By UAPB News
Five students majoring in merchandising, textiles and design (MTD) at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) recently had the chance to travel to North Carolina to learn about textile production up close. Over the course of two days, they were able to complement knowledge gained in the classroom with tours of state-of-the-art textile labs and hands-on demonstrations.
The educational program was sponsored by Gap Inc. and Harlem’s Fashion Row as part of the Gap Inc. and ICON360 “Closing the Gap” project. Student participants included sophomore Kerrah Charles, juniors Havilland Ford and Lenae Warren, and seniors Jaia James and Noah Thomas. They were accompanied by UAPB MTD Program faculty members including Dr. Doze Y. Butler, professor, Dr. Jane Opiri, assistant professor, and Yunru Shen, instructor.
In Cary, North Carolina, the group visited the laboratories at Cotton Incorporated, a non-profit research and marketing company representing U.S. cotton producers. One exhibit showed how cotton is converted into yarn and then into fabric.
“The visit to Cotton Incorporated was special because it showcased the entire production cycle from harvesting to analysis,” Ford said. “There are so many machines and regulations for producing cotton. While their facility showcased the smallest scale of what the standard industry has, it gave me a basis on what’s needed to operate a textile mill.”
Kristie Rhodes, manager of product development for Cotton Incorporated, said she enjoyed meeting and interacting with the UAPB cohort.
“I would have to say that these students and professors were some of our most engaged visitors we have had on tours,” she said. “They were always interested and eager to ask questions, which we really appreciate.”
During a visit to the Wilson College of Textiles at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, North Carolina, UAPB students visited a number of the institution’s textile and apparel labs.
James said the visit to NCSU was her favorite part of the trip.
“It was very exciting to see all the advanced technology and equipment that they have,” she said. “I was impressed to learn the university has a biomedical textiles specialization, which appeals to me since I have a love for both science and fashion.”
Warren said what she learned at NCSU and Cotton Inc. opened her eyes to the importance of the textile industry.
“The textile lab tours broadened my knowledge of fashion as a whole,” she said. “Textiles are a necessity. Everything is affected by this one area of fashion in one way or another. This is the foundation of fashion – because without textiles, you wouldn’t have anything else.”
One of the highlights of the North Carolina tour was the “TC2” body scanner. Students and faculty were able to test out this cutting-edge 3D body scanning technology, which helps consumers gain precise measurements for their clothing purchases.
At the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, the students visited an exhibit titled “Afrofuturism in Costume Design.” The exhibit featured the works of Ruth E. Carter, an African American costume designer for film and television. Carter, who has collaborated with directors such as Spike Lee, John Singleton and Ryan Coogler, won Oscars in costume design for the films “Black Panther” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Warren said it was fascinating to see several of Carter’s costume designs firsthand.
“Some of my biggest takeaways were seeing a glimpse inside Ruth Carter’s amazing mind and purchasing a signed copy of her first book chronicling her costume design journey,” Ford said.
Visiting Raleigh, North Carolina widened Ford’s perspective of positions available in the industry.
“I would’ve never thought of North Carolina as a hub for fashion production,” she said.
“However, through this trip, I learned that Raleigh used to be a dominant producer of cotton for denim and a huge contributor to the denim industry in general.”
As a result of the educational trip, Ford said she now plans to enroll at the NCSU Wilson College of Textiles to pursue a master’s degree in textiles. She thinks Raleigh will be a good city to get her foot in the door in the textile industry.
“I think it would be ideal to work for Cotton Inc. while pursuing my degree,” she said. “I aspire to be a textile sourcer, fabric developer, and/or a print designer. Ultimately, I want to own and operate a textile mill, from seed to bolt. I want to grow the fibers, spin the yarn, weave and dye fabric, and sell it to numerous brands on various levels of the fashion industry. A few avenues I would like to supply to are, first and foremost, Black establishments, creatives and companies, then airlines, furniture stores, ballet companies, etc.”
When Ford transferred to UAPB, she changed her major from fashion design to MTD.
“I previously majored in fashion design because I couldn’t imagine myself studying anything else in college,” she said. “I’m invigorated by fashion – the combination of texture and color energizes me. When I decided to transfer, MTD was the only major offered at UAPB related to what I’d previously learned and to where I wanted to go in my career. MTD seemed like an overview of the essential parts of the fashion industry: business (merchandising), fibers (textiles), and lastly, function plus appeal (design).”
Warren said she has been interested in fashion for as long as she can remember.
“I’m creative and have a story to tell. I’m very expressive with my clothes and just want to be a contribution to the industry,” she said. “Upon graduating from UAPB with a bachelor’s degree in merchandising, textiles and design, I plan to land a job within the buying portion of the industry. With a few years under my belt and after gaining a master’s degree within the same field, I plan on working my way up into becoming a fashion creative director, while also starting and launching my own brand.”
James said she chose to major in MTD because she has an eye for fashion, texture and color.
“I feel that fashion is a language that not everyone can be gifted to understand,” she said. “In the future, I aspire to own my own fashion companies and become a notable creative director for a brand.”
UAPB’s Merchandising, Textiles and Design Program is offered through the UAPB Department of Human Sciences. The program teaches students the fundamentals of textiles, apparel design and merchandising/retailing. It also provides fashion internship and show/exhibit opportunities to allow students to gain real-world experience in fashion during their time at college. For more information, contact Dr. Opiri at firstname.lastname@example.org, Dr. Butler at email@example.com or Shen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.