Belmont University + O’More College of Design = Collaborative Innovation
By Kevin Crouch, Fashion Design Faculty, O’More College of Design

Have you ever been invited to a charrette? Me neither. So I was intrigued when the invitation came to participate in what was described as “a highly interactive, messy and intense conceptualization session” to be held at the Belmont University School of Business, in development of the proposed Nashville Fashion Lab. As interesting invitations rarely come my way these days, I eagerly accepted.

I soon discovered that the Nashville Fashion Lab is a collaborative project between Belmont University and O’More College of Design.  Housed on the Belmont campus, the Lab is envisioned as a business start-up base and showroom/retail space for emerging fashion designers, and an entrepreneurial learning center for students from both institutions.

Upon arrival, I found myself among approximately 50 invitees who included Belmont and O’More students and faculty, members of the Nashville Fashion Alliance, a handful of civic leaders, several interested local entrepreneurs, and a designer from New York City, who had heard about the charrette and came to Nashville to see the design community at work. After a brief introduction of the project, a basic floor plan of the proposed space was handed out and we were set free to let our imaginations run wild.

The team I was assigned to was mostly made up of students—fashion, interior, and business—who quickly took a hands-on approach to the assignment. Ideas flew as rough sketches were made and passed back and forth for additions and editing. All were eager to contribute, and each brought a different perspective, which further energized the process. A truly imaginative and multi-functional space quickly began to emerge, combining work stations, meeting facilities, and retail and gallery zones.

As the ideas took shape, an interior design student proposed constructing a cardboard scale model of our concept, with each team member contributing a different element. The process fascinated me. My own student projects are but a distant memory, and as an instructor, I typically see only the end result of such endeavors. The really messy (and ultimately, most creative) parts of the process generally occur outside my observation, in the wee hours just before an assignment is due. I had forgotten how exciting it can be to see ideas take on a life of their own as they make the transition to concrete form. O'More College of Design

Being curious (and—I confess it—more than a tad competitive), I took advantage of a brief lull in the action to scope out what the other teams were doing. Each had taken a different approach, based upon the expertise of its individual members. Some had created cerebral word-pictures; some had produced a collage of drawings; others had gone 3-D. Every group had taken its own unique path, which had led to a wide variety of possible solutions to the same task.

The moment of truth came mid-afternoon, when each team was given a strict five minutes to pitch its concept. Some proposals were more practical than others; some were more adventurous. However, each presentation produced one or two truly innovative ideas that made me mutter “Damn! I wish I’d thought of that” under my breath.

In the end, the collaboration produced a range of innovative concepts that went far beyond the results of the typical brain-storming session; ideas which will find their place in the next phase of development of the Nashville Fashion Lab.

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