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Ten fourth-year and six graduate students in Auburn University's Industrial Design program hope to see law enforcement officials and other first responders wearing their designs while on the job sometime in the future. The students worked in the apparel design world with a semester-long project designing and creating tactical uniforms to help first responders stay organized and comfortable on the job.
The students designed for Horace Small, a uniform company owned by project sponsor Vanity Fair Imagewear. VF Imagewear is the owner of many well-known brands, including Wrangler Jeans, Jansport and North Face.
Diane Warren, vice president of marketing for VF Imagewear, and mother of fourth-year Industrial Design student Nathan Warren, was impressed with the work done for the Studio+Build industry collaboration her son had been in the year before. She thought there would be a way for Horace Small to work with the program.
"The focus of our project is a little less about fashion and more about comfort, equipment management and making it easier for police and EMT's to do their job," said Rich Britnell, professor and head of the studio.
The background research for the project included in-depth interviews with local law enforcement and more than 40 hours of ride-alongs. Students accompanied police, firemen and other first responders during their shifts to better understand the particulars of the job that would influence a uniform.
The students recently travelled to Nashville, Tenn., to present their final concepts to the VF Imagewear staff. Shannon North, vice president of design from VF Imagewear, said the studio produced more than 40 product ideas to incorporate into product development. The data gathered by the students in the studio helped Horace Small to gain knowledge about the emergency responder uniform market, narrow the focus on new products and incorporate advanced technologies into the products.
Undergraduate senior Chad Griffith worked on uniforms for bicycle police officers. Seeing the uniforms in action created a better understanding of what elements are necessary, he said. His design eliminated front pockets on the pants and situated the back pockets to a position that made bike-riding more comfortable.
Graduate student Dylan Piper-Kaiser explained that the clothing needs of law enforcement might be different from the ordinary citizen.
"They're wearing these uniforms for 12 hours a day or more. For firemen, their shifts can last as long as 24 hours. They've got to have something to wear that is functional, but will remain comfortable that long."
Features such as pocket placement for quick and easy access, stretch fabrics, breathable materials and visibility of the officers were among the necessities of uniforms.
For many of the students, the time spent on the uniforms was their first experience with sewing machines.
"It was difficult to decide how to tackle it," graduate student Jenna Wang explained. She had never sewn before, but with some patience, produced a jacket for the police department.
Representatives from Horace Small also added input to guarantee students stayed on track.
"They've given us the freedom to come up with many concepts," graduate student Errol Hylton said. "But they'll reign us back in if they think an idea doesn't have marketability or feasibility."
This designer-client interaction is a part of what makes the studio applicable to the real world. Students are getting hands-on experience designing an item for real world application. Industrial Design studios frequently are sponsored by corporations.
No matter the struggles during the project, the end results were worth it. North has expressed interest in VF Imagewear working with Auburn University Industrial Design again.
Auburn University's Industrial Design program has been ranked as one of the top in the nation, according to DesignIntelligence magazine. For more information on the Industrial Design program, go to www.auburn.edu/ind.
Last Updated: May 30, 2012