New professor goes digital to create clothes for ‘real people’

Chanmi Hwang, new assistant professor at AMDT, uses virtual avatars and other digital tools to train students to design for apparel for all ages and body types.

To teach her students to design for any body, Chanmi Hwang, newest faculty member to join AMDT, is breaking the mold with help from new technology.

“All consumers want clothing with style and fit,” said Hwang, who joins WSU as an assistant professor this fall. “It’s important that future professionals learn to design for varied markets, such as plus sizes, seniors with body changes, children, and people with disabilities.”

Hwang, who worked as an apparel production manager in Los Angeles and interned at several New York fashion companies, including Polo Ralph Lauren, before turning to academics, challenges her students to solve problems through emerging and socially responsible technologies, such as 3-D body scans and 3-D virtual avatars.

“3-D avatars let students creatively explore and customize body shapes, sizes and movement that reflect their target consumers—instead of just focusing on slim, hourglass figures,” said Hwang.

Coming to WSU, one of her goals is to help students realize the importance of consumers as active participants in design.

“Customers’ needs and wants are what drive apparel design and product development,” she said.

In Hwang’s research, sustainability and technology overlap. She is developing smart, solar-controlled clothing, mentoring students in creating solar-powered bookbags that can charge phones or tablets. Her students “upcycled” broken umbrellas to make new garments.

In 2017, AMDT will buy a digital textile printer—an ink-jet machine that prints colors and patterns onto fabric—and Hwang is excited by the possibilities. Students will benefit from creating textiles and prints from their own computer-created designs.

“Demonstrating skills in technology is important for tomorrow’s job market,” she said. “Digital printers give students more flexible, creative ways to design and solve problems.”