Just how warm is that winter coat? With enough testing at Central Michigan University's high-tech
Center for Merchandising and Design Technology, Sue Wroblewski can tell you.
Wroblewski, an instructor in CMU's
fashion, interior design and merchandising program, is coordinator of the center, which opened in the Engineering and Technology Building in 2004 as a hub for faculty research.
Since then, it has branched out to support industry research — at last count, for 34 manufacturers and retailers. These companies make a wide variety of products: athletic gear, surgical gowns, car seats, cooling towels, bedding, even suits for Olympic ski jumpers. Wroblewski said paid contract work for industry now accounts for about 60% of CMDT research.
"Industry can't afford to have the research equipment we have," she said. "It's a great way for us to partner."
The Carhartt connection
Carhartt has an ongoing relationship with the CMDT to research its coats and other apparel.
A recent project involved 56 styles of Carhartt coats, testing three or four examples of each to ensure precise and consistent data.
"It was not a small undertaking," Wroblewski said.
She and CMU student workers would outfit the center's adult-size thermal manikin in hat, gloves and clothing layers topped with a coat being tested. The electronic manikin has multiple temperature sensors and even "sweats" water through tiny pores to simulate perspiration and evaporation.
The manikin would be placed in the lab's temperature-controlled environmental chamber, where its sensors would reveal how much cold the coat can ward off while keeping its wearer comfortable.
"We know from our consumers that Carhartt's outerwear is warm, but how do you quantify that?" said Lisa Miller, Carhartt global product development manager for research and development. "With the help of CMU and its state-of-the-art manikin testing equipment, we're now able to do that."
Miller said Carhartt's ties with CMU extend to hiring.
"Many of Carhartt's employees are graduates of CMU," she said, "so we knew that they were a great resource. We were excited that we could partner with a Michigan university, as Carhartt has been a Michigan-based company for 130 years."
A benefit to the community
The product testing left the CMDT with a huge stock of coats and other Carhartt apparel. That's where
Clothing INC came in.
The Mount Pleasant-based nonprofit provides free clothing to anyone in need — nearly 250,000 items since 2013. Wroblewski and Carhartt agreed to donate the test clothing. The test clothes often have to be cut to fit on the manikin, so Clothing INC volunteers mend them for distribution.
But because all of the test clothes are size M, and the nonprofit's clients come in all sizes, Clothing INC received permission from Carhartt to put several of its test coats and bibs into the charity's Clothing Our Community fundraiser, said Clothing INC Executive Director Kaye Peasley.
The Oct. 1 fundraising fashion show featured community members and CMU students modeling clothing from Clothing INC and designs by CMU's
Threads Fashion designers. A live auction featured the Carhartt clothing and other items.
"That night, we earned $18,000 to help with our operational budget," Peasley said.
Students gain experience
Wroblewski said faculty members from FIDM, engineering, computer science and other departments can use the CMDT at any time, often with the help of undergraduate and graduate students who collect data and learn firsthand about precision and rigor in scientific testing.
Rashed Islam, an apparel product development and merchandising grad student from Bangladesh, worked on the Carhartt research this summer, analyzing textiles to understand how they affect insulation. He continues to work in the CMDT and the textile testing lab.
"I love to create fusions between modern technology and traditional clothing, so this CMDT experience will help me to learn," he said.
CMU students Danni Chen, left, and Rashed Islam dress the lab's thermal manikin in a Carhartt coat for testing.