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Denim Runway, Wildcat Style

By Madeline Moore

Denim Runway Group

Dr. Joycelyn Burdett of KSU’s ATID Department (far left) and her students toured a cotton farm during harvest.

The Kansas State University (KSU) Wildcats are known for numerous cutting edge advancements in agricultural research, along with numerous national livestock, equine, crops, and meat judging titles, according to the university’s web site. A lesser known fact is that the Department of Apparel, Textiles and Interior Design (ATID) ranks among the best in the nation.

Dr. Joycelyn Burdett of KSU’s ATID Department applied for and received a Cotton Incorporated grant to give her students an opportunity to learn more about cotton textiles. She also wanted to show her students the processes used to convert a natural fiber into a usable fabric.

Dr. Burdett also reached out to the Kansas Cotton Association (KCA) to find out more about the cotton industry. That meeting led to PCCA and KCA partnering to establish the first KSU Denim Runway design contest.

The contest consisted of four categories: Men’s and Women’s Fashion Jeans, Cotton Trend Board, and Casual Wear. Cotton Trend Board was designed to broaden contestants’ knowledge of cotton and communicate trends based on their research. The Casual Wear category allowed students to be really creative with denim by designing anything other than a pair of fashion denim jeans.

In September, the students learned and discussed how cotton is grown, harvested, graded, processed, and marketed during guest lectures by KCA and PCCA representatives. The students also learned about PCCA’s vertically integrated organization and learned more about the denim manufacturing process.

“The students were great to interact with throughout the contest,” said American Cotton Growers’ (ACG) Larry Lundberg. “The level of involvement and dedication from the professors at KSU also was evidence of the program’s strength,” he said.

The contestants visited the Winfield gin plant of Southern Kansas Cotton Growers (SKCG) and neighboring cotton farms to see how cotton is grown, harvested, and ginned. “Some, if not all, of the students had never been on a farm,” said Dick Cooper, PCCA’s Director of Business Development for Kansas and Northern Oklahoma. “This was an experience for them that will last a lifetime.” “I really learned a lot about denim, cotton, and farming,” said Collin Campion. “I’d never been to a farm, and it was amazing to get out of my comfort zone to see where cotton was grown and find out where fabric comes from.”

The contestants gained additional experience during “media day,” when they described to reporters how they were learning about the cotton industry and preparing for the contest. Then they put the finishing touches on their contest entries at ACG.

Two panels of judges were selected to judge the four divisions of the contest on Nov. 30. The Cotton Trend Board and Casual categories were graded by Patty Lahey, a cotton farmer and founding member of the Northwest Cotton Growers Coop Gin, Kris Boone, KSU Department Head and Professor in the Department of Communications, Kelby Polfer, KSU graduate student in the Department of Apparel and Textiles, and Roger Sewell, Manager of Business Development for High Tech Gin at Pratt, Kan., and KCA Director.

Denim Runway Group

FRONT ROW (L to R): Patty Lahey, Collin Campion, Tara Killingsworth, Lauren Schoneman, Peggy Feist, and Gary Feist. BACK ROW (L to R): Tom Lahey, Jerry Stuckey, and Roger Sewell.

The Men’s and Women’s Fashion Jeans categories were judged by Leslie Kauffman, President and CEO of the Kansas Cooperative Council, Holly Martin, Editor of the High Plains Journal, Greg Akagi, Farm Broadcaster with WIBW Radio/Kansas Ag Network, and Gary Feist, Manager of SKCG.

The Denim Runway contest handed out top honors to Collin Campion, a junior from Overland Park, Kan., in the Men’s Fashion Jeans category. The Women’s Fashion Jeans award went to Tara Killingsworth, a senior from Geneseo, Kan.

“It was so great to learn there are cotton farmers in Kansas and get to visit a cotton farm and gin,” Killingsworth said. “It was an awesome experience, and winning was the cherry on top of it all.” Killingsworth also won the Casual Wear category, and Lauren Schoneman, a sophomore from Manhattan, Kan., won the Cotton Trend Board category.

This cumulative educational-outreach effort brought new meaning of field-to-fashion for many of KSU’s non-agriculture students. It also taught the next generation of designers about the importance of Kansas’ cotton industry and how each step of the production process can affect high-fashion denim and other cotton textiles.

“The opportunity to see the field-to-fabric cotton production system and to work in the textile finishing labs at ACG is quite rare,” Burdett said. “No amount of classroom lecture can be as meaningful as an actual experience such as this.”