Fashion 101

One-of-a-Kind Design

Dr. Susan Hannel teaches students how to create looks all their own


Some of Dr. Hannel’s earliest memories center on textiles. “I remember being deeply concerned about what I was going to wear every day in kindergarten,” she says with a laugh. However, sewing seemed relegated to a hobby as she earned a B.S. in zoology and made plans to become a veterinarian.

Fast forward a few years and Dr. Hannel is a 13-year veteran of URI’s TMD department, and their resident apparel design and dress/textile history expert. Before joining the faculty at URI, she worked as a pattern maker for a custom-design clothing boutique and as a production manager for a design studio. Now, over the course of her day, she teaches classes on flat pattern making, draping and computer assisted pattern making, and lectures on the apparel production industry.

Under her guidance, the apparel lab at URI has had major upgrades. In 2006, Dr. Hannel was awarded a $130,000 grant from the Champlin Foundation to purchase an industry standard CAD system for apparel design and manufacture. Last year, the Foundation awarded her an additional $82,000 for an inkjet fabric printing system.

She is currently on a fall sabbatical to concentrate on getting the new system up and running. “It will allow our students to design original textile prints that will be sewn into their original garment designs,” she explains.

Dr. Hannel’s latest apparel creation, Pahoehoe Kikepa, has been accepted into a major juried competition held by the International Textiles and Apparel Association (ITAA) and is up for judging at the annual conference in Hawaii this November. “The design is inspired by rope lava in Hawaii where the cooler grey lava is interspersed with rivulets of molten orange lava,” Dr. Hannel explains. “‘Pahoehoe’ means rope lava in Hawaiian. ‘Kikepa’ is the term for a traditional Hawaiian garment that wraps over the shoulder.”

“I think people see fashion designers as leading very glamorous lives,” says Dr. Hannel. “That view is a mirage. Fashion designers work very, very hard and if they’re doing their job well, they have little time for parties and other social events. Also, I think there is this conception that a designer is alone in a room creating new designs. Designers work in teams and must be able to manage people. If you’re not a people person, fashion design is going to be a tough slog for you.”

Recently, Dr. Hannel was named the 2011 “Apparel All-Star” by the ITAA, an award that recognizes outstanding contributions in teaching/curricular development, research and service activities in the textile and apparel field. This dedication to her field provides the best lesson to her students: “A career in the fashion industry requires hard work – more than just great shopping skills.”

dr. susan hannel, uri, textile, fashion merchandising, design, apparel, pahoehoe kikepa


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