Fashion and Function
Rachel Houle has packed a lot of experience into two years. After transferring to the University of Idaho in 2020 to study apparel, textiles and design, she took advantage of every opportunity, completing several internships, conducting an undergraduate research project and creating original designs. She will graduate in May 2022 and start her career with Northwest River Supplies (NRS) in Moscow.
Houle grew up in Horseshoe Bend, where she spent much of her time hiking and enjoying the outdoors. She developed a love for fashion after learning to sew when she was 8. A cousin working in the fashion industry opened her eyes to the types of careers available, and Houle saw an opportunity to combine her interests.
“I’ve always been into fashion and creating things since I was little,” Houle said. “I’ve also always had a love for the outdoors, growing up in Idaho and always being outdoors. Now I have a big passion for creating women’s outdoor apparel.”
Houle’s favorite part of apparel design is problem-solving — discovering the best way to meet consumer needs with a product. She hopes to address overconsumption in the fashion industry and conducted an undergraduate research project focused on that issue.
Houle surveyed and interviewed women around the United States to discover what they want in an outdoor jacket. She included a question about convertibility, such as zip-off sleeves and hoods, that would allow the garment to be used for multiple purposes.
She found that women wanted a jacket that was warm, durable and lightweight. The top three features they desired were pockets, warmth and a hood.
“I found through my research that women want something functional and something that is on-trend,” she said. “I like that the data showed that convertibility is something that people want because I was hoping that would be a thing. I’m passionate about using one garment for multiple needs.”
The final prototype includes cinches in the hood and on the waist, a removable hood, and zip-off sleeves. It includes insulation in the core, but not the sleeves, larger pockets and an internal pocket.
“I felt like this research project replicated what real designers do in the apparel industry,” she said. “Taking real data that companies collect in similar ways for their target consumers, then using the design process to inform from that data to create a real product.
“In the women’s outdoor clothing market, I feel like there needs to be more innovation and it’s not up to par with the men’s outdoor gear, so that’s kind of why I wanted to do this research project. And the data ended up backing that up — women want more in their gear, especially in functionality.”
After graduating high school, Houle decided to attend Idaho State University to earn an associate degree, with the intent to eventually transfer to U of I. She investigated larger apparel programs but knew that U of I was the right fit for her.
“I’m more drawn to the outdoor apparel, and there is more of a base for that in Idaho and the Pacific Northwest in general than there is at the bigger fashion schools,” Houle said. “A lot of my professors have been in the outdoor or athletic apparel industry, so they know a lot about it. We have a wealth of knowledge in that area in this program.”
During her time at U of I, Houle also completed a product development internship with Asana Climbing Gym and Stitch Fabrication in Boise and a merchandising internship with the VandalStore in Moscow. She participated in a project designing and creating swimwear for Nike Swim, and traveled to the Outdoor Retailer trade show and Cotton Incorporated, all funded by the university.
“I did not expect this much of an experience, professional development and so many opportunities coming here for two years,” Houle said. “That’s been a great thing about the apparel, textiles and design program, getting these real-life experiences. I think that has really excelled me into what I’ll be doing at NRS and in my future career.”
After graduation, Houle will join NRS as a summer intern and hopes to turn that into a full-time job this fall. She will help integrate a new 3D apparel patterning software, Browzwear, that many companies are already using. She learned how to use the software through a class offered at U of I.
“You can sew up garments in the digital space,” she said. “You can pattern in it and then put it on a 3D model in the digital space. What that means is less prototyping in the real world, which means less waste.”
The real-world experiences of the past two years will help Houle smoothly transition from school to industry.
“As students, we are doing real things in the industry while we are in school, which is just amazing,” she said. “Getting those experiences in the professional field has really motivated me and kept me accountable.”
Article by Amy Calabretta, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
Photos by Joe Pallen, University Communications and Marketing, and Rachel Houle
Published in May 2022