Design in the Delta: Latest technology at UAPB prepares students for careers in fashion, textiles

Will Hehemann School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

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Students create samples on the industrial sewing machines in the design studio.

Recent high school graduates interested in fashion may want to consider studying fashion merchandising, textiles and design. According to professors at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, a degree and experience using the latest tools of the trade open students up to a variety of jobs in the industry.

“Many universities no longer teach textile science despite opportunities in the industry,” Dr. Kaye Crippen, associate professor in the Merchandising, Textiles and Design (MTD) at UAPB, said. “Here, students have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of textiles, apparel design and merchandising/retailing.”

Students also have access to state-of-the-art equipment and facilities to learn the tools of the trade before they enter the workforce. The program features two design studios equipped with industrial sewing machines, two textile design and evaluation laboratories and a digital design center with the latest fashion design software.

In the textile product evaluation and design laboratories, students evaluate the performance of textiles through physical tests that measure qualities such as tensile strength for durability and moisture profiling for comfort. They can also experiment with making non-woven structures, yarns and dyeing textiles. In the apparel design lab, students turn their ideas into products as they practice draping and flat pattern with professional mannequins.

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Students examine infant sleepwear in the textile product evaluation and design laboratory in front of a flammability tester used to evaluate garments.

“MTD students learn to sew on industrial sewing machines, which are much more versatile than home machines and require mastery to sew straight or curved lines due to the speed,” Dr. Crippen said. “Students make several garments using the machines, which greatly reduces the amount of time it takes to make garments. Another benefit is that students will know how to use professional equipment when they enter the industry.”

In addition to teaching traditional fashion illustration by hand, Yunru Shen, an instructor for the MTD program, encourages students to take advantage of the digital design center where they can they can use programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to create apparel designs.

To supplement classroom learning, field trips give students some insight into how the industry works, Dr. Crippen said. They have taken trips to Fashion Group International’s Career Day in Dallas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Cotton Chemistry and Utilization Research Facility in New Orleans and to the Arkansas Delta to visit a USDA cotton classing office that determines how much a farmer gets paid for the crop based on several parameters including fiber fineness and whiteness. Next fall Dr. Crippen plans to take her students to a cotton farm and cotton gin as part of a new program focus on issues related to the sustainability of fibers and textiles.

Apart from the access to facilities and professional equipment, Dr. Crippen said the students also benefit from the relatively small size of the program. Smaller class sizes enable the professors to give students extensive individual guidance as they work on their projects.

Both of the program’s leaders have international industry experience, which is important since the industry is international in nature, Dr. Crippen said. “Ms. Shen and I understand the competitive nature of the industry and we want to impart this to students,” she said. “Our goal is to prepare them for work in the fast-paced world of fashion and related industries. Some students want to go to New York to study design, but they can get the basics right here in the Delta then go to New York City.”

For more information on the MTD program at UAPB or to schedule a tour of the facilities, contact Dr. Kaye Crippen at (870) 575-8367 or crippenk@uapb.edu.

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