A Conversation with...
Julie Becker, professor of Fashion Marketing Innovation and director of the Textiles Research and Training Institute
When you hear the word “textiles,” you probably immediately think of clothing and furniture fabric. But the discipline involves a whole lot more: science, technology, math … even a bit of psychology.
Julie Becker, who joined Eastern in 2011 after working as a CAD specialist and manager in research and product development, guides us through Eastern’s multifaceted Fashion Marketing Innovation program.
Eastern Magazine: When people hear about the Fashion Marketing Innovation program, they often think it focuses solely on fashion and apparel design. But the program really encompasses a lot more, right?
Julie Becker: Absolutely. We’re furniture. We’re automotive. We’re technical. We’re the interior of your car, the inside of your boat, we’re on your windows and in your carpeting. We’re everything that involves fibers covering a form. We’re present in ways you may not have even thought about. For instance, the COVID pandemic shed some light on how textiles can save lives, with regard to masks and antibacterial wipes. These non-woven items are still textiles, and someone with a background in textiles developed and tested them.
A well-equipped garment construction lab comprised of home and industrial sewing machines enables students to be prepared for the automotive, apparel, furniture industries.
EM: There’s also an engineering side to the field?
Julie: The discipline involves industrial engineering work and a lot of math and geometry. I recently showed a student who was designing a pair of jeans how to calculate a bill of materials and price it out. I showed him how to calculate the yardage, how to figure out the width of the fabric and the length of goods to get the most efficient layout, how to make the most money.
EM: That certainly makes it clear why the program is within Eastern’s GameAbove College of Engineering and Technology.
Julie: The actual product development is all engineering—math, angles and geometry. But our program is also very comprehensive and offers something for everyone.
During the first year of the program, students learn about the business side of things. In subsequent years, if students want to pursue the program’s textile track, they learn more about fibers. Students can also choose to go into product development and design or learn about buying and merchandising. We also offer courses in textile testing, marketing history and others.
To give you another example of the breadth of our program, students can learn about the art and psychology of window displays. We’re the only university in the area that offers a virtual program called MockShop, which retailers like Target, Abercrombie & Fitch, Nordstrom and others use to design the interior of their stores.
EM: The program instructors also have significant experience working for companies like these and others in the textile industry?
Julie: That’s one of our strong points: our teachers have done it for a living. Our instructor who teaches product development and buying was the buyer for [former regional department store chain] Jacobson’s for many years. I was in manufacturing for La-Z-Boy for nearly 15 years. I traveled the world making furniture, doing pattern development, putting textiles over frames, cutting, sewing, you name it.
EM: The program also offers students some experiential opportunities?
Julie: We’ve taken students to New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles to see the big fashion markets. We’ve also done international trips to Amsterdam, London and Paris. We hope to revive these types of trips now that we’re past the pandemic.
“The big thing now is sustainability and going green, which is huge because of all the dyes, fabrications and chemicals involved in our industry. How we can safely dispose of those dyes and chemicals?”
EM: What are some of the latest trends emerging in the field?
Julie: The big thing now is sustainability and going green, which is huge because of all the dyes, fabrications and chemicals involved in our industry. How we can safely dispose of those dyes and chemicals? The industry also has a bit of a bad rap from the labor market based in third-world countries. More and more companies are now trying to bring manufacturing back to the United States.
EM: What are some of the career paths for program graduates?
Julie: Some careers are buying/merchandising, textile testing, quality assurance and customs. There’s an entire governmental side of things involving world standards for cutting, sewing, fibers. Every garment has to have a label. Textiles is like a bargaining chip for commerce. For instance, a garment can only have a certain percentage of fiber imported from India or Africa because of the laws and agreements we have with the local farmers there. If you’re going to claim a garment is USA-made, certain components must be manufactured in the U.S.
A graduate could also be a product developer. Several of our students work for companies who do trim development for the interiors of cars, boats and RVs. There’s also military work, which could involve designing covers for howitzer guns, Humvees, recovery vehicles and the like.
Anything that’s a fiber or a soft good over a form, we do it. The applications are endless.
By Darcy Gifford
Photos by T. Rosa Studio