Design classes explore cotton, prepare for fashion show


Cotton has been called “the fabric of our lives” and students in two apparel and textile design classes this fall will get to experience it firsthand.

Joycelyn Burdett, assistant professor of apparel, textiles and interior design, is leading her special topics and flat pattern making classes on a semester-long investigation of the cotton industry. They will follow it from the field to final products, capping off their semester with a fashion show on Dec. 1.

“Students don’t have a familiarity with a wide variety of fabrics,”Burdett said. “We have limited fabric resources here and I wanted the opportunity to show them what is available.”

The process started with a little bit of research, Burdett said.

“As part of my preparation, I discovered that we grow cotton in Kansas,” Burdett said. “I talked to the (Southern Kansas Cotton Growers) gin manager, Gary Feist and from there other companies came on board.”

Burdett worked with Cotton Incorporated, the Kansas Cotton Association, the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association out of Lubbock, Texas and Lee Jeans out of Merriam, Kan. to create the curriculum. The project is financed through an initial Cotton Incorporated grant and additional grants from the other companies.

“The project is called ‘Cotton: The Fabric of Our Future, Today.’ It is an education grant,” Burdett said. “The objective is to teach future fashion designers about cotton.”

To help accomplish that objective, Burdett has multiple cross country field trips planned for the semester. Among the places they will be traveling are Anthony, Kan. and Littlefield, Texas. The trips to the American Cotton Growers mill in Littlefield and to the gin in Anthony are entirely sponsored by the Kansas Cotton Association.

Approximately 25 students from both classes, all of whom are juniors and seniors, will be going on the trips.

“We’ll see cotton harvested and ginned in Anthony and made into yarn, dyed and woven into denim in Littlefield,”Burdett said. “The students will also be able to use the textile finishing labs in Littlefield to apply designer distressing to their original jeans. This is a very exciting opportunity.”

In addition, the 16 students in the special topics class will be taking a trip to Cary, N.C. in October. They will be touring the Cotton Incorporated headquarters and Lee Jean’s sewing facilities.

“We will get to see some of the research and methods of mass manufacturing in Cary,” Burdett said.

“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 a Sept. 7 press release. “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 in the special topics class agree that it is an experience that will benefit them now as well as in their future career choices.

“It’s beneficial because we are learning the stages,” said Taryn Beck, senior in apparel and textile marketing. “We are learning it firsthand — we can touch it. It’s not just in a book.”

Her classmate Amber Vossen, senior in apparel and textile marketing, agrees.

“You can see how it’s all connected, from the growing of the cotton to the final product,” Vossen said.

In addition to traveling the nation, several companies will visit the class. Representatives from Lee Jeans launched the company’s Lee Jeans 125 Denim Challenge yesterday with the class. The challenge is designed to honor their 125 year history. The Plains Cotton Cooperative Association will also be visiting the class in late September to guide students’ denim choices for their designs. They will be providing the denim fabric for the challenge.

“Having these corporations sponsoring us and providing us with such great fabrics is really wonderful,” Burdettsaid. “The students are going to draw their design concepts, make the muslins, use body forms and fit their models. They will see it from start to finish.”

The public will be able to see the finished products at the fashion show competition on Dec. 1 in the K-State Student Union. Students will compete in three different areas: the Cotton Incorporated-sponsored challenge, a denim runway challenge sponsored by the Kansas Cotton Association and the Plains Cotton Cooperative Association and the Lee Jeans design challenge. Winners can receive cash prizes up to $800.

Beck is particularly enthusiastic about the fashion show competition.

“Not very many people know the hard work that goes into something like this. As a department, we aren’t in the spotlight very much. This is a chance for that,” Beck said. “People think it’s all just about marketing, but it’s really not. Now we can show people what we do.”

Overall, it is an experience the students are excited for, Burdettsaid.

“I am pleased that the students are excited,” Burdett said. “They are excited to have the opportunity to visit these places and learn more about the industry, and they are very excited about the fashion show.”

Although the semester isn’t even half over, senior in apparel textile marketing Jessie Dowell is hopeful for the future of the program.

“It’s exciting to be part of the pilot program, especially if it goes well,” Dowell said. “Maybe if it does go well, we’ll be able to grow it in the future.”