelling and entrepreneurship basics. With Jason’s track record, we can expect to see AOD Fashion designers being guided to find the balance between individuality and remaining deeply connected to the surrounding world so they master the practice of making fashion that is as meaningful as it is interesting.

With AOD, Jason is set to draw out early success from his students, even in the very first year of study. Being part of a course that is already considered super-employable, and a college that is frequented by the fashion industry, getting the right kind of attention and gaining early trust would mean opening up big opportunities very early on in your career; Jason's own stellar record, which won him a place at the renowned Royal College of Art, London and culminated with the impressive Thames & Hudson award for excellence in craftsmanship, is proof. 

There are ways to connect human desire with what’s good, what’s right, what’s necessary, and what makes business sense. That’s what AOD fashion will be about in 2021 and forward.

With Jason preparing to deliver AOD Fashion from January 2021, AOD is looking forward to a new infusion of energy as studying fashion here in Colombo will become very, very interesting. With his internationally rounded experience, unique perspectives on what makes fashion products desirable and meaningful, and the teaching methods that are sensitive to cultures, cultivate confidence and strive to find the ultimate balance between uniqueness and relatability, it is undoubtedly the most interesting place to start your journey into fashion—the business of desire.

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