More than a fashion option, what you’re wearing could be a matter of life or death.
 
That’s because apparel designers also create high-performance uniforms for doctors, firefighters, the military and athletes. Working with high-tech materials like Kevlar, for bulletproof vests, they also design spacesuits for astronauts and parachutes for pilots.
 
“We’re much more complex and in depth than most people realize,” said Karen Leonas, the new chair of WSU’s apparel, merchandising, design and textiles department (AMDT). “My role is to facilitate the vision of our amazingly talented and diverse faculty.”
 
Third in the nation
 
With more than 250 undergraduates, AMDT serves a diverse industry. Washington’s apparel industry is the third largest in the U.S., accounting for 13 percent of all employment in the state and grossing more than a half billion dollars a year.
 
The program requires integration across numerous areas including design, supply chain management, international trade regulations, marketing, consumer behavior, analytical retail practices, interrelationships between culture, gender and dress, textile science and product development.
 
WSU’s program in AMDT is strong in all areas, Leonas said.
 
Stopping disease
 
Her own internationally recognized research has focused on the permeability of fabrics worn by medical workers. If microorganisms are able to penetrate the fabric of a surgical gown, the lives of not only doctors and nurses but also patients could be at risk.
 
Leonas pioneered the use of a special kind of electron microscope to create three-dimensional images of blood and microorganism pathways traveling through fabric. This has led to a greater understanding and has enabled functional designers to take preventive measures.