Why OSU's 104-year-old apparel design program feels like new

Why OSU's 104-year-old apparel design program feels like new
Photo courtesy of the Portland Business Journal.

Oregon State University has an apparel design program.

Apparently a pretty good one, too, based on its place in national rankings.

And although it’s been around for 104 years, many in Portland’s footwear and apparel industry seem to be only now discovering its existence.

“I just found out about it, I’d say, two years ago when I was invited to a senior apparel show downtown,” said D’Wayne Edwards, a former design director for Nike’s Jordan Brand who now runs the Pensole Footwear Design Academy in Portland.

In this week’s Portland Business Journal, I write about how the OSU program is trying to change that.

The Corvallis university’s Department of Design and Human Environment in July became the newest school within the university’s College of Business.

More than just an inter-campus shuffling of the deck, Associate Dean Leslie Burns said the shift will give the school more resources, better opportunities to commercialize its research and better link the program with Oregon’s robust footwear apparel industry.

With the shift, the school — which also features programs for interior design, graphic design merchandising management — is already looking to add a design track for the university’s MBA program to go with its existing undergraduate and graduate degree programs. It’s also planning a footwear design certificate program, possibly starting next fall.

Clearly, the program isn’t an unknown entity to the industry. The alumni on the school’s industry advisory board is a good example. It includes Kathleen McNally, Columbia Sportswear Co.’s creative director; Peggy Denfeld, the menswear product manager for Pendleton Woolen Mills; and several Nike Inc. executives, including Becky Hurd, senior material researcher for apparel, and Angela Snow, global director of creative operations for Nike Design.

Yet creating even deeper links to the region’s industry — which could come through hosting work continuing education workshops, serving as a textiles research lab for companies, or as a talent feeder — can help create more stories like that of Oh! Shoes.

Greg Van Gasse , CEO of the Portland-based women’s fashion footwear brand, was searching for social media-savvy interns from a handful of Ivy League schools when someone recommended he look at OSU.

“I have to admit, I had not even been aware of the program up until a month ago,” said Van Gasse, who previously led the Dr. Martens footwear brand’s Portland-based U.S. division and was president of branded footwear at St. Louis-based Brown Shoe Co. “I was flying back from a trade show in Vegas and my partner in the next seat happened to be a boutique owner in Hood River. She said you should get in touch with Oregon State.”

So Van Gasse — whose company is featured on the front page of this week’s Business Journal — shifted gears and hired an intern from OSU’s program whom he said is both smart and fashion savvy.

Pensole’s Edwards — who is in talks to collaborate with OSU on its footwear design program — believes some of that disconnect with the program is geographic, with so much of the industry centered in Portland.Any effort to forge deeper ties between the industry and the school can only benefit the companies working here, he said.

“The more that universities can prepare their students t actually work (in the industry), the better off they’re going to be,” he said.
 

The Portland Business Journal is a KATU.com news partner.