Going beyond expectations: Through teaching and research, Chanmi Hwang helps students, maternity patients

Chanmi Hwang holds several colorful dress forms in front of a wall of printed digital color templates.
Creativity meets technology: AMDT faculty member Chanmi Hwang displays garment models created by students, using the department’s new digital textile printer. The printer gives students the ability to design and print their own textile patterns (WSU Photo-Seth Truscott).


For Chanmi Hwang, learning begins in the classroom—but moves to the laser-cutting workshop, the digital textile printing lab, a student blog, or the maternity ward of the local hospital.

“I challenge my students to go beyond their expectations, and to take their learning beyond class to the real and the digital world,” says Hwang, assistant professor with Washington State University’s Apparel, Merchandising, Design and Textiles (AMDT) program.

One of the most productive teachers and researchers in AMDT, Hwang is a 2018 recipient of WSU’s Smith Teaching Award, a student-nominated recipient of the 2018 President’s Award for Leadership, and a WSU Office of Research New Faculty Seed Grant winner.

Through technology, and through hands-on projects, Hwang encourages her students to practice and advance their design, critical thinking, problem-solving and communication abilities.

“My goal as an educator is to prepare them to be discerning, flexible, cooperative players in the apparel industry,” she says. “They learn how to put their research skills and design knowledge to work to help the industry and its customers—in other words, real people.”

Technology in design

In her design courses, students build insights into their industry, mastering tools and solving problems while producing an apparel collection and portfolio.

This past year, she led student designers in an exploration of apparel technology as they prepared for the annual Mom’s Weekend Fashion Show. Every student conducted consumer market research using a WSU Qualtrics survey, gauging trends and devising market strategies.

Hwang brings classes to WSU’s Frank Innovation Zone, where students can use a Trotec laser cutter to cut their own patterns or create burnout effects on velvets. Students created their own tags and logos, as well as original textile prints in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, then made them using a digital textile printer.

“This gives our students a lot more flexibility,” said Hwang, “since they can create and print their own engineered fabrics, such as floral prints on silk Habotai fabric and abstract prints on cotton knits, instead of buying them in the store.”

After the fashion show, the students developed their own website for their e-portfolio, a professional package that includes all of their work.

For Hwang, the comprehensive course gives students a hands-on introduction to technologies they’ll need to master when they enter the workforce.

“They gain knowledge and skill in handling the tools that our modern industry relies on,” she said. “It’s great to see their confidence grow as their collections come together.”

A new way to teach

In collaboration with AMDT professor Carol Salusso, Hwang has received a new WSU Smith Teaching Award to create innovative learning environments.

“Traditionally, design students present their final projects, then have a discussion or Q&A. But that really doesn’t cultivate critical thinking,” she said. “We’re seeking a new way to teach, engage students, and build thinking and communication skills needed in industry.”

Hwang and Salusso are developing new course techniques that incorporate blogs and virtual design, as well as multimedia slideshows that allow students to navigate independently and comment using voice, text, drawing, audio, or video.

Hwang with a dress-displaying mannequin, next to a large printing machine.
Hwang displays a colorful student-created dress in front of the department’s new digital textile printer.

Blogs help design students build their communication skills by writing in public and receiving feedback from experts and the broader community. 3D Lectra, a virtual prototyping software, lets design students virtually create patterns and simulate garment performance on a digital avatar. Unlike traditional cut-and-sew methods, this new technology allows students to share their design ideas instantly while saving time and materials.

“These new learning environments break the mold,” Hwang said. “Blogs, real-time communication tools, and virtual avatars encourage design students to give and receive feedback, share ideas, and document their design process all the way from concept to prototype.”

Better maternity gowns

Hwang’s latest project, funded by a WSU New Faculty Seed Grant received this June, will design improved hospital maternity gowns for women.

“Research has shown that hospital gowns as currently designed aren’t working well for most women,” Hwang said. “They’re not fully functional for healthcare practitioners, and they’re physically and emotionally uncomfortable for women.”

Working with a group of AMDT senior students, and using a nationwide online survey, patient interviews and garment wear testing at the local hospital, she is researching ways to create economically feasible, functional gowns that satisfy the need of patients, doctors, and nurses.

“Our students learned to design for real people, considering their needs and the functional attributes of clothing through customer research and discovery,” Hwang said. “It’s an amazing learning opportunity.”

Hwang will use virtual prototyping to create a pattern for mass production, with testing of prototypes in the hospital in spring 2019.

“All women deserve quality maternal health services, for themselves and their children,” she said. “Improved gowns could help provide that quality experience.”