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Cottoning to Cotton: New Student Program Showcases Popular Fiber during Awareness Day Oct. 15

PULLMAN, Wash.—This fiber makes up 75 percent of American paper currency. Thomas Edison used a piece for the filament of his first light bulb. It is in the average American’s seven pairs of blue jeans. And on Oct. 15, students and professors of Washington State University’s Department of Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles will showcase a semester’s worth of course work and research to raise awareness and understanding of cotton, from its beginnings in the field to its end as a product.

Last spring, 20 students took a course and developed research projects as part of an undergraduate student competition program, which sponsored activities focusing on cotton technology, design and merchandising.

Led by professors Joan Ellis, Catherine Black and Karen Leonas and funded through the Cotton Board and Cotton Inc., the program will culminate with Cotton Awareness Day @ WSU, 3-6:30 p.m. in the CUB Junior Ballroom. Jon Devine, senior economist for Cotton Inc., will give the keynote presentation, “Growing the World of Cotton: Challenges and Opportunities.” Students will exhibit their work, and competition winners will be announced.

“By working with faculty experts in their selected competitive area, students received one-on-one mentoring, constant feedback and refinement of the learning experience,” Ellis said. “The program also further enhanced awareness and depth of understanding of cotton fibers and cotton textile products.”

Competitive research activities covered textile-related technologies, apparel design, and branding and promotional aspects of product merchandising. Monetary awards will be presented to the top three students of each competition category at Cotton Awareness Day.

More than participation in hands-on competitions, the program also provided a window for students to see how cotton product development works, Ellis said. She and Leonas introduced students to the book, “The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy,” written by Georgetown University business professor Pietra Rivoli.

Rivoli tracked the complete life cycle of a regular cotton T-shirt, from a west Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory, from the factory to Washington, D.C., and New York, and finally to a clothing market in Tanzania. The process is massively intricate, Ellis said, spanning a multibillion-dollar, global industry.

“People take it for granted that there will be clothing that fits them, at a price they’re willing to pay, at a place that’s convenient for them to shop at,” she said. “They have no idea what it takes for a piece of clothing to be in the store, no idea what the complexities are.”