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Cornell research boosts New York apparel industry: Tip sheet on research and outreach conducted by the apparel faculty at Cornell

The New York state apparel manufacturing industry ships $3.9 billion worth of apparel goods each year and employs more than 87,000 workers in some 4,400 firms, many of them small. About 90 percent of these firms are located in the New York City metropolitan area. Although the industry as a whole is strong, some production firms are vulnerable in today's global economy.

To advance the competitive position of the industry, Cornell University's Department of Textiles and Apparel conducts research and provides educational and technical assistance in a wide array of areas. These efforts include:

Apparel Industry Outreach

Suzanne Loker, Cornell professor of textiles and apparel, leads this outreach program for the New York state apparel and sewn-products firms. The program uses its web site and its biannual newsletter, "Topstitch," to promote communication and alliances among the firms and with Cornell. A directory of the state's apparel and sewn-products manufacturers is being developed in collaboration with the Garment Industry Development Corp.

Program staff also develop educational materials and deliver programs for the apparel and sewn-products industries. Industry and the university also collaborate to conduct research and put the results into practice.

Faculty Expertise

Textiles and apparel faculty expertise and research facilities can be accessed through consultations, workshops and cooperative projects that address issues important to the competitiveness of apparel manufacturing in the state.

Computer-Aided Design

The computer-aided design labs at Cornell provide 25 computers with seven types of software important to the apparel industry. Input and output devices include large-scale digitizers, scanners, color printers and a 72-inch-wide plotter. State-of-the-art textile testing equipment and laboratories are used for textile research and teaching projects. These tools and facilities support teaching, research and outreach initiatives of 11 textiles and apparel faculty, many that target for the apparel industry's needs.

The Cornell Costume Collection

The Cornell Costume Collection includes 7,000 items, including ethnographic costumes collected in the 1920s and '30s and everyday and special-occasion clothing dating back to the 18th century. The collection also has a large assortment of textiles, including some from early America, the Renaissance and the 6th century Coptic period, says curator Charlotte Jirousek.

Technology Innovations in the Apparel Industry

In a new project, Loker will study apparel firms that use advanced production and information technologies to increase their competitiveness. Interviews, observations and surveys identify what kinds of organizational and management strategies are necessary for employees to accept and use new technologies effectively.

New technologies that transmit visual information are an important tool for widely separated apparel firms. Using the Internet and computer technology, textile and apparel design students from three colleges -- Cornell, State University College at Buffalo and the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science -- completed three projects that simulated how apparel will be designed in the near future with industry partners Melton Shirt company, JC Penney and Liz Claiborne.

Mass Customization

Mass customization, a design, production and distribution philosophy that has the potential to meet individual consumer needs at reasonable prices, can give small firms an edge over offshore apparel producters. Several initiatives at Cornell help firms adjust to new production models of this type.

Computer Tutorial

To help managers rethink the way their firms do business, Loker is developing a computer tutorial to introduce the principles of mass customization in their own factories on their own time schedules. In addition, Susan Ashdown, Cornell professor of textiles and apparel, spent six months touring apparel companies in the Southeast to become familiar with their mass-customization strategies.

Apparel Sizing

Almost two-thirds of women say they cannot get a good fit in their clothing. Thanks to work by Ashdown and colleagues, older women could soon have their own clothing department. The fit will be tailored to the maturing woman's body. The researchers have analyzed data from fit tests of more than 200 women, and results are being submitted to a manufacturer to form the basis for a new line of clothing. In addition, Ashdown continues to build on work that uses a statistical model for a new sizing method that can be applied to any population and type of garment.


New production models, such as those used in mass customization, require new training initiatives for production workers. Anita Racine, Cornell senior lecturer of textiles and apparel, has identified the essential components needed for training industry personnel and transferring technology. She is applying what she has learned about a teaching factory model, a recent innovation used to train personnel and transfer technology to U.S. industries.

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