BFA Program

The four-year Apparel Design BFA at RISD encourages you to develop your unique potential and establish a distinctive design language and identity within the field. Here you learn to articulate your creative process and design concepts, fluidly moving between the physical, visual and technological.

Fostering practices rooted in embodied tactile materiality and ethical consciousness, the program asks you to challenge the relentless cycle of contemporary fashion—to slow down, rethink and, through multidisciplinary creative approaches, reimagine the notion of clothing and question the systems of its making.


During sophomore year, students begin exploring apparel and bodily ornamentation as a means of identity projection/expression. Studios offer both a conceptual lens through which majors investigate individual and social identity, and core design and construction skills, including interdisciplinary approaches to making.

Through self-expression and visual communication, juniors learn to center their creative voices within their design process and its outcomes. Along the way they focus on knitwear, making both by hand and with knitting machines, to experiment three-dimensionally and explore the unique properties of knit fabrics.

View the curriculum

Learning outcomes

The four-year Apparel Design bachelor’s program equips students with the key technical, artistic and social attributes to contribute to and positively impact creative industries. Students in the program will:

  • develop an approach to apparel design informed by an understanding that clothing the body is an invaluable form of self-expression integral to how people present themselves to and move through the world.
  • learn about critical discourses that investigate clothing on ideological terms, examining how apparel designers present and represent bodies, how clothing connects to identity/identities and how aesthetics, apparel design and sensorial human experience relate to one another.
  • learn qualitative research methods for investigating identity/identities, sourcing and audience in relation to the work they make.
  • gain a deep understanding of positive and sustainable practices in order to question, challenge and participate in the evolving world of fashion as forward-looking agents of change.
  • acquire a strong base in traditional making and craftsmanship, including drawing, pattern cutting, flat pattern, and 3D draping, garment construction and fitting.
  • develop effective communication and presentation strategies, problem setting, project planning and organization.
  • generate and share knowledge.

Inspiring community

As a close-knit group of approximately 65 undergraduates, Apparel Design majors benefit from regular interaction with alumni and other visiting critics and design professionals. Every spring, Apparel Design seniors debut a unified body of original work in the department’s senior thesis showwhich has taken several forms—from runway shows to print lookbooks and short films. The experience offers students an engaging way to share the latest fashion emerging from RISD studios and gain experience presenting work across mediums.

Learning environment

Apparel Design majors work in well-equipped studios on a single floor of the same building. The open studio environment, coupled with ongoing feedback from faculty mentors and a ready exchange of ideas with peers, fosters a collaborative and supportive environment for honing personal expression through the creation of one-of-a-kind works of wearable art.

Senior thesis project

Over the course of the final year, students engage in an in-depth process to create a series of works that demonstrate their philosophy and vision, and establish their authentic design language and identity. As they develop the capacity to express their mission and concepts in their fullest form(s), they become better equipped to communicate ideas to their intended audiences and potential collaborators.

Students advance their creative investigations by incorporating scent into the thesis project, as a means of connecting themselves and their audiences to the affective potential of their ideas and work. This follows the importance of investing in clothing as an emotional experience—how it makes the wearer feel, where it comes from and who it serves. Selected seniors will also have the opportunity to create a scent/smell in collaboration with International Flavors and Fragrances.

The year-long thesis experience culminates for each student in a body of work that addresses the multifaceted ways that clothing, fashion and adornment activate personal and collective expression. This takes the form of a physical body of work, a portfolio, lookbook, film short and written essay.