New technology in fashion school takes textiles to a new level


Submitted photo

Yelena Tischenko

Deep in the corner of the first floor in Rockwell Hall is a small room known as the TechStyleLAB, equipped with a machine about the length of a dresser.

The TechStyleLAB is a research lab the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising has started to help students, faculty and outside clients create customized digital textiles and embroidery.

“It’s really at the beginning phases,” said Margarita Benitez, fashion technologist and assistant professor in fashion design. “What it hopes to become is a place, not just a location on campus, but an online place as well.”

The school is working on a website so a person will be able to upload an image, click on an option where the image is repeated on the fabric and then can have it digitally printed.

“It’s really exciting and innovative for the fashion department to have this sort of facility here,” Benitez said.

People would also be able have their own stores on the website. A customer who is looking to purchase an item is able to customize the clothing to his or her liking instead of purchasing a mass-produced item from the mall.

“There would be greater product diversity because it’s sustainable technology,” said J.R. Campbell, director of the School of Fashion Design and Merchandising.

No TechStyleLAB class is currently available, but the school is trying to add a class for next year. Benitez said that initially, the class would be offered to design students but might be opened to students interested in textiles.

Money for the fabric comes from donors. Some budgeting is set aside, but once the lab gets more clients and orders, it should be self-sustainable, Benitez said.

“The lab is just starting its income,” Campbell said. “As clients grow, the revenue grows.”

All that is needed to use the lab is a sample piece or an idea. The minimum order is a 10-inch sample.

“There’s a process the printer goes through,” Benitez said. “The fabric gets printed, steamed and then washed and dried. Once it’s steamed, the color sets in and there’s no fading.”

Bethany Clark, senior fashion design major, used the TechStyleLAB for her senior collection. She said the printing process was long because she needed to talk to them in advance to get the perfect fabric shade.

“I think it’s really good that it’s so fully integrated,” Clark said. “Why wouldn’t we use it? It’s awesome new technology. The fact that we can go down after class and talk to the tech people who are willing to work with you to get the print exactly what you want is great. It’s nice that it’s readily available right here on campus.”

Rachel Roy, one of TechStyleLAB’s clients, is based in Cleveland and creates accessories, such as purses and pillows, for sporting and equestrian lifestyle. She approached the school after learning they had a digital textile printer because her own inkjet printer was fading the printed designs and clients were returning their clothing.

A main goal for the TechStyleLAB is for it to be a place of design research and education for students who can explore an alternate production cycle.

“One of the plans for the future is to create more interfaces so that people can actually interact with the technology,” Benitez said.

Benitez said she hopes the lab will grow into a bigger network of technology and machines to attract other clients “that could challenge the current production systems.”

“It’s going to be huge,” she said.

Contact Yelena Tischenko at [email protected].