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Students team up with Nike to study running apparel

When Nike Inc. wanted to validate the fit of running shorts and a shirt, the company turned to Cornell's Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design.

Professor Susan Ashdown and a class of 10 apparel design students set up a study that used the College of Human Ecology's 3-D body scanner to assess the fit and wear of the garments for a wide range of body types.

"You can't get 72 people in a room and compare their bodies very easily," Ashdown explained. "But you take a 3-D body scan of them, and you can compare the fit and aesthetics for each of them."

The students in Ashdown's Anthropometrics and Apparel class also collected data for Nike on the study participants' assessments of the apparel for fit, comfort and appearance. In addition, 10 women took the shorts and shirt home for a weeklong road test and then rated the clothing again for fit and function on their runs.

"You know how you find this great garment, and you absolutely love it. Then you wear it once and all of sudden it's not so great anymore because you discover something about the garment that relates to your body that you don't quite like?" Ashdown said. "That's what we want to learn to avoid with this technology."

Cornell purchased its first body scanner in 2000 with a donation from Rebecca Q. Morgan '60 and, with further funding from Morgan, upgraded to a larger scanner in 2006. The college has also purchased a portable scanner that allows researchers to study consumers in retail stores or protective clothing in workplaces.

"By using the information collected from the study, we can improve the fit of not only these garments, but all of our tops and bottoms," said Janet Moss, the global director of women's commercialization at Nike. "It allows us to better ensure that fit is our competitive advantage."

Noted Ashdown: "This was an amazing learning opportunity for the students. They had to do everything from getting approval for a study with human participants from the Institutional Review Board, to recruiting subjects, and then collecting and analyzing data." The results of the study are proprietary and will contribute to future generations of Nike apparel.

"Reading the texts about fit is informative as to the different approaches researchers use to try and find answers, but adding the component of the hands-on activity revealed on a more personal level the difficulties and challenges when tackling these kinds of issues," said graduate student Beth Davis, one of the study leaders.

"There's no end to the research we can do with this technology," said Ashdown. "You're trying to fit everyone in a system that has a limited number of sizes. Body scan data allows the industry to create patterns that fit across a large range of body types."

Nike did not pay Cornell to conduct the study, nor did Cornell assess fees to Nike for using the scanner, Ashdown said.

Sheri Hall is assistant director of communications at the College of Human Ecology.

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