A Swimming Success
Six University of Idaho students recently found themselves presenting to one of the biggest and most well-known brands in the world.
The apparel, textiles and design students created original swimwear designs as part of a class project for Nike Swim — gaining real-world, industry experience.
Lori Wahl, senior instructor in the U of I Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences, was contacted by former colleague Sumiko Kalish, design director for Nike Swim — a division of Perry Ellis International, who asked if Wahl’s students would be interested in doing a project with the company. Wahl jumped at the opportunity.
“The more students have the opportunity to work with a professional brief and with professional expectations in an industry contextual setting, the better prepared they are going to be for an interview, and ultimately a job,” Wahl said.
Kalish challenged the six students in Wahl’s senior-level portfolio development class to identify an opportunity that Nike Swim wasn’t addressing and design a product to meet that need.
Working in teams, students conducted extensive research on Nike Swim’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. They also incorporated the larger Nike brand values into their design research, which includes a focus on sustainability, engaging girls and women in sports globally, and being more inclusive with sizes and abilities.
Olivia Chandler, Rachel Houle and Madison Machen — team Scintillate — identified a need for more style and color options for the plus-size woman swimmer. Daisy Blowers, Maggie Zee and Jaeda Schnuerle — team Sea & Shore — addressed the lack of paddle sport suits for girls ages 7-14.
For Chandler, the market research fit well with her future interests in marketing and merchandising.
“It was very intimidating to work on a project for such a well-known company like Nike,” Chandler said. “I think a big takeaway was that I was actually able to do that, and my group was able to create this entire outfit that was valid because we had all the information to back it up from the analysis.”
Students followed a typical design calendar, presenting concepts and designs to Wahl before a final design review with Kalish. Then the teams moved into patternmaking, developing their prototypes and finalizing fit.
“There are no reference patterns that the teams are using,” Wahl said. “They are starting with their design idea and learning about swimwear construction and patterns as they develop their projects.”
Scintillate designed a two-piece suit using recycled polyester fabric, with an adjustable and supportive top. The team 3D printed hardware for the strap adjustments using UV reactive filament that changes colors when exposed to UV rays — alerting the wearer of how much sun they are getting.
Sea & Shore created a one-piece shortie swimsuit using high-stretch knit and a plant-based zipper. The team designed the suit to be adjustable so it would grow with the customer. Velcro straps open over the shoulder, and the sides of the suit include extra seams that can be ripped out to extend the size.
Blowers enjoyed problem-solving how to make the product grow with the customer.
“We created something that was new and not in market and would last a young girl a few years rather than just one season,” Blowers said. “We had to go through so many different ideas before we chose the path we went with.”
The team also had to address safety standards for children’s clothing.
“The most difficult part of the project was making sure we were following the standards for children’s safety in apparel, especially with the growth aspect,” Blowers said. “We found that the safest option would be to make multiple seams that they could rip as they grow, and the adjusted Velcro shoulders that could give them a longer shoulder seam or bigger neck hole.”
The teams also designed complimentary deck wear using performance cotton. Scintillate used a fabric treated with Wicking Windows by Cotton, Inc., which is intended to be worn against the body to move moisture to the outside of the fabric.
The skin-facing side of the fabric includes a printed pattern that distributes moisture for faster evaporation. The team decided to flip the fabric, putting the pattern on the outside to hide the appearance of wet areas caused by a wet swimsuit.
“We wanted to have the Nike swooshes on the outside so when the person was wet, the pattern would appear,” Chandler said.
Sea & Shore created a zero-waste cover-up made from terry cloth with eco-friendly clothing snaps made from plants and recycled bottles. The snaps allow the cover-up to be adjusted to grow along with the customer. When unsnapped, it can be used as a towel.
“Working with upcoming designers to see through fresh eyes opportunities for our Nike Swim consumer was really exciting,” Kalish said. “Their SWOT analysis research was thorough and was able to show areas for design opportunities within sustainability, extended sizes and versatile swim.”
The project culminated with a trip to Portland, Oregon, to present final prototypes to Kalish and her team. When the students arrived, they were met with a room full of Nike Swim employees, including the president of the company.
“The students showed up at the Nike Swim office prepared and ready to show their designs to the Nike Swim team,” Kalish said. “Their digital presentations, inspiration boards and their design creations really came to life on our mannequins and really inspired our Nike Swim team."
One of the designers in attendance works on Nike Swim’s children’s line and was impressed with the vision for a product that would grow with the customer.
“We got to talk to her after about our design and she thought that it was really inspiring and innovative,” Blowers said. “I think it was such a good experience to be put in a position like that.”
The entire project offered students the opportunity to see what the design process would look like in an industry setting, beyond their classroom experiences.
“This is the process you’re doing when you are working professionally,” Wahl said. “And the fact that we partnered with a professional company — and not just any company but an internationally-known company with very experienced employees — was wonderful for the project. It was a big confidence boost for the students.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos by Melissa Hartley, University Communications and Marketing
Published in April 2022