The East Asian Fashion Curriculum Framework: 

A Proposal - for fashion design programs in higher education.

Hokusai, Katsushika. Fine Wind, Clear Weather (Gaifū kaisei), c. 1830-1. Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Link.


Jonathan Lee


7 October 2023


This article proposes a curriculum framework of East Asian fashion discourses in fashion design programs at an undergraduate level. Amidst the learning environment in higher education that is Eurocentric, Anglophone, white-dominated, and colonial, the convention of the education system easily and unnoticeably seeded the conception that only Western knowledge is academically valuable (Baker 8). I experienced the underlying coloniality in higher education in fashion while I was studying for my bachelor’s degree in fashion design at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). In my current Graduate studies, I have found the motivation to pursue a career in higher education teaching. While this curriculum proposal resists traditional Western notions of fashion design education and centers decolonization and East Asian representation in Western education system, it also lays foundation for my pedagogical ideology in the prospect future.

In the article, I reference the fashion curriculum at TMU as a case study to unpack the discourse of coloniality in fashion education. The former Chair of Fashion at TMU, Ben Barry, put forward the three guiding principles of inclusion, decolonization, and sustainability as the pedagogy to be implemented for all the courses (Barry 124). With reference to the manifesto Barry proposed, this project aims to raise racial and cultural awareness and promote the representation of East Asian students. Therefore, with the inclusion of affect and decolonization theories in fashion education, as well as my positionality as a young East Asian scholar, this project will showcase a prototype of a pair of undergraduate introductory-level fashion courses Art History of East Asia I and II, to foreground my proposal of the East Asian fashion curriculum at fashion schools. Subsequently, this project will bring forward the future implication of how to promote the East Asian fashion curriculum to institutions beyond TMU.

Background - My Positionality as a Researcher

I am an abled, cisgender homosexual East Asian man with dual citizenship in Hong Kong and Canada, a first-and-a-half generation Canadian immigrant in his mid-20s from a middle-class family. Last but not least, I am also a fashion designer.

As an East Asian individual living in North America, my intersectional identity informs the in-betweenness as being a Hongkonger and Canadian during Undergraduate times.

In the Fashion Design program at TMU, I was given immense practical training in all aspect of designing clothes. My work was always heavily inspired by culture, especially East Asian culture – but I felt like it was the only space I can truly represent myself under this Eurocentric education system. Although I did not see myself facing any systemic racial discrimination in this institution, from time to time, I always felt under or mis-represented because of our Western-oriented curriculum in design and fashion theory.

As I entered Graduate school, I have quickly come to the realization that I am motivated to pursue a career in teaching Higher Education. Furthermore, my positionality as a young scholar informs me that it is my job to decolonize the fashion industry and education system. Hence, my career pursuit has set me a clear direction to propose the addition of an East Asian fashion curriculum at the School of Fashion at TMU as my creative project. As such, to approach this project with a theoretical viewpoint, I have looked at various educators and scholars and their views on the current Eurocentric, Anglophone, white-dominated, and colonial higher education system.

Theoretical Framework

Prior to decolonizing the fashion education system, we must understand the atmosphere of higher education. Baker (5) suggests that the modern education system is deeply influenced by the relationship between Occidentalism and civilization and therefore explained that "coloniality names the underlying logic of the foundation and unfolding of Western civilization from the Renaissance to today." Due to “cultural logic and public legitimacy,” the convention of the education system easily and unnoticeably seeded the conception that only Western knowledge is academically valuable (8). The arguments that Baker brings up reflect the fashion curriculum at TMU I experienced five years ago while pursuing my Undergraduate Fashion Design education at TMU. The knowledge I absorbed from this institution was primarily Eurocentric, regardless of theory, practicality, or interpersonal experiences.

Despite the virtually Eurocentric education curriculum, it is pleasing to see that the fashion curriculum at TMU is evolving into decolonization slowly. As Baker suggests, in the postcolonial world, criticism and epistemological dimension emerge within the academic field (9). More specifically, in fashion education, Chaeng and Suterwalla (880) emphasize the importance of considering one educator's positionality and limitations when debunking the almost-impossible mission of decolonization in education. As per our fashion curriculum at TMU, the former chair of the School of Fashion, Ben Barry, has proposed transforming fashion education by including decolonization. Barry uses his "positionality and emotion" and adapted the ways of thinking of the Black and Indigenous scholars to manifest new guiding principles to decolonize the fashion curriculum (124) – namely, became the three guiding principles that the School of Fashion at TMU uses for all the courses: inclusion, decolonization, and sustainability (TMU Fashion). The manifesto of Barry inspires my viewpoint of how education should look and sparked the idea to use my "positionality and emotion" to propose the curriculum of East Asian fashion studies at the School of Fashion.

To elaborate, the justification of the proposal for an East Asian fashion curriculum wholeheartedly originated from my “positionality and emotion.” Stepping into the era of globalization, the rise of internationalization of students in higher education has skyrocketed; however, without the adaptation to change, how Western institutions continued to teach “the others” with a Eurocentric viewpoint is an act of “naturalization” (Luke 44-5). Barry (128) states, "fashion schools must ground inclusion into their culture by designing new recruitment and support systems that allow justice-seeking students and faculty to enter and flourish on their own terms." That said, despite the proposal coming from my positionality as an East Asian scholar, it is also a sentimental attachment that I hope to witness East Asian representation in fashion education. As an Undergraduate student at TMU, I often felt a lack of representation of my culture. Although there were more efforts in bringing up the racial issues with the Black and Indigenous folks, I still felt that those with us Asians were often being shoved under the rug – due to our label as the "model minority." Therefore, my proposal of the East Asian fashion curriculum scheme is only starting point before all the other groups of racial minorities and the marginalized be represented to achieve the grand ambition of liberal multiculturalism in Higher Education.

Creative Process

As per the beginning of my creative journaling for the East Asian fashion curriculum scheme, I started by looking at the extent of decolonization in the current Undergraduate fashion curriculum at TMU. Since 2020, TMU has undergone a structural change in its Undergraduate curriculum. The program has expanded from only fashion design and communication to the newly added Fashion Studies, Fashion Leadership, and Material and Textile Practice, in a total of five concentrations. In order to fulfill the three guiding principle, inclusion, decolonization, and sustainability, a wider range of courses are being offered as well.

In their first year, fashion students must complete the FSN 224 Refashioning History credit, in which they learn how to take a decolonial lens to examine non-European fashion history. However, from personal experience as a Graduate Assistant to the course, the syllabus is over-generalized due to the massive amount of cultural and temporal material to cover. Albeit the course has set a solid foundation for students to understand the concept of decolonization in fashion, the effort does not suffice. In addition, the newly established curriculum has also included various elective courses that focus on Black and Indigenous fashion practices offered as electives. Though the new curriculum does show the effort in decolonization in fashion education, yet the limited options of courses also entails the lack of Asian representation.

As my research continued, I started using journaling as a creative practice to document all the over-the-top thoughts I have for the implementations for the East Asian fashion curriculum. I quickly abandoned the decision to implement any East Asian fashion courses as mandatory courses, as FSN 224 Refashioning History has already given students a foundation for decolonial knowledge. At the same time, East Asian fashion courses are racial-oriented and audience-targeted; the mandate of these courses will only aggravate the current issue of colonial pedagogy.

Consequently, I intend to include new courses across the five concentrations to approach the scheme, in order to enable full impact of decolonization in the Undergraduate curriculum. The courses will be offered according to three different levels: Introductory (Table I), Intermediate (Table II), and Advanced (Table III). Introductory courses will engage more in the knowledge; intermediate courses will emphasize the learning of research methods; advanced courses will explore more profound in a specific topic showing certain degrees of original insights on affairs. Figures 1 and 2 (left side of the image) show the possible courses to be proposed to different concentrations.

Moreover, I propose new collaborative courses across the university that can be offered as cross-disciplinary electives to expand the scheme further. As fashion is an interdisciplinary study, cross-disciplinary elective courses can invite students from different programs (e.g., Humanities, Business, and Architecture) to work together. Students can be benefited from being exposed to a wide range of perspectives looking at one topic based on distinctive objectives and knowledge (Lyon 230). Figure 2 (right side of the image) shows the list of possibilities that can be proposed for cross-disciplinary courses.

Final Product: A Course Outline Prototype

As my creative component, I have created a course outline prototype for one of the proposed courses under the Fashion Studies concentration – FSN 133 and 233 Art History of East Asia I and II. The rationale for this decision is that during my Undergraduate education, I always questioned the mere two weeks worth of East Asian material out of the entire 24-week Art History course. As I understand that there were a lot to cover in the timespan of European art history, I never felt connected to the class. As such, I wanted to create Art History of East Asia as an introductory course that could invite Undergraduate students to learn about East Asian art through an East Asian lens.

To summarize, students will take a decolonial approach to look at the art history in the East Asian region, including the modern day: China, Japan, Korean Peninsula, and Taiwan. In the course, students will learn to examine the different artifacts from East Asia, including objects, paintings, architecture, and performance art. Furthermore, students will also learn to contextualize East Asian artifacts with significant themes emphasized in East Asian arts, including religion, spirituality, and nature, which are different from the lens when looking at Western or European arts.

Due to the longevity of the timeline that the course has to cover, I have designed this course to be a series of two separate courses offered in consecutive semesters (Fall and Winter terms). Regarding weekly topics, this course will use a mixed method of chronology and themes to arrange the course schedule. Although the weekly topics will be delivered in a chronological manner, this course will use the East Asian dynastic/periodic approach, as opposed to dividing up the weekly topics according to conventional European historical timeline, in order to achieve the principle of decolonization in fashion. Each week, the class will have a specific theme to cover, some of the weeks will cover cross-cultural references, and some do not; towards to end of the semester, there will be two to three overarching themes in art history that will cover multiple dynasties/periods as a summarization to the course in the semester.

In regard to pedagogy, on top of the three guiding principles (inclusion, decolonization, and sustainability) the School of Fashion follows, Art History of East Asia, which offered under the East Asian fashion curriculum scheme, follows the fourth guiding principle – Representation. The newly added principle serves the purpose of empowerment and a sense of belonging to the East Asian students (both international and local East Asian-Canadian students). As Luke (52) explains, international students are often seen as socially and culturally “marginal, oppressed, and diasporic;” the reconceptualization of curriculum can eventually ease the emotional stress and anxiety of being unable to blend in the institution. On the other hand, the added East Asian fashion curriculum can help local East Asian-Canadian students to understand their racial and cultural roots through valuable academic resources and material to ease the stress of the Asian-American diaspora and reestablish their value on their racial identity.

Furthermore, unlike the conventional colonial education learning format (e.g., lecture, attendance, and exams), Art History of East Asia aims to experiment with different assessment styles to increase engagement and inclusive learning. Regarding teaching methods in the classroom, this course will be divided into a two-hour lecture presentation and a one-hour seminar tutorial class. While maintaining the effective delivery of weekly material, the course intends to preserve the lecture portion. On top of that, by turning a portion of the class into a seminar tutorial, students will sit in a more intimate and inclusive environment where they can express themselves more freely and collaboratively. Using the implementation of culturally responsive pedagogy as teaching, students would take the initiative in learning and utilize their "personal and cultural strength, intellectual capabilities, and their prior accomplishment" to navigate the course under the instructor's guidance (Savage et al. 184-5). In the seminar tutorial classes, students will lead the discussion through weekly exercises and presentations to elevate the learning of East Asian art surveying.

On the other hand, in terms of learning assessments, Art History of East Asia attempt to include a variety of assessment methods to allow students to show their different strengths in learning. According to the Belief, Design, and Action socially inclusive teaching model proposed by Gale et al. (353), implementing multi-model pedagogies can foster “critical engagement with the knowledge, values, and voices of all students within [an academic] settings.” Based on the model, diverse assessment methods are included for students to learn while engaging with their assignments.

First, there are collaboratively assignments for students to work in groups or pairs; this decolonial methodology of assessment can reinforce their absorption of knowledge exponentially (Omodan 5486). Second, experiential-based assignments (e.g., the field trip assignment) that aim to allow students to use real-life examples and apply them to the theories learnt in lectures. Third, weekly participation is monitored each week through engagement and academic initiation during seminar tutorial classes and online discussion board; these light-loaded work aims to provide students with chances to communicate with their fellow students, which help with their interpersonal skills and public speaking skills, and a platform to express their ideas. Lastly, conventional assessments (e.g., essays and exams) are also included in the syllabus in case of student preferences; whilst the semester-end writing exam is offered as an optional and reflective component, and to those students who want to gain extra marks for the course.

All the other courses offered under the East Asian fashion curriculum scheme will be constructed based on the same guiding principles and pedagogical model. However, the curriculum proposal does not aim to reject the current curriculum. As Baker (14) suggested, the idea of epistemological pluralism, which is the understanding of the current mono-epistemological system, "is inherently violent." Implementing emerging theories like "relational history," which celebrates the equality of knowledge, is of utmost importance in the proposed curriculum (8-9). Therefore, this proposal intends to boost the equality of racial representation of East Asian folks rather than denying the as-valuable academic findings in European epistemologies.

Future Implication

For future implication, there are certain implementations can be pushed further in this curriculum on many different levels to ensure its sustainability. Through augmenting the scale of direct collaborations with other fashion schools, including joint-school workshops, guest lectures, and student exchange programs. These activities can amplify the exposure of students to understanding more about East Asian fashion affairs and research through a network of professionals coming from a global perspective. Thereafter, as the program takes off, we can take the curriculum to the next level by promoting it to existing like-minded research collectives for East Asian Fashion Studies (e.g., Asian Fashion Archive). It can act as a centralized academic podium for people to learn more about the topic of East Asian fashion discourses, hence, captivating more research around the area, and further expand the possibility of success in this project.

All in all, in this creative project, I have created a course outline prototype to demonstrate how the East Asian fashion curriculum can be executed from the aspects of pedagogical principles, the format of classroom, and assessment variations. Furthermore, the implementation of decolonization theory as the theoretical framework allows us space to reflect upon not only what type of knowledge to be delivered to students, but also how to deliver it so that it challenges the traditional colonial ways of teaching. Cheang and Kramer (151-2), as the advocates for decolonial East Asian fashion education, they call for the emphasis on learning East Asian fashion with accurate translation from an East Asian perspective. As such, the curriculum is designed to understand East Asian fashion and culture from a microscopic lens through its worldview.


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Barry, Ben. “How to Transform Fashion Education: A Manifesto for Equality, Inclusion and Decolonization.” International Journal of Fashion Studies, vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 123–30.

Cheang, Sarah, and Elizabeth Kramer. “Fashion and East Asia: Cultural Translation and East Asian Perspectives.” International Journal of Fashion Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, 2017, pp. 145-55. 

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Gale, Trevor, et al. “Socially Inclusive Teaching: Belief, Design, Action as Pedagogic Work.” Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 68, no. 3, 2017, pp. 345–56.

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Savage, Catherine, et al. “Culturally Responsive Pedagogies in the Classroom: Indigenous Student Experiences Across the Curriculum.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, vol. 39, no. 3, 2011, pp. 183–98.

School of Fashion. “About.” Toronto Metropolitan University, accessed 24 February 2023,