One of the most-discussed issues facing the cotton industry in recent years is the need to strengthen relationships throughout the supply chain, from grower to retailer, and one example of that process occurred recently in the cotton fields of North Carolina.
The Textile Development and Marketing department at the Fashion Institute of Technology conducts a capstone course for its graduating seniors, entitled Textile Project Development. The course entails creating a line of denim from inception through retail. In the spring semester, the Bachelor-level students begin the semester-long denim project by combining all of the skills they’d learned throughout their major studies, such as fabric construction, dyeing, finishing and quality assurance, and the ability to create an edgy, innovative, contemporary brand.
The Textile Project Development course is sponsored by the Importer Support Program, which is managed by Cotton Incorporated. I and my classmates are fortunate to be able to take the course, because the experience we gain goes beyond the classroom. Four groups are formed – two menswear and two womenswear brands – and the students in each group set up multiple appointments throughout the semester with important industry participants, including denim creator Olah Inc., to discuss cost, weight, dyeing, rinse, and finish.
We met with a pattern maker, a labeling graphics company, Levi’s, Nexgen Packaging, and Google Inc., and also scheduled trim appointments to choose hardware and zippers with YKK to make the perfect pair of jeans to define our brand. Not only do we work with industry professionals regarding yarn, fabric, and garment detail, we are also given the opportunity to travel to North Carolina and experience the efforts of cotton farmers and see a fully powered cotton gin firsthand.
Just a few weeks ago, the class of 2013 flew to Raleigh, North Carolina, and learned the stages of cotton growth and its first processing phase before yarn development. One of the primary focuses of this trip was to gain a look into the world of cotton in its raw phase. Traveling from one farm to the next, the guide from Cotton Incorporated imparted fascinating information on how cotton matures from a square to a cotton boll. On our last stop, we toured the cotton gin and discovered different ways that all parts of the cotton boll – even the seed – can be sustainable.
The two-day journey not only provided the class of 35 students with a better understanding of current cotton farming practices, it also allowed us to form friendships that will continue to grow in the coming semester. The denim project is a lot of fun, but it requires intimate knowledge of how a garment is produced and whether it meets its creative look and performance standards. In the end, it’s all about the fabric, the color, the hand, and the quality.
Students who begin this challenging project must understand how to balance communication, make executive decisions, and express their creativity. The opportunity provided by Cotton Incorporated gives the institute’s seniors another perspective for the Textile Project Development course. I will be graduating this December and completed my denim project in the spring of 2012, months before the trip to the farm. That journey, however, helped me realize how amazing the class of 2013 is, and I know their ambitions and achievements will reach the highest levels, thanks in no small part to Cotton Incorporated and the opportunity they gave us to expand our understanding of cotton.