Students design scarves sold in book store

Iowa State University students design, produce, and sell their own product for academic credit as part of an independent study course in apparel, merchandising, and design.

The Iowa State University Book Store is selling scarves created by students in the digital apparel technology studio in a course overseen by Christina Denekas, a lecturer in apparel, events, and hospitality management. As part of the class, students develop a business model based on the scarves.

“It’s amazing that as a student, I’ve had the opportunity to design something that is being sold commercially and has my name on it,” said Abigail Jones, one of three students who worked on the scarf project this semester

“I’m learning how to do costing, printing/fabric designing, working with vendors, starting a business and production,” Jones said. “It’s a huge amount of knowledge I hope to apply to my future career — and a great portfolio piece as well.”

Efforts to infuse entrepreneurial studies into curriculum and develop entrepreneurial spirit in students are highly valued in the College of Human Sciences. Entrepreneurship is one of the college’s five key initiatives.

Abigail Jones scarvesThe first scarf design was inspired by the Iowa State University Campanile; the second one was inspired by organic chemistry and nature. Both scarves are on display in a glass case at the book store and cost $52 each.

All proceeds from the silk crepe georgette scarves are used in the Digital Apparel Textile Studio to purchase supplies, furthering students learning and application of the lab’s equipment in an industry simulated setting.

“There are opportunities for students to learn about product development from the start and see it all the way through to when it hits the consumers’ hands,” Denekas said. “These are life skills that I feel would be extremely beneficial to their knowledge base.”

Denekas said her goal is to have as many students as possible take advantage of the Digital Apparel Technology studio, noting that the studio provides Iowa State students with a  great advantage over those at other schools.

A scarf series is born

In the fall of 2013, faculty in the apparel, merchandising, and design program were asked to set up a display focusing on the technology at Iowa State for the Order of the Knoll reception. Denekas worked with lecturer Sarah Bennett and one other faculty member and along with two students to organize the display.

To demonstrate the digital apparel technology studio’s capabilities, Bennett designed a scarf on the digital textile printer. Her scarf design — inspired by the Campanile on campus — became the first of a series of student produced scarves featured in the bookstore.

“One student, Kelsie Witt, works in the ISU Memorial Union Bookstore boutique and set up a meeting with the buying team to show Bennett’s scarf design,” Denekas said. “The team loved it and decided to begin selling the Series 1 Digital Apparel Technology studio scarf to the book store that spring.”

The following spring, Denekas worked with five students to print, steam, sew, and market the Series 1 scarves. Now, three semesters later, two different scarf designs are being sold in the bookstore.

How the scarves are created

Iowa State’s Digital Apparel Textile Studio in LeBaron Hall houses the digital textile printer, a laser cutter, an embroidery machine, and a body scanner. This technology enables student to create their own fabric designs and bring their work to life.

“This equipment is used in the industry at fabric printing companies so it’s quite an honor that we have them on campus,” Denekas said. “Giving students the opportunity to teach them firsthand how to work with equipment is invaluable.”

Students begin the creative process by designing the textile print pattern in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Jones said she drew inspiration from organic chemistry and nature for her design.

“I really wanted to create a design that was geometric and had a lot of interest, so I played with different shapes and patterns as well as layouts,” she said.

kelsie witt scarvesAfter the designs are finalized, students use image processing software to create the scarves with the digital textile printer. Denekas said the printer runs just like a home desktop printer, dropping ink directly on the fabric. The ink is specifically developed for the cotton and silk fabrics. After printing, the fabric is steamed to set the ink permanently, washed, and then cut and sewn.

Denekas worked with Witt, a senior in apparel, merchandising, and design, to price the scarves accurately by calculating the cost of each material, machine, and process. Witt worked at the Iowa State Book Store as an assistant gift buyer and was involved in purchasing the scarves.

“I was able to purchase them (the scarves) and tag them and get them ready to sell on the floor,” Witt said. “The most difficult part of this project was the initial pricing of the scarf. We had to make sure everything was correct so that we were getting the correct amount of money out of it.”

Future of scarf production

The scarf production is just taking off. The three students involved in the project this semester are looking for more students to help next semester.

“Our intent is that each semester, a group of students will work together to develop a new scarf print, pricing, and labels and then market their idea to the book store and potentially other avenues,” Denekas said.

The department would like to expand this program to products beyond scarves. They also showed interest in designing a storefront. Individuals in the fashion industry have also asked about having their designs printed on fabric using the technology at Iowa State.

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Christina Denekas, lecturer, Department of Apparel, Events, and Hospitality Management, Iowa State University, cdenekas@iastate.edu

Abigail Jones, senior, apparel, merchandising, and design, Iowa State University, acjones@iastate.edu

Kelsie Witt, senior, apparel, merchandising, and design, Iowa State University, kdwitt@iastate.edu

Natalie Williams, writer and web assistant, College of Human Sciences Communications, Iowa State University, hswbhelp@iastate.edu