By Seth Truscott, WSU CAHNRS
WSU First Lady Noel Schulz, 11 AMDT students and more than 1,000 WSU women worked together to create new spirit attire that helps professional women show their school pride.
Last fall, teams of juniors in AMDT’s computer-aided, data-driven design course competed to develop professional clothing with collegiate flair for women over 30, including plus sizes.
Students surveyed more than a thousand women, including WSU regents, alumni and faculty, culminating in winning designs that will now be made and sold at the WSU Bookie starting this fall.
A need for options
The competition began with an idea from WSU First Lady Noel Schulz. Newly arrived from Kansas State, Schulz, an engineering professor, needed to swap her purple Kansas wardrobe for crimson and gray.
Schulz quickly found, however, that when it came to attire that shows school pride as well as style, women’s choices were lacking.
“Women want to wear our school spirit to work,” Schulz said. “I’ve worked at multiple universities, and it’s an area that’s been missed, particularly for women who are plus size.”
“There are few professional clothing options for women over 30 to wear, outside of tailgating and game day attire,” said Debbie Christel, the AMDT assistant professor who led the class.
Schulz approached AMDT with the idea of challenging students to come up with spirit wear designs that appeal to professional women over 30. Department Chair Joan Ellis and Christel loved the idea.
Students researched their target markets, collected data, sourced their fabric, and managed a budget, designing clothing for sizes from small to triple-extra-large, and for women ages 30 to 70.
Thousands take part
After students called for data through an online survey, more than a thousand women came forward in just 10 days, sharing their perspectives on women’s collegiate attire.
“To have more than a thousand WSU women complete the survey shows the high level of interest,” said Schulz. “People really embraced it.”
Working with live models, the students crafted final designs that were presented in December 2016.
Juniors Leah Schwallie, Jenny Chan and Kaisha Bauer won first place for a Chanel-inspired jacket designed for professional WSU women in their 50s.
A very close runner up was the team of MaryAnne Gebhart and Kristina Mercado, for a pullover red sweater/tunic designed for the 50s demographic. This design is being manufactured, as is a beaded blouse designed by students Jessie Roselyn and Connor Lazares for women in their 40s.
A unique accomplishment
For members of the first-place team, their biggest discoveries came through learning the process of data-driven design.
“The data showed us how we can help women feel comfortable, no matter what,” said Schwallie, a merchandising major.
“The interesting part was seeing the types of clothing that women were looking for,” said Bauer, a dual design and merchandising major. “They had so many ideas we’d never thought of. It broadened our perspective.”
The winning trio took multiple measurements, made two different prototypes, and went through changes of design to create a blazer that was elegant but affordable, said Chan.
“If you’re wearing Cougar colors, we want you to feel proud,” Bauer said.
“Every woman should be proud of herself,” added Schwallie.
Christel said the competition challenged her students to do jobs that would typically occupy larger industry teams. Soon, three of the teams will see a variation of their designs on sale at the WSU bookstore.
“They’re real designers now,” Christel said. “Most people have to work for years before that happens.”
“It’s always great when our students can address a real-world problem,” said Schulz. “This wasn’t a pretend, classroom activity. They got to make real products, meet the people involved and see the results firsthand.”
“As an international student, it feels amazing that I was able to do this,” said Chan. “I’m still in school, yet I’ve already accomplished something in my career.”