September 8, 2011
Mapping the jean-ome: Apparel and textile design students study cotton from 'field to fabric' in preparation for year-end fashion show
Joycelyn Burdett's apparel and textile design students already know the touch and feel of cotton, but she wanted them to understand more about the fabric of our lives. Burdett, an assistant professor of apparel, textiles and interior design at Kansas State University, is leading two of her classes on a semester-long cotton and denim exploration that will culminate with a fashion show contest Dec. 1.
It all started when Burdett received a grant from Cotton Incorporated to help her students learn more about cotton and the origin of the fabrics they use for their designs.
"I designed this entire three-unit special topics class around teaching students more about cotton," Burdett said. "A lot of students only know the kind of cotton fabrics they can buy at fabric store chains, but that's not the highest quality or the widest variety of cotton fabrications. There are so many more beautiful cottons available for their use and their designs."
Burdett got in touch with regional cotton growers and from there the project snowballed. Aside from Cotton Incorporated, the Kansas Cotton Association, Lubbock, Texas-based Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, and Merriam, Kan.-based Lee Jeans have all jumped on board to make the project bigger than Burdett could have ever imagined.
The Kansas Cotton Association is paying for Burdett's special topics class and her pattern-making class -- about 25 students -- to go to the American Cotton Growers' mill in Littlefield, Texas, where more than 40 kinds of denim are manufactured. The mill is part of the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association. The students will be able to see the cotton being spun into yarn, indigo dyed and woven into denim cloth. By the end of the project, students will have constructed their own pair of jeans, using denim made from regional cottons.
"The students will get to see the entire process of cotton production from the field all the way to making the jeans," Burdett said. "When we go to Texas in November, we'll not go on a tour of the mill but also see work in the textile finishing laboratory, where all of the distressing and everything that goes into making today's designer denims takes place."
The special topics class -- 16 students -- will be taking an all-expenses-paid trip to Cary, N.C., in October to visit Cotton Incorporated and a Lee Jeans' denim-sewing facility.
"The students will hear about various aspects of research and marketing related to cotton," said Jenna Oschwald, manager of global supply chain marketing at Cotton Incorporated in Cary, N.C. "They will have the opportunity to tour our world headquarters, which includes a fiber-processing lab, a dyeing and finishing lab, a digital printing lab, an analytical lab and a product development lab."
Students will also get a glimpse at the ways Cotton Incorporated is continually improving its product, including moisture management technology, cotton sustainability and innovations in fabric development, dyeing and finishing.
"Cotton Incorporated does the latest research to improve the sustainability of the various processes, from the farming aspect all the way to the dyeing of the fabric," Burdett said. "A big part of this project is looking at the research and new developments that are happening in high-performance cottons."
The students aren't the only ones traveling. The semester will also feature guest lectures by representatives from the affiliated companies, who will visit K-State to work with the classes. They include:
- Dick Cooper, Plains Cotton Cooperative Association director of business development for Kansas and northern Oklahoma, and Gary Feist, manager of the Southern Kansas Cotton Growers gin in Anthony, Kan., will speak to the students Tuesday, Sept. 13.
- *Representatives from Lee Jeans will come to K-State to officially launch the company's Lee Jeans 125 Denim Challenge, which will honor 125 years of Lee Jeans' heritage, Thursday, Sept 15.
- *A Plains Cotton Cooperative Association denim salesperson with consult with the students Tuesday, Sept. 27, and Wednesday, Sept. 28, to make recommendations on denim fabric choices for their designs.
The Dec. 1 fashion show competition in the K-State Student Union will have three components: The original Cotton Incorporated-sponsored challenge; a denim runway challenge, sponsored by the Kansas Cotton Association and the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association where designers will use fabric provided to them by the American Cotton Growers; and a Lee Jeans' design challenge. Winners will receive cash prizes of up to $800.
"Apparel design students need to have a thorough understanding of the materials that they use when developing their product, which is clothing," Burdett said. "The characteristics of the fibers, yarn and structure all determine a good product or a poor product."