Cornell becomes first in nation to offer Ph.D. in apparel design

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Joe Schwartz

Cornell University is offering the first and only Ph.D. program in apparel design in the United States. The program is intended to address the needs of academia, industry and research.

Suzanne Loker, the J. Thomas Clark Professor of Textiles and Apparel in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell, noted that although 24 U.S. colleges or universities offer courses in apparel design that contribute to interdisciplinary degrees, Cornell is the first to offer a focused doctoral-level apparel design degree. "Apparel design is an applied science that embraces design, technology, physical sciences, the humanities and social sciences to meet basic human needs for clothing," she said.

Among the innovative products that graduate students could work on are "smart jackets," which monitor body temperature and heart rate and cool or warm the body as needed, and specialized protective apparel for the military. Students can also study fashion theory, the cultural and social meanings of dress or use clothing to address such societal issues as obesity, environmental sustainability and fair labor practices. Graduates are expected to work in the industry, in research and development facilities or teach at the university level.

Adriana Petrova, who earned a master's degree in apparel design at Cornell in 2003, is the first, and currently the only, student to enter the doctoral program. Her research focuses on incorporating advances in 3-D body scan technology to examine the description of fit for different body shapes and sizes for lower body garments. Petrova, a native of Bulgaria, was a visiting graduate student at Cornell for more than a year waiting for the doctoral program to open this past December.

"It's a dream come true for me," said Petrova. "Apparel design is a very strong program here because it has professors who do research in very different areas in apparel, from functional design and sizing to cultural aspects of clothing and fiber science. The great thing here is that it is also affiliated with textiles, unlike other programs. It's all here in this department."

Although the manufacturing of textiles and apparel is largely outsourced, trained textile and apparel professionals are critically needed to meet changing needs.

"Environmental concerns, globalization, workplace issues and homeland security are likely to increase the demand for highly qualified apparel design researchers able to engineer the sophisticated apparel design needed in today's world," said Loker. "New materials, technologies and market conditions require a generation of designers capable of conducting research and development for these new circumstances."

The opening of the doctoral program also comes in the nick of time to meet the needs of higher education, said Ann Lemley, chair of the Department of Textiles and Apparel. She noted that about one-third of faculty members in apparel design are 55 or older. "There have been 10 to 12 apparel design positions advertised each year in the last 10 years. The current lack of focused apparel design Ph.D. programs certainly makes it difficult to find qualified candidates for the vacancies that occur."

Apparel design at Cornell has a multidisciplinary nature because of the breadth of fields offered. Minor fields in apparel design not only include design and environmental analysis and engineering but also art history, communication, anthropology, history, feminist, gender and sexuality studies, and industrial and labor relations.

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