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‘Sewing’ the Seeds for a Successful Career

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Fashion and apparel students present to government leaders

From top, Kendall Ludwig, Hannah Laurits and Miranda Rack.

Fashion and apparel students who presented research in Washington, D.C., included, from top, Kendall Ludwig, Hannah Laurits and Miranda Rack.

In mid-December, three University of Delaware students traveled to Washington, D.C., to present their research findings to top officials in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The students and Sheng Lu, associate professor in the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, had been asked to evaluate the competitiveness of U.S.-made textile and apparel. Two days later, the group was invited to speak about production and export strategies of apparel manufacturers at an industry webinar that was covered by the national news media.

Everything about this high-flying schedule sounds more like that of a senior leader or mid-career professional, except for the fact that the students still had to find time to study. After all, it was final exams week when all this was happening.

The student team included Kendall Ludwig and Miranda Rack, who are in UD’s 4+1 master’s program, a five-year, combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program in fashion and apparel studies. The third team member was Hannah Laurits, who earned a bachelor’s degree in apparel design and fashion merchandising from UD in 2022 and is working toward her master’s in fashion and apparel studies.

Most people don’t think of the U.S. as being a dominant force in apparel manufacturing, but these student researchers are quick to set the record straight. Statistics show that U.S. textile and apparel production totaled nearly $28 billion in 2022, which, as Ludwig pointed out, is a record high in the last five years. A growing proportion of “Made in the USA” textiles and apparel are sold overseas. U.S. textiles and apparel exports exceeded $24.8 billion in 2022, up almost 12% from 10 years earlier.

U.S. products sold overseas aren’t what first comes to mind when you hear “textiles” — it’s not shirts, skirts or home goods, explained Ludwig. Rather, what is finding a niche in foreign markets are technical textiles — fabrics, fibers and yarns that are used in high performance applications in the fields of medicine, aerospace, automotive and other industries.

Laurits took a separate focus; her research presentation explored sourcing opportunities for sustainable apparel. Such apparel uses fibers like recycled materials and organic content and is another area ripe for growth.

“The student presentations were very insightful and timely as our staff are expanding their coverage of sophisticated technical textiles as well as sustainability, which is an increasingly important topic for brands, retailers, and consumers,” said Jennifer Knight, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for textiles, consumer goods, materials industries, critical minerals and metals.

Rack, who presented in tandem with Ludwig, said she had previously visited Washington, D.C., with a class and talked about her research, but this meeting took things to a whole new level.

“This was an in-depth presentation, and the government officials asked us a lot of questions,” she said. “It was much like what you might be called upon to do in industry.”

Laurits credits Lu with helping to pave the way for where she is today.

“In my senior year as an undergraduate, I took a class with Dr. Lu and really got interested in the realm of sourcing supply chain,” Lauritis said. “Dr. Lu was very excited about the opportunity to help me do further research. He is always bringing opportunities like this to students where you can get involved in awesome projects and make outside connections. The fashion and apparel program has really opened doors for me. I have been able to do internships, publish articles, teach and now present to government officials.”

Lu, who trained as an economist and jokes that he is the “least fashionable professor in the department,” said that he is committed to creating experiential learning opportunities, whether it’s a research project like this, requested by government officials, or collaborative projects with industry leaders.

“These experiences beyond the classroom can enhance research and academic skills while inspiring students to apply the knowledge they gain at UD to think critically and solve real-world problems,” he said.

“The lively discussion between the students and Commerce staff was mutually beneficial and gave everyone a chance to learn something new,” Knight said. “We would welcome the opportunity to collaborate further with the UD Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies in the future.”​

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo illustration by Jaynell Keely and Zoe Pawliczek

January 25, 2024​

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