On National Textiles Day, students can consider future in expanding industry

Will Hehemann School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

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Erin Jones, a senior majoring in merchandising, textiles and design, examines textiles produced from recycled water bottles.

To observe National Textiles Day on May 3, Arkansans can take a moment to consider the diverse ways textiles play a profound role in modern society, says Dr. Kaye Crippen, professor of the Merchandising, Textiles and Design (MTD) program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. Not only are textiles used to outfit our bodies, windows and beds, but they are also commonly used in the design of a diverse range of products, from prosthetic limbs to space stations.

“Sometimes we forget just how important textiles are to our day-to-day lives, as well as to our society,” she said. “Textiles are products made from fibers of either natural or synthetic materials and are processed using weaving, knitting or non-woven technologies. They are the backbone of the global clothing industry and are also vital to the development of construction, transportation and medical applications.”

Dr. Crippen said recent innovations in the textile industry include the use of textile-based composite material in aerospace technology and in other transportation. In fashion, innovative companies such as Nike, Adidas, Columbia Sportswear and Spanx have revolutionized design concepts with in-house product development capabilities. Industry interest is currently shifting to trends in material science with the development of “smart textiles” and “smart apparel,” which include embedded digital components.

As the field of textile science continues to expand, career opportunities in the industry are opening up, Dr. Crippen said. Though much of America’s fiber production moved offshore as garment production moved to Asia, some manufacturers are returning to the U.S. Large American corporations such as Walmart are encouraging their suppliers to provide American-made apparel and textiles, she said.

“Today the revolution occurring in textile science is in the field of nanotechnology, which is used in some applications as a finish to allow clothing to be worn longer without washing,” she said. “At the same time, manufacturers are making textile production, dyeing and finishing processes more energy efficient, as well as investigating the use of sustainable fibers developed from products such as spider silk, recycled nylon, polyester fiber or industrial hemp on a limited scale.”

Recent high school graduates and undecided college majors can consider a future career in the textile industry by attending a university that either specializes in textiles or offers a merchandising and design program.

“Many universities no longer teach textile science despite opportunities in the industry,” Dr. Crippen said. “The MTD program at UAPB offers students the technical background necessary to break into the industry. Here, students have the opportunity to learn the fundamentals of textiles, apparel design and merchandising/retailing through a hands-on approach.”

In the textile product evaluation and design laboratories at UAPB, 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, using yarns and dyeing textiles. In the apparel design lab, students turn their ideas into products as they practice draping and flat pattern design with professional mannequins.

“Our students are not limited to majors of the MTD program,” Dr. Crippen said. “A chemistry major who aims to work in the textiles field is currently taking a basic textiles course. Another student majoring in computer science is considering taking both textile and apparel design courses in order to have a familiarity with both subjects.”

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Dr. Kaye Crippen, professor of the MTD program, demonstrates how to card wool using a bench card.

In an effort to boost local interest and participation in the industry, faculty members of the MTD program are extending the basic concepts of textile sciences and apparel design to youth in southeast Arkansas. They have conducted presentations at several community events on topics including fiber carding, wool spinning, garment draping, pattern making, fiber identification using a microscope and theatrical costume design.

UAPB textile demonstrations encourage participants to consider the complexity of the clothing they wear and all the components that go into the production of everyday apparel. Students are able to examine various fibers including cotton and wool, comparing their textures, colors and lengths. Additional outreach efforts by the MTD program have included assisting with costume design in local theatrical productions and participation at Little Rock Fashion Week.

Dr. Crippen said observing National Textiles Day will be especially meaningful this year as she celebrates her 50th anniversary working in the industry in various capacities.

“When I entered the industry women were not regularly hired in textile sciences careers, but thankfully this trend has changed,” she said. “I discovered the field of textiles in 1963 as a college freshman and fell in love with its mechanical and scientific aspects. As a teacher, I encourage students to first find something they really love and then to keep learning and building on it.”

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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