Jewelry, blankets, even wall art — new merchandise developed by Iowa State University students could be coming to a retailer near you.
Apparel, merchandising, and design students have created prototypes of products to be sold or gifted by several organizations including the Textiles and Clothing Museum, the Iowa State University Foundation, and the George Washington Carver National Monument.
It’s all part of a senior-level course called “Fashion Forecasting and Product Development” that’s taught by Eulanda Sanders, the Donna R. Danielson Professor in Textiles and Clothing. Sanders approached organizations whose operations relied on either fundraising or revenue building, and were seeking an edge in marketing.
The decision to develop the prototypes into merchandise now lies with the organizations’ personnel, who will assess the products for marketability, cost, and organizational fit.
“All the organizations were pleased with the prototypes and a couple are interested in discussing the possibility of production,” Sanders said. “I will be in discussions with the organizations and the student teams about feasible creation of actual products during the spring 2016 semester.”
While the course has been taught for many years, last fall was the first time that students were required to create real prototypes for their clients. The designs hold the potential of expanding their clients’ current inventory of merchandise and helping their clients to better achieve their mission.
A unique item for purchase
John Kramer, a senior lecturer in apparel, events, and hospitality management who’s director of the Joan Bice Underwood Tearoom, wanted a unique item for purchase to help raise money for the longtime restaurant and classroom teaching operation in MacKay Hall.
Students came up with an item that not only fit the mission of the tearoom, but also served as a good marketing piece: gift boxes of tea.
“I was concerned it would be quite a challenge to come up with something to be sold at the tearoom because we have limited hours and all we sell are meals,” Kramer said. “But the students came up with a wonderful looking item that can be displayed in our front entry.”
Each box contains four bags of green, citrus, and mint tea. The souvenir boxes feature laser cut, intricate flower designs inspired by the Tearoom’s original China pattern and include the beloved eatery’s history.
“Not only will the product serve as something our customers may want to purchase on their way out, but it also serves as a marketing piece because the tearoom information is on the box,” Kramer said.
Iowa State-themed thank-you gift
Another client, the Iowa State University Foundation, wanted to show appreciation to high-level donors with some Iowa State-themed thank-you gifts.
The apparel students designed a cardinal-and-gold scarf, a framed leather rendering of the campanile, and a polo shirt.
They arrived at the prototypes after conducting staff interviews, researching the target market, and developing a final merchandising plan should the foundation choose one of their prototypes.
“The future goals of the foundation equal the future goals of Iowa State,” said Jorden Charron, a senior in apparel, merchandising, and design. “We wanted to make something unique and one-of-a-kind to distinguish donors and show them they’re important to us.”
Kevin Stow, associate vice president of human resources and governance for the Iowa State University Foundation, said the desired product will have an “upscale quality with a tie to Iowa State University.”
“Our donors would really like that it is student designed and produced,” Stow said. “Donors love to feel the impact that they are making on the students and programs at Iowa State.”
Targeting new markets
Students also designed five products for the Iowa State University Alumni Association including a wooden ornament, a necklace with engraved coordinates of campus landmarks, and a leather clutch.
The client — Katie Crawford, assistant director for travel and business development for the Iowa State University Alumni Association — was seeking new retail items that could help the association better reach its target market.
Apparel design students identified the alumni shop’s strengths as selling items that are sentimental and unique, but noted that Iowa State’s alumni base consists of a wide range of customers.
“We wanted to dive in deeper and figure out what the target customer was going to be for these products,” said Ashley Van Dyke, a senior in apparel, merchandising, and design. “So we sat down with Katie and learned it was mostly women they were targeting.”
Prototypes developed by the apparel students drew from the ISU Alumni Association’s mission to facilitate the lifetime connection of alumni, students, and friends with Iowa State University and each other.
“The big-picture impact that these projects could have on Iowa State is pretty amazing,” said Crawford, who’s also a 2006 graduate of the apparel merchandising, design, and production program. “We received lots of creative ideas and fun ways to branch out. I think this was a great class and super informative for the organizations and students as well.”
Reaching out across the Midwest
Future merchandise could also appear outside of Iowa and benefit nonprofit partner organizations.
Iowa State apparel students designed a winter beanie, a cycling jersey, and a jigsaw puzzle to potentially be sold at the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri.
The merchandise aims to not only raise funds for enhanced programming, but also connect people personally to the park. The new items could potentially be sold in the Carver Birthplace Association bookstore and would benefit both the association and the National Park Service.
“I think this is a wonderful collaborative project between two organizations that are so importantly allied when it comes to preserving the George Washington Carver legacy,” said Jim Heaney, superintendent of the George Washington Carver National Monument.
Heaney said it is important that the products reflect the organization’s focus on historic preservation and resource education, as well as follow museum sales policies under the National Park Service.
“The students did a very good job of using what we discussed when developing the products,” he said. “I hope to continue this in future years.”