MU seniors bring classwork into the retail world

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 | 9:40 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Each group of women was given the same task, yet every idea was unique.

Graduating seniors from MU's department of textile and apparel management presented their capstone projects Wednesday to state officials in hopes of finding support for their ambitions. Students showcased a variety of designs including T-shirts, jeans, a wedding line and a home collection.

"Ultimately they are pitching their ideas to the president of each retailer, but two of the audience (members) we have here tonight are from the Missouri Department of Agriculture, who have very strong interest in Missouri cotton marketing," said Jung Ha-Brookshire, an MU assistant textile and apparel marketing professor.

The students targeted companies such as The Buckle Inc., Vera Bradley Inc., J. Crew Group Inc. and Polo Ralph Lauren Corp.. Professors will send the final proposals to company presidents.

The Missouri Department of Agriculture's interest was piqued because under the students' hypothetical label, Heartland Premium, proposed products would use cotton grown entirely in Missouri.

"My favorite part was seeing all the students engaged in this project," said Judy Grundler, director of the agriculture department's Division of Plant Industries. "I think it's very exciting."

The Heartland Premium project began about two years ago through different classes in the textile and apparel management department, Ha-Brookshire said.

The groups for each pitch started their individual research the first week of the semester, building on the research of Ha-Brookshire and Pam Norum, associate professor of textile and apparel management.

"It has been an entire semester of hard work and lots of research," said Victoria Erhart, one of the presenting seniors.

Steffi Dickmann, Erhart's classmate, estimated the workload for the research — from setting up the actual presentation and putting on the finishing touches — to be about 10 hours per week.

"Just developing the product line was the most fun, and for as much research as went in to it, it was fun research," said Clare Reisel, another student.

Ha-Brookshire emphasized the range of skills involved in the presentations, noting that the women had to draw from lessons learned since childhood.

"They have to use creativity, analytical skills, research skills, communication skills, everything," she said.

The students were inspired by a question Ha-Brookshire posed. She asked how they could help communities that grow superior cotton in the Missouri Bootheel and create a product that could succeed in retail.

"You never know, it could be the next hottest thing," Ha-Brookshire said.

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