Brynn Williams, senior apparel design major, stands with her finished garment at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.

Design competition

UD senior participates in national outdoor fashion design competition

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2:01 p.m., Feb. 15, 2013--The clock ticks as five contestants rush to put finishing touches on garments they have just spent the last 48 hours creating. Each contestant prepares to present their final piece of work to a panel of judges – only one will win.

Within a three-day time span, Brynn Williams, a senior apparel design major at the University of Delaware, traveled to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in Salt Lake City, designed and created a fashionable women’s outdoor garment and stands ready to present her vision to prominent fashion insiders.

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“This jacket’s a two-in-one jacket,” says Williams as she begins her pitch. “It’s a ski jacket that’s completely reversible to a tavern jacket so your woman can go from the slopes to the tavern.”

Project OR

Williams represented the northeast region in Project OR, a national design competition featuring just five students from around the country. Much like the popular reality show Project Runway, Project OR gives competitors a small slice of time, an objective and a supply of materials. Contestants must use their own ingenuity to construct a creative garment that fits the objective.

Project OR, now in its 10th cycle, takes place during the Outdoor Retailer Market every summer and winter. Outdoor Retailer brings together manufactures, retailers, industry advocates and media in the outdoor recreation business. 

On the first day of the competition this January, Williams and the other contestants learned that they would be creating a “fashion forward and fully-functional” woman’s backcountry ski jacket from scratch.

“I was freaking out until I got the design brief,” said Williams, “But once I got it, I had no time to be nervous.”

Williams, a skier herself, immediately began sketching designs that would encompass fashion, sustainability and practicality. 

“When I first heard the challenge, I thought about what I would want to wear. I considered the problems I face when I ski. Then I thought about how I want to look when I go sit in a restaurant afterwards,” she said.

After drawing up close to 15 different designs, it was time for Williams to run her concept by the judges.

Industry participation

The judges are industry leaders who invest a lot of their time and energy into the competition, according the Eric Steele, director of Project OR. 

“The judges get to see what they were like when they first started,” said Steele. 

Contestants are encouraged to interact with suppliers present at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market to learn more about materials used in the production of outdoor clothing. 

The primary goal of Project OR is to provide exposure for vendors and demystify the production of technical clothing, according to Steele. 

The competition also creates unexpected, though welcome, opportunities and exposure for the student contestants. 

As a result of the competition, many former Project OR contestants now hold jobs with prominent fashion companies, such as Ralph Lauren and Cabela’s, said Steele. 

The competition

Armed with feedback from judges and retailers, Williams and the other contestants set to work physically crafting their garments. 

After battling through a lack of sleep, an unrelenting clock and an unfamiliar sewing machine, Williams finished her prototype in the knick of time.

“I put my scissors down 10 minutes before noon; it took me the whole 48 hours to finish,” she said. 

Williams created a waterproof black jacket with orange accents, a built in GPS watch, and a convertible piece that could be transformed into a scarf, a headband or a belt.

She felt comfortable using eco-friendly materials provided for the competition, thanks in large part to the UD Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies’ emphasis on sustainability. 

“In 2012, the Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies was ranked second on a list of the top programs committed to sustainability by Source4Style,” said Kelly Cobb, assistant professor of fashion and apparel studies. “So we really want to create opportunities to show our expertise.”

Cobb, who pushed for UD’s participation in the competition, knew Williams would thrive during Project OR, despite a lack of experience with sewing technical garments. 

“Brynn accepts challenges, even if she has no idea what is going to happen. I think that is really the mark of a good designer,” she said. 

Williams presented her final prototype to the judging panel with confidence and clarity. Although not ultimately picked as the Project OR winner, she did not return to Delaware empty-handed.

As a result of her willingness to network and talk to the vendors at the competition, Williams left with over 20 business cards.

Within a couple of weeks of returning from the competition she accepted a job offer from Aptitude, a sporting gear company.

Click here to see video footage from the competition.

Article by Kelley Bregenzer

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