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College of Health and Human Sciences

Students' sari designs to be constructed in Indian women's cooperatives

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It all started with a sari.

A sari is a long piece of cotton or silk that can be draped over the body in a number of ways. Women in Southeastern Asian countries such as Bangladesh and India typically wear the garment.

As part of a collaboration with AWAZ Voice for Empowerment, a Portland, Ore.-based fair trade organization, students in Advanced Pattern Development II designed clothes and other items from a sari. The top designs will be constructed by Indian women's cooperatives employed by AWAZ Voice for Empowerment and eventually sold through AWAZ's online store. The cooperatives are important because they provide steady employment, humane working conditions and a social net to empower India's poor.

Student Designers

Student designers included Kelsey Hendricks, Blair Umholtz and Sara Garcia, seniors in apparel and textiles.

"The project allowed the students to explore a fair trade company with goals of preserving a culture while aiding women and their families," said Sherry Haar, associate professor of apparel and textiles.

The idea stemmed from a K-State faculty orientation trip to India in 2010. The trip's purpose was to create relationships with India for Southeast Asia studies. A potential partnership with an Indian cooperative was appealing to Haar. After several discussions with Sarah Mitts, AWAZ Voice for Empowerment's founder and a 2007 K-State bachelor's graduate in management, the sari redesign project was born.

Haar said the students' response was positive from the beginning.

"This project got the class excited," she said. "Students were excited to design for a real company and with the opportunity to have their designs produced."

Mitts wanted basic designs for the project.

A-line skirt

Lindsey Bennett, senior inmusic education, models the first reproduced design: an A-line skirt.

"Sarah requested simple designs with an Indian aesthetic, since the women don't have access to advanced machinery," Haar said.

Five groups of three students each produced 20 different designs for Mitts to review. The items ranged from a swimsuit cover-up to a lotus flower drawstring backpack.

"The main goal was for the designs to have an Indian-American aesthetic," Haar said. "They had to be easy to make and appropriate for the AWAZ product line and target market."

Students were required to assemble a kit to complete the project. The kit included a completed sample, an image of the sample, assembly instructions, a specification sheet with yardage and other supplies, illustrated documentation with measurements, available equipment and design elements.

Haar said students contributed strong work to the project, which she called a beneficial one.

"It's important for our students to have a range of opportunities," she said.

Mitts selected 10 designs, which included designs from each team. An A-line skirt with drawstring was selected as the first item to be produced. The skirt was designed by Margaret Campbell, senior in apparel and textiles; Allison Priddy, senior in apparel and textiles; and Rebecca Rogers, senior in apparel and textiles.

"Sarah sells the products at craft fairs and open market types of situations in addition to selling through her online store," said Erin Monfort-Nelson, master's student in apparel and textiles and project facilitator. "Our aim was to help increase her garment options."

Monfort-Nelson appreciates how Mitts engaged the class and expanded their horizons.

"Working with interested alumni -- who are willing to interact with students about their businesses and knowledge -- to help develop our current programs is a very valuable aspect of this type of project," Monfort-Nelson said. "It's a powerful message for students to receive -- that they can really take this degree anywhere."

Other class members participating in the project, all majoring in apparel and textiles, include:

Sara Garcia, Blair Umholtz,  Jourdan Palmer, Lauren Zuniga, Kayla Kenton,  Clarissa Wagner,  Jillian Beyer, Julia Mangelsdorf, Kelsey Hendrick, Hannah Linder, Horohito Norhatan and Hyejin Oh.

Story and photos from K-State communications and marketing

This article was posted on Wednesday, July 13, 2011, and is filed under College News, Interior Design and Fashion Studies.