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Finding New Uses for Old Clothing

A visit with Jana Hawley, Assistant Professor, Textile and Apparel Management

By LuAnne Roth
Published: - Topics: Tiger Tartan quilting textiles recycling Amish

The excitement of innovative research and teaching projects becomes palpable while listening to Jana Hawley describe her work. As an assistant professor in the Textile and Apparel Management (TAM) department at MU, Hawley manages several ongoing projects related to electronic commerce, yet the initiatives she is most passionate talking about involve aspects of textile recycling. Hawley has been looking at clothing at numerous levels of "the discard stage," that is, clothing that people have thrown away as unwanted items.

In the context of American consumer culture, this is a crucial and multi-tiered project. Taking a systems approach, Hawley has done everything from investigating the practices of recycling companies around the United States to interviewing individuals at garage sales. "When we think about used clothing," she explains, "we think about Goodwill and maybe exporting to [developing parts of the world] but we have so much [discarded clothing] that we need to be thinking about other value-added products." This is especially important considering the fact that clothing is 100% recyclable. Hawley's mission has been trying to persuade people to think seriously about recycling their clothing.

In this same vein, Hawley has been advocating with legislators regarding export laws that affect the ability to recycle clothing. She also works with companies and consumers to promote "value-added" products, where something is done to old clothing in order to render it useable again. Just as discarded tennis shoes can be chopped up to produce impact-absorbent playground surfaces, old clothing can be chopped up to make products ranging from carpet and roofing material to fence posts and fuel.

With this range of recycling applications on the horizon, it made sense for Hawley to seek collaboration with researchers in other fields. For example, Hawley has partnered with Unlimited Opportunities, a social service organization in Boonville that offers life skills and job training to adults with physical and mental disabilities. Along with twelve of Hawley's students, the team established a used clothing store, called Savvy Seconds, which is operated by the clients of Unlimited Opportunities. Opened in December 2004, the store simultaneously gives valuable work experience to its employees and offers Boonville its only recycled clothing store. Hawley's research mission to promote textile recycling from different angles will likely continue long into the future. As she explains, "I'm really passionate about this. [It] makes my research in the fashion industry more valuable to me."

Hawley describes as well, in loving and nostalgic tones, the oldest of her ongoing research projects--her fieldwork with an Amish community in Missouri. Having conducted her dissertation research on Old Order Amish business practices, Hawley continues to maintain close ties to the community, marveling at how they carefully navigate the domain of new technology and business ventures. For instance, even the women who "quilt for hire" manage to circumvent the consumer values of the "outside world," separating their work into "quilting for hire" and "quilting for family." It follows, then, that their quilting aesthetics and behavior mirror this worldview.

Another exciting project is being conceived right now. It involves a four-way collaboration among TAM faculty and students: Laurel Wilson's computer-aided design class, Lynn Boorady's product development class, Pam Norum's consumer research class, and Hawley's softgoods brand management class. Students will work together to imagine, design, produce, license, and market "Tiger Tartan"--a licensed fabric that could eventually appear in places as diverse and ubiquitous as the lining of purses, book bags, and wallets, as well as stadium blankets. Pulling together all of these different faculty, courses, and students during the winter semester 2006 kick-off of this project will be a challenge; but in addition to offering students practical hands-on experience, this is a venture that could make it possible to touch the very fabric of Mizzou--literally as well as figuratively.