Fashion and Health Symposium: University of Minnesota

This past weekend I attended the Fashion And Health Symposium at the University of Minnesota, my alma mater. This was the first of their “Fashion And…” series, which will be followed by “Fashion and Social Responsibility” for April 2013 (CFP is out now with Dec 14 due date). Worn Through Contributor Assistant Profesor Kelly Cobb also attended and did a presentation entitled BY KIDS ONLY: Kid-centric garment therapy. I did not do a presentation, as health is not my area of study, yet I thoroughly enjoyed the talks I attended and it is sometimes much more fun to go to a conference without the pressure of a talk.

Worn Through in Person! Me and Kelly

About 45 students, designers, professors and industry professional gathered from around the globe (met someone who flew in from Turkey just for this!). It seemed most were profs and grad students from the Midwest and East Coast. I was thrilled to learn there were even some people who came to know of the conference specifically from Worn Through and attended based on that info. Pleased we’re reaching people who are benefitting from the info we provide!

Emeritus Professor Joanne Eicher and Conference Organizer Professor Kim Johnson

Friday started with two interesting Keynote Speakers. J. Michael Oakes– Co-Director UMN Census Research Data Center; Associate Professor Division of Epidemiology, University of Minnesota. He spoke about how his field of social epidemiology is correlated to fashion movements. he explained that social opinions and trends in dress effect our health, and need to be evaluated.

His talk was followed by one from John Barrows-CEO and President of Coolibar who walked us through the history and relevance of his company, which produces sun-safe attire for the whole fam. He discussed the tech behind the clothes and also some of the social factors that are challenges to getting people to cover up in the heat of the summer.

Saturday was a series of talks in two rooms, as well as meals and demonstrations. I bounced from room to room trying to catch topics I thought may appeal to me, and/or talks from people who I specifically wanted to support and hear new developments from.

Some of the talks I made it to were:
Adolescents’ Self, Social, and Aesthetic View of Hearing Aids or Cochlear Implants by Tameka N. Ellington and Stacey Lim,Kent State University. This one touched on the issue of how young people experience their hearing aids, such as girls’ parents telling them to wear their hair down which contributes to lack of confidence.

Expressive Prostheses: Meaning and Significance by Martha L. Hall and Belinda T. Orzada, University of Delaware, was a good one, as it dove into the world of fancy prosthetics. Tattoos, scrollwork, and the like costing up to $20k but giving people a chance to add personalization.

Presenter Martha Hall giving her talk,

I then saw Exploring motives for behaviors of women who engage in lifelong habitual tanning by Alexandra L. Howell and V. Ann Paulins, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio. They found that occupation had a strong connection to who likes to fake tan, and that simultaneously the tanners are trying to roll back the hand of time while forcing it forward through their beauty method.

Presenters Linsey Gordon, Seoha Min, and Silvia Guttman with designs based on their research

After a surprisingly healthy lunch (for a conference), where I caught up with Kelly and met her Delaware colleagues, I then went on to catch two talks by University of Minnesota grad students. A human-factor model to make breastfeeding easier and User-centered hospital gown were both by Linsey Gordon, with Seoha Min on the first one and Silvia Guttmann on the second. They were design/research presentations trying to find new solutions to ongoing problems. The eye-catching and user-frendly hospital gown was particularly interesting and won a competition sponsored by a large local hospital system which plans to revise and produce it, then sell it to other hospital systems. Pretty impressive for grad students and these sessions were filled with comments.

Kelly with symposium presenter Heidy Berthoud and Assistant Professor Deidre Clemente

Next I caught a part of An examination of virtual communities for consumers with physical disabilities in the apparel shopping experience by Kate Carroll and Yingjiao Xu, North Carolina State University. They found that their shoppers were primarily working within the mass market retailers, and not specialty nor disability focused boutiques, and I gathered perhaps marketing and products should be considered accordingly.

The last talk I went to had the most lively presenter, Deirdre Clemente, University of Nevada, Las Vegas with “Way too practical for cinched-in waists”: College women, casual clothing, and the healthy body. She traced the history for us of sportswear coming to our closets by way of college women in from about 1930-70 who fought for their right to dress with function in mind, even to Sunday dinner, the last hold-out of a more mannered era.

I didn’t make it to the open houses and demonstrations provided by the Human Dimensioning© Lab and the Wearable Technology Lab but they were showing body scanning and motion capture among other innovations. I have been a participant in body scanning for them for some of their research, and it really is amazing to see how that tech works.

I wish I could have come back for Sunday‘s talks, but alas, I was unable due to family obligations. I’m really glad I made it to two days worth of talks though. As mentioned, I am not particularly into studying health, although I have done some research for a project on dentists’ attire and a few other brief team projects. This symposium wasn’t all high-tech or deeply medical though, above the head of those who are not in-the-know. This was a very social and human conference with lots of talk about how to improve health, daily life, and interactions through increased understanding of dress, and spoke to the history and theories of fashion.

This is apparently the topic du jour, as our registration packets contained CFPs for Clothing and Textiles Research Journal and for Fashion Practice that are both seeking submissions to special topics issues on Health/Well-being. I look forward to reading those issues as I found the whole weekend fascinating. Everyone can relate on a personal level to some aspects of the research being done in this area. For example I spoke up during the talk on improving breast-feeding garments and many were chatting about the work on tanning.

Having attended my share of conferences, symposiums, and related events, as well as having done a great deal of event planning myself, I’m a bit of a picky attendee. I have developed an idea of what I think works and doesn’t in terms of satisfying the needs of those who’ve registered. Overall, I thought they did a good job having food constantly available and lots of chances for people to interact. In fact I reunited with a colleague I hadn’t chatted with in the better part of a decade as we both dashed into the snack room at the same time!

The only improvements I’d make for next year are 1. to reduce the cost to attendees as it was somewhat spendy for a smaller sized event if one wasn’t a student, 2. plan some evening and community activities because these small scale events are perfect for networking and making friends out of colleagues as well as engaging in the local community 3. more PR as even living here and being an alum I barely heard about it and it could have appealed to a lot more than 45 people.

That said, I did hear of people enjoying some time at Nye’s Polonaise, Nicollet Mall, vintage shopping, The Walker Art Center and the St. Paul Grille so I’m glad to see some made it around town. Also, the first night was free and open to the public, so that was a nice chance for locals and those who didn’t want to spend the dough to come hear the keynotes. Perhaps next year with some more advance planning Worn Through will organize an evening out for anyone to join. As it grows closer we’ll talk more about that if there is interest.

So, until next year, here’s to good health!!

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  • jacqueline April 24, 2012 11.26 am

    Thanks for sharing this recap. I wanted to make it, but unfortunately wasn’t able do to lack of funds, even though it was close. Next year sounds like a great topic — maybe I’ll consider submitting.

  • Kelly C May 11, 2012 09.39 am

    Thanks for posting this Monica, it was great seeing you. This is the first in a series of symposiums UMN is organizing-very well organized, start saving your pennies for next year.
    The opportunity to connect with others on a specific path among the many migrations fashion takes is significant. It is good for all involved to share and learn together.
    See you next year maybe?

  • Kelly C May 11, 2012 09.41 am

    And also…I do agree that conferences such as these should tier their admission fees so everyone can attend!


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