The Art of Apparel Making

The Art of Apparel Making

I had the privilege to partner with the University of Oregon and deliver a Materials presentation to industry professionals brands such as Nike, Columbia Sportswear, Vans, and Intel.  The workshop entitled “The Art of Sports Apparel Making,” was organized by the University of Oregon Sports Product Management program.  John Notar and Elizabeth LeMay put together a wonderful 2-day agenda, covering the entire apparel product process,  with expert guest speakers discussing topics such as Materials, Sustainability, Product Design, Innovation, Fit, and Quality.  The workshop concluded in the White Stag Innovation Lab with hands-on T-shirt making.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to mentor young professionals with their education and to advance their product knowledge. I helped the audience gain a better overall understanding of materials, and then I shared a look into the future of materials.

My Passion

The image pictured here is a photograph of my Great-Grandmother Flora’s quilt. She would find bits of silk and wool and sew them together, using old flour sacks as the backing. At 9-years-old, my grandmother taught me how to sew on her treadle sewing machine. The machine didn’t use electricity. Instead, you would have to pump the pedal with your foot in order to power the needle and thread! This experience would ignite my passion for textiles, eventually leading to a long career at Nike in innovation, materials and sustainability.

Role of Materials

Materials are a mix of art and science!

There are many aspects that need to be considered when creating new materials.  The goal of the materials function is to deliver materials for the business that are informed by the consumer, solve a problem, hit a specific price point, and meet performance standards.

Materials span across the entire creation process and leads the apparel innovation conversation. Not only do materials make up 65% of the FOB (or cost) of a garment, but also take up 40-50% of the overall lead-time to get something made. In addition, 60% of the environmental impact is solely based on the choice of the material that’s selected.

Materials Toolkit

Key fundamental processes and tools were covered as follows –

  • Materials Strategy – Combines the needs of the consumer with the brand’s business plan.
  • Source Plan – The nuts and bolts of the materials strategy – the how, where and who in getting materials manufactured.
  • Materials Studio – A creative space to get inspired, do research, and to showcase the mills.
  • Palettes & Trends – Core tools to drive consistency and better pricing, while capturing trends, special effects and finishes.
  • Engineering – Drives margin value for the brand and to hit a target price for the finished product since 65% of the overall product cost is attributed to materials and trims.
  • Testing – Validates new ideas and minimize risk to protect the interests of both the consumers and manufacturers.
  • Sustainability – 60% of the environmental impact comes from the materials that are selected. The Higg Index offers a suite of tools to empower brands, retailers and mills to measure and scale improvement on their sustainability journey.

A Future Look

I concluded by sharing some thoughts about the future of what materials offer –

  • Improving the health and well-being of people
  • Making products from new material resources
  • Evolving roles of the designer, consumer and manufacturer

Favorite Quote

A favorite quote of mine comes from Former US Senator Robert Kennedy. Kennedy captures the essence of working with materials as he said “only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.”