Changes in Mass Exodus leave most fashion communication students in the dust

By Ashley Cochrane

Some Ryerson fashion students are angrily protesting changes to Mass Exodus, one of the most recognized student-run fashion shows in the country.

The students, who are in the fashion communication stream of the program, say the changes mean their work won’t be displayed in the best possible way, which could hurt their job prospects.

At least one of the students has decided she won’t participate in the event — considered by many as a culminating highlight of their four years of study — which is to be held April 1.

Mass Exodus is the the student-run fashion show put on by the Ryerson School of Fashion (Ryersonian file photo)

Mass Exodus is the the student-run fashion show put on by the Ryerson School of Fashion (Ryersonian file photo)

“It seemed like the overall statement was that ‘Mass Exodus isn’t about you,’” says Tanya*, a fourth-year fashion design student participating in Mass Exodus. “Every year it gets worse, more exclusive, (with) fewer designers’ needs being met. It is somewhat disheartening that things are not being improved, but actually becoming worse.”

The changes affect the way student projects, such as films and interactive media, will be presented at the event. Some iPad-displayed projects will presented with no audio, while films will not be shown in their full length, but rather shown as soundless trailers, played on a loop.

As a result, some students considered leaving the exhibit or were required to purchase Bluetooth headphones with money from their own pockets. The other significant chance, according to the students, is that they were told about the new format too late to make changes to their projects.

“Ultimately, the setup information was relayed to us too late for us to alter or change the way we presented and created our projects for the exhibit,” says a fourth-year student participating in the event, who wants to remain anonymous. “If this info session was delivered to us earlier — maybe sometime in February — we could have planned accordingly.”

Those students were advised March 19 during a meeting with Robert Ott, chair of the fashion program and head of Mass Exodus, that there would be no headphone jacks available for some iPad-displayed projects with audio.

The fashion students took a survey last year regarding the best way to display projects, and those changes are now being implemented.

“There is no prescriptive way for how Mass Exodus is produced,” says Ott. “It is reasonable to collect the information and make sure it is an experience for the audience that is useful, interesting and insightful.

“We want to see most of the work if not all the work,” says Ott. “So when we have 600 exhibits and 500 people in that space it is unlikely that these people will watch a 15-minute video in the space.”

Mass Exodus has been running for over 50 years as a means to promote graduating students’ work to sponsors and potential employers.

This year, fashion icon Jeanne Beker helped curate a show. The event includes a runway showcasing student clothing designs and an exhibition displaying final thesis projects. First-year fashion students look forward to Mass Exodus and work towards it throughout their degree.

The exhibit times changed without adequate warning. In past years, the fashion communication exhibit ran during the day, stopped in the afternoon for the runway show, and then reopened in the evening. This year, students found out that their evening time-slot has been completely removed from the schedule.

“A lot of people during the meeting last night were raising their hands saying their internship (employers and co-workers) can’t come because they’re putting it on a Wednesday and the exhibit now closes at 6 p.m, which is when everybody gets off work,” says Ryley*, another fourth-year student, who will participate in Mass Exodus.

The evening show was cancelled due to the president’s reception, which is a gathering for the fashion students after their runway show. Normally the reception takes place in a different building, but this year it is being held in the fashion communication exhibition space.

“So now the design student’s sponsors are coming to mingle in our space, which means we have to close our exhibit and don’t have a chance for our industry people to even see,” says Ryley. “I’ve had to tell my (internship) people not to come.”

Multiple students took their complaints to Ott who heads the annual showcase.

“(Robert Ott) apparently he had told them that Mass Ex wasn’t about them,” says the student. “This infuriated me, and all I’ve heard about the show since is that their main focus is to make money.”

Ott explained that during the information session he offered the students to email him if they would like to invite anyone to the reception.

Many fashion communication students, who wish to be anonymous for fear of repercussions to their academic standing, say that Mass Exodus is more of a marketing scheme than a final exhibit of their work, and they feel cheated by the program.

“I feel as though it works as a big cover up,” says one  fourth-year fashion communication student who opted not to take part in the event. “It makes Ryerson’s fashion program seem like a big deal to the outside world but in reality it’s an old program just trying to live up to the hype it’s created.”

* Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

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