FT Lab: Where Fashion and Function Meet and Match

enfold fabric

Lab creates smart clothing

In the two years since the Fashion Design and Technology Lab started, assistant professor of design and lab director Helen Koo, lab interns and other students have:

  • Won a top prize in the International A’ Design Award.
  • Had an exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.
  • Won a UC Davis Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research and a Provost’s Undergraduate Fellowship Award.
  • Presented at the International Textile and Apparel Association’s annual conference.

“I can see how passionate, creative and innovative our students are,” Koo said. “They bring energies to the research and the lab. Students from various backgrounds work together, exchange in interdisciplinary collaborations, and learn how to work with each other.”

Lab bridges art and science

For Jason Lin, who double majored in design and psychology with minors in art and education, the lab brought all his interests together. “I was finally able to bridge everything I was working on,” said Lin, a native of Elk Grove who graduated in the spring.

helen koo

Helen Koo

Lin and Koo won the A’ Design award for a garment design for those with mobility disabilities. Melding a shape memory alloy with origami techniques, they made clothing that unfolds on its own and dresses the wearer.

“I realized fashion can be so much more—you can aesthetically design something and also consider people’s needs and feelings,” said Lin, now at a Los Angeles design firm.

Learning new skills

Letty Uy, who also graduated in the spring with a design degree, came into the lab interested in fashion and graphic design. She designed and built a belt-mounted device that alerts the visually impaired of objects ahead.

“I’m not the most technical person and didn’t know if working with electronics was
something I could do,” said Uy, who is from Antioch. “It was the most rewarding thing I did during my time in school.”

Timothy Kai Stapleton (B.A., Design, ’16) won the chancellor and provost awards for his research using 3-D eye tracking to show that highlighting the major joints (knees and elbows) with reflective materials significantly increases a bicyclist’s visibility.

“It really opened my eyes to what was possible,” said Stapleton, a native of Walnut
Creek and lead designer at Foodfully, a startup in Davis aimed at reducing food waste.

“I was trying to bridge the gap between science and design, and the professors were so open to that. The design department is great at connecting with other disciplines.”

Opening up multidisciplinary collaborations

Along with bringing together students and faculty from various areas, outside scholars visit as do those from private industry through which internships have been set up.

“The future direction of design research will be continuously on design-driven,multidisciplinary collaborations in four areas: healthcare, sustainability, functional clothing and education developments,” Koo said. “We will keep looking for new ways of including technologies and techniques incorporated into fashion design to solve quality of life issues.”


— Jeffrey Day, content strategist, Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies