Design with a purpose

The gowns Iowa State University students designed in their apparel production management class are far from flashy and won’t be modeled on any runway, but that’s OK. Students know their designs will serve a greater need for young patients in the hospital.

The 20 students in the class not only designed the pediatric hospital gowns, they also developed the manufacturing process to understand what it takes to mass produce a garment from start to finish. Instructor Brenda Ackerman created the class project in partnership with Iowa Prison Industries (IPI), which plans to make the gowns at its production facility at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville.

Students toured the correctional facility to better understand the operations and see how IPI might implement their design process. Ackerman says students also gained an appreciation for how IPI’s work program helps women offenders develop skills they can use when they reenter society -- giving the class project added meaning.      

“When it’s for someone else, it means so much more than a grade,” Ackerman said. “The project really showcases service learning. It’s a lot of work for students, but you see their faces and they’re so proud.”

To test their production process, students had to train their classmates and mass produce 20 hospital gowns in a two-hour time frame. Much like the real world, equipment broke down during production and some gowns did not meet quality standards. Tenisha Matlock, a senior from North Platte, Neb., says the experience forced them to respond in a chaotic situation and still meet their production goals and deadlines.

“This class has really taught me about the design and engineering and how it all works,” Matlock said. “I have a much greater appreciation for the behind-the-scenes process and I’m excited to share that, so people know what it takes to make an item.” 

Students presented IPI with production manuals outlining the step-by-step process to manufacture the gowns. As for the 60 gowns students made during class, Matlock contacted Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines to see if they would accept the donation. The hospital plans to use the gowns as a gift for patients when they leave the hospital.