Oct. 14, 2013

New institute promotes smart clothing of the future

Jintu Fan tells CIFFI members and guests about the department’s sweating manikin
Mark Vorreuter/College of Human Ecology
Jintu Fan, chair of the Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design, talks about the department’s sweating mannequin, Walter, which was developed by Fan and is used to test performance apparel.

NEW YORK — One day soon, our clothes will be smart garments engineered to fight harmful bacteria and pollutants, monitor our surroundings and vital signs, and power our mobile devices – all while being fashionable.

At the first roundtable meeting of the Cornell Institute of Fashion and Fiber Innovation (CIFFI), clothing designers, textile scientists and business leaders from as far away as Hong Kong, Italy, Brazil and California – including Cornell alumni – gathered Oct. 9 near Manhattan’s Garment District with Cornell experts to discuss how to best weave fashion and function to bring such bold ideas to market. The following day, a group of CIFFI members toured the Ithaca campus to see the university’s high-tech fiber science labs and apparel design studios.

“Our goal is to build stronger partnerships with the fashion industry to translate great ideas in the laboratories into commercial products, making real impact for industry and communities,” said Jintu Fan, chair of Cornell’s Department of Fiber Science & Apparel Design (FSAD) in the College of Human Ecology. “If you can work well with industry, industry will want to work with you, and by founding this institute, we raise the potential for what we can do in design, research and scholarship.”

Fan described how CIFFI would foster collaborative research and development, particularly related to functional fibers, performance apparel and sustainable production processes that limit waste.

“With our land-grant mission, Cornell stands for research that matters in everyday life,” said Alan Mathios, the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Dean of the College of Human Ecology. “By working with industry partners, CIFFI can take cutting-edge research at Cornell in fiber science and fashion design and accelerate its application into clothing and goods that improve people’s lives.”

The institute also will allow Cornell experts to hear about the most pressing industry needs, said Tom Nastos, president of fashion tradeshow organizer ENK International and chair of the CIFFI Advisory Board.

“The fashion industry needs an outlet to provide feedback on what technology they are looking for, to test new ideas and materials and to determine what research they are willing to fund,” Nastos said. “When you put the researchers together with people in industry, it’s a great combination – not just for the clothing of today, but for looking to the future.”

At the event, CIFFI leaders honored nine corporate founding members, including Hong Kong’s TAL Apparel Ltd., chaired by Harry Lee, which produces 55 million pieces of apparel annually and makes one of every six dress shirts sold in the United States.

Later, Cal McGee ’92, vice president of men’s woven design at Ralph Lauren, delivered the keynote about how his designers stay true to the company founder’s iconic style.

The day concluded with a group discussion moderated by FSAD assistant professor Tasha Lewis, Ph.D. ’09, that touched on major trends redefining the fashion industry: rapid growth in social media platforms and e-commerce, digital printing, mass customization clothing design, new synthetic fibers, labor and manufacturing upheaval and “traceability” – consumer demand to know where and under what conditions a garment was produced.

“The markets in the world are becoming much smaller and the competition more intense,” said designer Jin Seo ’91, founder of the womenswear label 51 Inc. “What’s so interesting about CIFFI is there’s a huge emphasis on user needs and serving customers.  The key is finding that balance of technology, innovation, beauty and usability and wrapping it all up into one garment.”

Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.