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The efficacy of problem-based learning of plus-size design in the fashion curriculum


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As obesity rates have grown in the past decades, so has interest in plus-size fashion. With more than 50% of US and Canadian women reporting that they wear a size 14 or higher, it is critical to address this demographic. To respond to this trend, fashion designers and merchandisers have been encouraged to incorporate plus-sizes into their lines [Kim, H. Y., Jolly, L., & Kim, Y. K. (2007). Future forces transforming apparel retailing in the United States: An environmental scanning approach. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 25(4), 307–322. doi:10.1177/0887302X07306851)]. Plus-size options are available although there are challenges for apparel designers and merchandisers when trying to create the ideal fit and inviting retail experience. To help undergraduate apparel students gain confidence, learn about critical issues and problem-solving approaches for the plus-size market, a project was created and implemented in an undergraduate design course at a US university in the Pacific Northwest. In the course, using the problem-based learning method, students researched, designed and produced an original plus-size prototype swimsuit for a prominent competitive swimwear company. Student feedback following the project was largely positive, with most students demonstrating increase in confidence and necessary skills through a hands-on approach.
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International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and
ISSN: 1754-3266 (Print) 1754-3274 (Online) Journal homepage:
The efficacy of problem-based learning of plus-size
design in the fashion curriculum
Deborah A. Christel
To cite this article: Deborah A. Christel (2015): The efficacy of problem-based learning of plus-
size design in the fashion curriculum, International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and
Education, DOI: 10.1080/17543266.2015.1094518
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International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education, 2015
The efficacy of problem-based learning of plus-size design in the fashion curriculum
Deborah A. Christel
Department of Apparel Merchandising, Design and Textiles, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, USA
(Received 27 May 2015; accepted 11 September 2015)
As obesity rates have grown in the past decades, so has interest in plus-size fashion. With more than 50% of US and Canadian
women reporting that they wear a size 14 or higher, it is critical to address this demographic. To respond to this trend, fashion
designers and merchandisers have been encouraged to incorporate plus-sizes into their lines [Kim, H. Y., Jolly, L., & Kim, Y.
K. (2007). Future forces transforming apparel retailing in the United States: An environmental scanning approach. Clothing
and Textiles Research Journal,25(4), 307–322. doi:10.1177/0887302X07306851)]. Plus-size options are available although
there are challenges for apparel designers and merchandisers when trying to create the ideal fit and inviting retail experience.
To help undergraduate apparel students gain confidence, learn about critical issues and problem-solving approaches for
the plus-size market, a project was created and implemented in an undergraduate design course at a US university in the
Pacific Northwest. In the course, using the problem-based learning method, students researched, designed and produced
an original plus-size prototype swimsuit for a prominent competitive swimwear company. Student feedback following the
project was largely positive, with most students demonstrating increase in confidence and necessary skills through a hands-on
Keywords: curriculum design; problem-based learning; plus-size apparel; design and merchandising
The apparel industry is characterised by constant change,
and in order to be relevant, apparel programmes must
stay current with industry issues in order to better pre-
pare undergraduate students for careers. In recent years,
critical topics in the fashion industry, such as the impact
of technology on the way the retail industry does busi-
ness, the importance of the environment and sustainability
and better understanding of the impact of target markets
and lifestyle on consumption patterns have become criti-
cal issues. As noted by McDonough and Braungart (2002),
critical topics such as sustainability and technologies have
been rapidly incorporated into fashion and merchandising
curriculum. However, design curricula have been slower
to change, and plus-size practices have yet to be widely
adapted in to the US fashion design academic curriculum
(Czerniawski, 2015).
Plus-size design is an area of increasing importance.
Apparel companies have been increasingly addressing the
plus-size demographic over the past decade, making it
a recurring and critical topic in the media (Czerniawski,
2015; Kim, Jolly, & Kim, 2007). Plus-size is roughly clas-
sified as women’s numerical sizing 14 and above (Bogen-
rief, 2012). Size 14 is a number that typically caps the
size charts of most American-distributed stores and brands.
However, ‘One of the problems with apparel sizing is not
the lack of standardization but that numerical size labelling
has no real meaning for many female consumers’ (Brown
& Rice, 2014, p. 202). Understanding that no two bodies
are identical is important when working with the plus-size
silhouette. As a woman’s body changes into the plus-
size category, weight may not be evenly distributed thus
presenting a design challenge for most fashion designers
who are accustomed to working with product for a stan-
dardised body shape. For example, a woman’s hips and
thighs may get larger while her waist and bust stays rela-
tively smaller. Consequently, designers have traditionally
dealt with this particular challenge by simply enlarging
garments by grading the standard small sample-size cloth-
ing into their plus-size collection (Lininger, 2015). Gerber
Technology automated the fashion and apparel industry
in the 1960s and is utilised by over 25,000 customers
that include GAP, Macy’s, Levis, Hanesbrands, Target,
Aéropastal, Chico’s FAS Inc. and numerous others listed
on their webpage (Gerber Technology, 2015). Used by
thousands of fashion companies, Gerber’s Accumark pat-
tern design software recommends ‘when incrementing a
garment from a small to larger size, it [Gerber Accumark]
will grade the pattern from a size 4 to size 6, from size 6
to size 8, from size 8 to size 10 and so on’ (Lininger, 2015,
© The Textile Institute and Informa UK Ltd 2015
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2D.A. Christel
p. 593). Because of this widely accepted grading system,
clothing items graded into larger sized do not always flatter
the variety of plus-size silhouettes.
Plus-size design practices are growing in some com-
panies in the fashion industry. However, there is little
research addressing how academia can prepare apparel
design and merchandising students for the challenges they
will face in contributing to plus-size design practices when
they enter their careers. There are no known existing cur-
rent academic textbooks to assist in teaching plus-size
design, plus-size sizing, plus-size grading and/ or mer-
chandising methods. Furthermore, existing textbooks only
superficially address plus-size sizing methods or design.
Current texts often only address the generally accepted siz-
ing methods and design approaches for special populations
that typically include the plus-size demographic. The gen-
erally accepted sizing classifications include numeric and
alpha designations (Brown & Rice, 2014; Lee & Steen,
2015). Unlike men’s numeric sizes, numeric women’s sizes
such as a size 10 are arbitrary and do not refer to an
actual measurement of anything (Lee & Steen, 2015).
Alpha sizing is termed in S (small), M (medium), L (large),
XL, (extra-large) and so forth. Typically, each alpha size
encompassed two numeric sizes. For example, a size M
will equate and encompass the numeric sizes 8 and 10.
For alpha sizes, there is sometimes confusion about what
size to buy, especially for a mail order customer. What is a
medium; a 10, or a 12? Furthermore, grading rules have
specific relationships that remain consistent for all sizes
and attempt to represent the averages for women. That is
how the sizes, whether alpha or numeric, remain propor-
tional to one another but not necessarily proportional for a
plus-size figure (Lee & Steen, 2015). Other sizing classifi-
cations such as vanity sizing1and one-size-fits-all are used
but are not as common.
Designing for special populations or special markets is
also a challenge. Special populations or special markets
include ‘children, pregnant women, older adults, heavy
people and people with physical disabilities’ (Brown &
Rice, 2001, p. 166). Considering heavy people as a spe-
cial population is an oxymoron as 60 +% of the American
population is considered overweight, heavy or obese (Cen-
tres for Disease Control [CDC], 2014). Plus-size or obese
people require clothing that looks good and fits well. There
is not one single solution for fitting obese people because
they may have disproportional bodies (Brown & Rice,
2001). Some may be large all over while some may be
top or bottom heavy, thus presenting a challenge for the
fashion industry, fashion educators, and students who may
have the desire to design or merchandise for the plus-size
To address this discrepancy in plus-size design teaching
without a current design process or textbook, a problem-
based learning (PBL) approach was incorporated into
an undergraduate elective course in the apparel depart-
ment. Assuming that students majoring in apparel design
and/or merchandising will work in the fashion industry,
the purpose of this study was to examine the efficacy of
PBL and how PBL was used to incorporate an industry-
related project into fashion design curriculum that directly
addresses critical issues with the plus-size demographic.
Problem-based learning
As an instructional method focused on active learning and
a hands-on strategy in the classroom, PBL centres on the
exploration and solution of real-world problems (Krauss &
Boss, 2013). The hands-on nature of the fashion industry,
in conjunction with a real-world design problem, provided
an ideal opportunity to implement a PBL course into an
apparel design and merchandising curriculum. The main
pedagogical benefits of PBL are that it develops important
skills such as critical thinking, development of creativity,
communication, increased understanding of concepts and
problem-solving skills. In addition, PBL has been shown
to help students apply knowledge to a current problem and
then to transfer knowledge to new situations. Instead of
having a textbook which provides facts and then tests the
student’s ability to recall such facts, PBL provides students
the opportunity to directly apply that knowledge to a prob-
lem at hand. An outcome of this pedagogical approach may
possibly be increased confidence.
The model of self-efficacy posits that confidence can be
increased through a variety of sources (Bandura, 1997).
Confidence can be derived by providing opportunities for
mastery (mastering or improving personal skills), demon-
stration of ability (demonstrating more ability than others),
vicarious experience (watching others perform success-
fully), leadership (believing the faculty is skilled to teach)
and environmental comfort (feeling comfortable in the
environment). With effort from faculty, a PBL class can
provide students the opportunity to increase confidence.
Self-confidence, or one’s belief in personal capabilities,
partially governs the motivating potential of performance
and outcome expectancies.
Research on the skill sets needed for success in the fash-
ion industry, according to Bye (2010), suggests that apparel
designers and merchandisers of the future must have skills
related to problem-solving, creative thinking and commu-
nication, the ability to self-reflect and include strong team-
work skills. PBL has been proven to increase collaborative
group dynamics, problem-solving techniques and critical
thinking skills. Morales-Mann and Kaitell (2001) reported
that clear benefits for the students from the use of the
PBL format included increased autonomous learning, crit-
ical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills.
Students also perceive that the PBL approach promotes
critical thinking and problem-solving skills in the learn-
ing process (Cook & Moyle, 2002). Three PBL studies
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International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education 3
within apparel design and merchandising-related courses
are discussed below, in order to illustrate the efficacy of
the PBL method.
Carpenter and Fairhurst (2005) documented the design
and implementation of a senior-level capstone course using
PBL in a retail merchandising project. In this project, stu-
dents worked with an industry partner and collaborated on
current problems, revising mission statements and creating
solutions. Students were evaluated on rubrics and showed
improvements in problem-solving, critical thinking, creat-
ing alternative solutions and applying previously gained
knowledge to real-world industry issues.
Cao, Frey, Farr, and Gam (2006) used PBL in a special
topics textile design and merchandising course focusing on
environmental-friendly design. Two major projects were
completed and student feedback suggest that they were
better able to ‘think outside the box’ because of the class
format. The students felt that the class was ‘inspiring’ and
their scope of innovation skills improved.
More recently, Gam and Banning (2011) detailed
how PBL was used to teach apparel design students
problem-solving skills related to sustainable design. Stu-
dents designed and produced a sustainable garment. Due to
the implementation of sustainable practice in a classroom
project, most students indicated that they would continue
to use sustainable practices in their future work. Without
the opportunity to incorporate sustainable practice into a
design project, students may not consider this important in
future work.
In order to apply the PBL model to the current project,
the professor adopted a role as facilitator of learning
and guided the students’ process of problem-solving. The
design problem presented was open-ended, meaning there
was no ‘right’ answer. This allowed students to explore
creativity in design while they incorporated the needs of
the target market. To provide structure for the course, a key
problem was identified and a key goal was agreed upon.
The problem posed for the course was, ‘plus-size women
are dissatisfied with their swimwear’. The key goal was to
‘develop a prototype swimsuit that might address some of
the problems identified by the target market’.
Incorporating a PBL method was motivated by a proposal
from a swimwear company that serves on the University’s
design department advisory board. The advisory board
meets biannually and advises the department on industry
trends and skills students’ needs to be successful upon
graduation. The swimwear company shared that their cur-
rent sizing and grading system may not be satisfactory
for their plus-size consumers and they also knew plus-
size women were more often than not dissatisfied with
their clothing choices. This real-world fashion industry
issue presented an opportunity for academic research, stu-
dent learning and industry improvement. The swimwear
company wanted to provide students with an industry rele-
vant problem that resulted in a mutually beneficial project
in which a prototype and research findings were presented
to representatives at the company.
The swimwear company expressed interest in learn-
ing more about the plus-size swimwear demographic and
proposed this research be conducted in a university set-
ting. At the university where this project occurred, stu-
dents in the apparel programme are focused on either
design or merchandising, although the product devel-
opment area overlaps the two fields. In addition to
required courses, students may take elective courses. The
department frequently offers special topic design or mer-
chandising elective courses. In this particular case, the
special topics course was designed for both design and
merchandising, but was focused on a particular target
market, the plus-sized market for women’s swimwear.
The swimwear company used in the class project cat-
egorises a plus-size consumer between women sizes
18 and 24.
Data collection and analysis
The purpose of this qualitative research study was to
examine the effectiveness of PBL to increase student con-
fidence and how PBL was used to incorporate an industry-
related project that directly addresses critical issues with
the plus-size demographic. Open-ended questions were
given to each student before and following completion
of the class. Questions were developed using the theo-
retical model of self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997). The the-
ory suggests that confidence is gained in a variety of
ways. The PBL class provided opportunities to gain con-
fidence, and then students were asked to evaluate their
Anonymous open-ended questions were chosen as a
methodology in order to elicit honest responses about top-
ics and allow participants the opportunity to reflect on their
experiences. Analysing qualitative data allows researchers
to closely examine ‘the meanings and interpretations that
individuals, in their own terms, place upon their expe-
riences’ (Dickson, 2000, p. 103). To allow for critical
reflection, students were given five days to complete the
questions. The open-ended questions asked of the students
before and after the semester-long class (week 1 and week
16) are illustrated in Table 1.
Students were assigned a random number and
responses were compared before and after the course.
Questions provided information regarding student’s pre-
paredness for meeting industry needs as well as an oppor-
tunity for personal reflection on how they feel their
confidence has changed from the experience. The content
was analysed by examining the text for similarity in words,
themes or answers to questions. These themes were con-
ceptualised through the process of open coding (Strauss &
Corbin, 1998).
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4D.A. Christel
Table 1. Open-ended student survey questions.
Week 1: Baseline question Week 16: Follow-up question
(1) How would you rate
your confidence in design
or merchandising for the
plus-size demographic?
(1) How would you rate
your confidence in design
or merchandising for the
plus-size demographic?
(2) Do you feel this PBL class
format will prepare you
for the fashion industry? If
yes, how?
(2) Do you feel this PBL class
format has prepared you for
the fashion industry? If yes,
PBL course process
To begin the PBL process of designing, students were put
into teams that comprised one designer and one merchan-
diser, totalling five teams. Team size of 2–3 was chosen
to provide students equal share in work. As Alkaslassy
noted, the larger a team, the more likely college students
report that work was not shared equally (2011). Addition-
ally, Burns, Mullet, and Bryant (2011) explained that in the
fashion industry, ‘A designer typically works with a mer-
chandiser to plan the overall look of a line, the color story,
the fabrics, the price ... ’ (p. 171).
After students were divided into teams, students were
asked to begin data collection and market research about
the target market and the swimwear industry. Student
teams reviewed academic articles, magazine articles, web-
sites and industry relevant periodicals to better understand
the demographic and current swimwear offerings. Another
data collection approach, thought to benefit the students,
was focus groups.
Focus groups can provide immediate ideas for the
improvement of a product and they help personalise the
needs of the consumer by directly interacting with them
(Steward & Shamdasani, 2015). A total of 30 plus-size
women swimmers, aged 18 and older, living in the general
public in the US Pacific Northwest region were recruited
over a 5-week period during August and September 2014.
Students assisted in developing potential focus group ques-
tions for plus-size women swimmers. Students collectively
proposed focus group questions during class and the pro-
fessor revised and approved the questions.
A total of five focus groups were held early in the
course so students could use the data for the design pro-
cess. Each student was required to attend, observe and
take notes at one focus group. The focus groups were led
by the faculty member, audio recorded and transcribed by
graduate research assistants and confirmed for accuracy
by the professor. The professor then distributed the tran-
scripts to the students in the class. Using the transcripts
from the focus groups, the students looked for themes and
developed design solutions. Numerous design suggestions
surfaced through the focus groups. However, due to scope
and limitations in space, the focus group results will not be
addressed in this article. A separate manuscript discussing
the functional, expressive and aesthetic needs of plus-size
women’s swimwear is currently being developed.
The student’s next step was to research trend forecasts
and outline design ideas that combined the target market
needs with the brand image of the swimwear company.
Then, each team was instructed to sketch three swimsuits
based on their gained knowledge. These sketches were
emailed to the swimwear company executive board and
the focus group participants. Feedback was provided to the
teams and each team selected one final swimsuit design
to move forward with based on the feedback of indus-
try and the target market. Next, each team was assigned
a plus-size live fit model between sizes 18 and 26. The
models were measured and each team developed a pro-
totype for their specific model. A total of five swimsuits
were completed and presented to the executive board at the
swimwear company.
The faculty member developed key deliverables to
assist the students with project management (Nilson,
2003). For example, a literature review, summary of focus
group findings, mood boards, sketching, material selection,
technical packages, prototypes and marketing strategies
each had assignment deadlines. These goals were designed
to appropriately challenge the students in view of their
experiences and aptitude (Nilson, 2003). The faculty mem-
ber served as a resource for the students but did not
actively participate in the students’ design process. As pre-
viously found to be effective, the instructor helped students
with inquiry strategies, guided exploration and assisted
in pursuit of solving the problem (Arámbula-Greenfield,
Student profile
The target population for this study comprised senior
apparel design and merchandising students. A total of 11
students enrolled for the course and worked in teams of
2two or 3three. The class consisted of two males and nine
female senior-level undergraduate students. There were
six apparel design majors and five fashion merchandising
majors. With the odd number of students, one team con-
sisted of three while the rest consisted of two students. The
sample ages ranged between 17 and 22. The design and
merchandising students goal was to design and construct a
plus-size swimsuit prototype and present their findings to
the executive board of a competitive swimwear brand.
While responses are mostly positive, it should be taken
into consideration that the course was not required but
an elective. Considering that perspective, we can assume
that the students had some interest in learning about
women’s swimwear and/or plus-size apparel design which
may have influenced their responses. To demonstrate the
perceived effectiveness of PBL, students answered two
questions regarding their perception of personal confidence
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International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education 5
in plus-size design and merchandising, and their perception
of how PBL in a design class has prepared them for the
fashion industry.
Confidence of plus-size design and merchandising skills
Qualitative responses regarding confidence in abilities to
design and merchandise suggested that students had differ-
ent levels of confidence in week 1 compared to week 16.
Table 2demonstrates designers’ and merchandisers’ com-
ments about their perception of confidence before and after
the class.
Perception of PBL class format in preparation for
working in the fashion industry
The second question asked before and after the course
was, ‘Do you feel this PBL class format will/has prepared
you for the fashion industry? If yes, how?’ Qualitative
student responses were reviewed for themes. Factors iden-
tified from this question were used to assess the value
that students place on the class from the perspective of
feeling prepared for a job in the fashion industry. Of the
responses, students shared the benefits of PBL through
increased skills such as increased understanding of con-
cepts, creative thinking, problem-solving communication
and their ability to reflect.
Implicit in the remarks was the capacity of PBL
to provide students the opportunity to increase skills
and develop in-depth understanding of concepts. Three
responses encapsulate the experiences of the students in the
PBL class.
While I have been in plenty of merchandising classes this
class really put me to the test in terms of what I could do.
Everything we have done before has been hypothetical but
now, I’m really having my learning tested. The projects
that we were given in this class were difficult, but we had
the resources to complete them. They made me think out-
side of the box and I think that I am a better merchandiser
for it. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this project for any-
one other than plus sized women. While it was challenging
I feel like I really learned how to market for this demo-
graphic, and learned how to do a little designing for them
I feel this class has been great to learn how the industry
truly works! ... Learning to communicate with advisors
and teammates is a HUGE part of design, and this has
improved my capability to do just that, as well as seeing
my own flaws in that area. I am a little disorganized, with
the occasional lazy spell, and knowing this about myself
can help me avoid it in the future.
Over the 16 weeks, we have done independent market
research, focus groups, inspiration/mood boards, tech flats,
bill of materials, cost sheets, spec sheets, fittings, pric-
ing strategies, advertisements, and the list goes on! It has
all been with a plus-sized woman in mind, and it has all
been my first experience combining these crucial aspects
of the industry andmymajor.I am grateful for this course
because it forced me to be creative and dive into this
project head first (no pun intended). I have grown so much
as a merchandiser, a teammate and as a human being since
this class started!
Critical and timely concepts incorporated into collegiate
curriculum at the senior level, as opposed to the fresh-
man level, are bound to create some insecurity. Previous
Table 2. Illustrative comments of confidence before and after PBL class.
Student Comments Week 1 Comments Week 16
Design I do not have any knowledge on how to construct
patterns and fabric to conform to a plus size model,
but give myself a 10 in my ability to learn
... my confidence in plus-size went from zero
experience to moderately high
Like a 7/10. ... I feel like I know a lot about this market
to create a pretty effective swimsuit line ... but of
course there is so much more to learn
After this course I feel much more prepared to tackle a
plus-size design, that spans from design development
(what plus size women want) to pattern making,
fittings ...
I’m concerned I don’t have enough experience. I’m a
senior and I hope I can be creative enough
... I’ve grown immensely in designing for plus size
women. I would rate myself at a 7 or 8 on a scale of
ten ... . but I am much more confident than I was
during week one
Merchandising Maybe ... 4 out of 10? I strongly believe in sizing for
all but it’s really hard to learn about in today’s society
I believe my confidence in merchandising for plus-sized
women has definitely increased. My confidence as a
merchandiser in general has increased!
Probably lower on the scale, a 3 or 4. I have a general
knowledge of plus size bodies ... but overall I’ve
simply never done it before!
I feel like this class has given me a lot of confidence in
merchandising for the plus-size demographic
I feel pretty confident about it (plus-size). I know plus
size women want to look good in their clothing, be
fashionable, and have it be affordable in the same way
that non-plus(?) women do
I would say that I am more confident in the ability to
merchandise for plus-size women ... now at the end
of the project I feel even more confident
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6D.A. Christel
research suggest that the more authentic and critical a prob-
lem, the more limited the students’ understanding of the
topic and ability to create a solution (Thomas & Mer-
gendoller, 2000). As a result, it was slightly expected
that students would have partial confidence in solving the
plus-size design problem.
During week one, design students felt they were unpre-
pared and readily admitted they felt uneducated about the
plus-size physique. However, students demonstrate confi-
dence in their ability to learn. As the comments reflect, the
students feel confident working with the plus-size demo-
graphic. Students report increased confidence, as a result
of the 16-week project. Without the use of a textbook
providing procedural questions, students suggest that they
have grown immensely and have a lot of insights into the
plus-size market. These comments demonstrate that stu-
dents learned conceptually and not through memorisation
of facts and procedures. Through hands-on experience and
conceptualisation, students obtain long-term knowledge
and confidence (Rugen & Hartl, 1994).
Merchandising students had a different perspective on
their confidence in their ability to merchandise for plus-size
women. The results were mixed while some felt confi-
dent and others did not. In week one responses, students
wrote about key factors relating to the demographic and
another student mentioned how difficult it is to acquire
knowledge about plus-size design in our culture. Perhaps,
the topic may be difficult to learn about because it may
not be equally taught or addressed in fashion merchan-
dising or fashion design curricula compared to smaller
sizing. Another merchandising comment, from the first
week, shows the uncertainty about sizing and merchandis-
ing categories for different body sizes. One student used the
term ‘non-plus(?)’ and this perhaps expresses that he/she
is unsure how to qualify sizes 0–14, or sizing smaller
than plus-size. This comment is a clear indication that
there is confusion about defining sizing categories with this
According to the researchers, these results suggest that
the student, who has experienced traditional class format as
well as the PBL format, had developed a different kind of
knowledge from each. These different forms of knowledge
were also reflected in students’ comment towards their per-
ception of the PBL class. The student expressed that in
the traditional class she felt the learning was hypotheti-
cal. However, by stating, this class really put me to the
test in terms of what I could do, suggests she was able
to realistically test her knowledge to solve problems, and
according to Boaler (1998),
Students taught with a more traditional, formal, didactic
model developed an inert knowledge that they claimed was
of no use to them in the real world.’ In contrast, ‘Students
taught with a more progressive, open, project-based model
developed more flexible and useful forms of knowledge
and were able to use this knowledge in a range of settings
(p. 41).
The progressive, open, PBL method also suggests pro-
fessors give students the opportunity to reflect and in doing
so develops self-awareness, cooperative learning, oppor-
tunity for growth and incorporation of adult skills (Diehl,
Grobe, Lopez, & Cabral, 1999).
Polman (2004) found that when a teacher acts as a
coach in the learning process, it preserves student initiative
and allows for teacher–student negotiation. The comment
above illustrates how the student struggled with group
work but as a result learned the importance of communi-
cation as well as areas of possible personal improvement.
As Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) and Boaler (1998),
note, learning in the context of problem-solving is more
likely to be retained and applied in the future. The PBL
project uncovered some flaws and the student stated, know-
ing this about myself can help me avoid it in the future.
Typically, traditional teaching methods may not reveal
limitations in student skills. In this case, the student is
able to recognise the short-coming and make an effort to
be better prepared for future employment. Additionally,
the student showed the ability to be flexible and open to
new ideas they had not considered. Flexibility and open-
ness are both key skills sought by employers and show
the students ability for exploration and critical thought
(Boaler, 1998).
Requiring consistent explanations of the process
(through project milestones mentioned previously) was
implemented in hopes of cultivating a classroom culture
that supports student groups in becoming experts on dif-
ferent topics. The student states, it has all been my first
experience combining these crucial aspects of the industry,
and as Brown et al. (1989) found, ‘learning is maximized
if the context for learning resembles the real-life context
in which the to-be-learned material will be used’. Requir-
ing both design and merchandising students to achieve
the designated milestones allowed students to master a
breadth of knowledge in a real-life context. More impor-
tantly, this demonstrates that PBL is an effective method
for teaching complex processes and procedures such as
planning, communication, problem-solving and decision-
making. Combining the complicated components of the
apparel product development process enhances the quality
of student learning in the subject area and leads to the ten-
tative claim that students learn higher level cognitive skills
via PBL.
The results of this study will help guide academia in
understanding the effectiveness of PBL and incorporating
critical issues from the fashion industry into the aca-
demic curriculum. Upon completion of this study, the
researchers conclude that the PBL course increased student
confidence, understanding of concepts, critical thinking,
problem-solving, communication, and collaboration skills,
flexibility and students’ ability to reflect. These skills have
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International Journal of Fashion Design, Technology and Education 7
been identified as necessary traits in order to succeed, not
only in the fashion industry (Bye, 2010) but also in a
wide variety of businesses (Johnson, 2011). As suggested
in previous studies, PBL courses are effective in helping
student’s gain in-depth understanding of concepts while
also developing their interpersonal skills (Cao et al., 2006;
Carpenter & Fairhurst, 2005; Gam & Banning, 2011). A
PBL course is effective at bridging the gap between obtain-
ing the interpersonal and technical skills needed for future
careers in the fashion industry.
Plus-size apparel is a significant issue in the fashion
industry and more course work in post-secondary edu-
cation curriculum needs to address the topic as well.
Future apparel designers and merchandisers will strug-
gle in their chosen field post-graduation if they do not
receive appropriate training in design and merchandising
for diverse markets during their collegiate education. A
separate course focusing solely on the plus-size demo-
graphic would benefit both apparel design and merchan-
dising students. There is a call for further development
of plus-size apparel design textbooks for academia. In
the meantime, to the best of each institutions abilities,
plus-size design and merchandising concepts need to be
integrated into various levels of the collegiate education,
particularly in hands-on PBL design classes. Experiences
that involve interviewing the target marketing through
prototype development could become individual or group
projects in required core design courses.
While classroom projects do not face the same chal-
lenges and consequences as those in industry, working
collaboratively with a major fashion company provided
a simulation of an industry experience without the major
consequences of being laid-off. Students learned from their
own individual design process and this will be helpful
as they embark on their own career post-graduation. As
future designers and merchandisers, the students can recog-
nise opportunities and their role in incorporating plus-size
design and merchandising techniques whenever possible.
As seen in the benefits of PBL and students perceptions of
market research applications, they acknowledged that their
learning was driven by a problem with trial and error rather
than memorisation of facts. This is significant because stu-
dents will no longer seek single right answers, but instead
they will gather information, propose different solutions,
evaluate their options and then present a solution. Fur-
thermore, when these students face challenges, they have
learned skills to be creative in finding solutions. In some
instances, when they are faced with a problem such as
fit and design that is not accurate, students will have the
skills to communicate and develop alternative methods to
accommodate the problem.
As a result of the PBL class, each student felt an
increase in their confidence with designing or merchandis-
ing for the plus-size demographic. Furthermore, they felt
that the PBL class helped prepare them for the industry.
Students appreciated the ability to apply skills previously
learned into a real-world and industry relevant problem.
Students reported that they felt they learned more through
the project and enjoyed seeing first-hand how valuable
market research is when understanding your demographics
Continuation of this research is needed to guide PBL
teaching and to provide justification for inclusion in
academia. It may be of further interest to explore the effects
of PBL on students’ learning, achievement dispositions
and attitudes in the months and years following PBL expe-
riences. Expanding research in what constitutes meaning-
ful evidence of PBL effectiveness in different disciplines
(e.g. apparel design and interior design). As the fashion
industry rapidly changes, faculty are challenged to annu-
ally update lesson plans. The disconnection between PBL
research and practice in design curriculum is more than just
unfortunate. Whereas faculty in collegiate courses where
content does not change (i.e. Art History) have access to
texts, tests and other materials, as well as to research-based
theories and practices associated with designing lessons,
developing materials, presenting content, guiding practice,
managing classrooms and preparing tests. Disciplines bet-
ter suited for PBL are in a position of having to construct
a unique instructional model almost completely on their
own without guidance, texts, resource materials or sup-
port. Although there is direct and indirect evidence, both
from students and teachers, that PBL is a more popular
method of instruction, it is not without a heavy front-load
on the faculty and more supporting texts would be of ben-
efit. Additionally, there are benefits and limitations when
collaborating with an industry company. A limitation to
this study is that the university did not initiate the research
with the swimwear company but that the project was devel-
oped together and this may have influenced the research
design of the study. Benefits include assistance in grading,
as in this case, the final prototypes were evaluated by the
industry and therefore it not the sole responsibility of the
professor to grade or justify the given grade. This evalu-
ation by industry added a level of intensity and pressure
to the course that could not be achieved by a professor
alone. Some limitations include more time spent coordi-
nating conference calls with the industry and electronic
sharing of files. The professor also needed to be flexible
in regard to industry schedules and the busy season of the
fashion industry. This meant waiting longer for feedback
and often frustrated students as they are more accustomed
to timely critiques.
The present study used PBL to expose apparel design
and merchandising students to real-world industry chal-
lenges, while providing students an opportunity to explore
plus-size design. Student perspectives on design, PBL and
personal growth provide feedback for academia and teach-
ing methods in apparel design and merchandising courses.
The questionnaire provided an insight into student confi-
dence and perception of PBL when developing plus-size
apparel. Particularly in design, this class provided the
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8D.A. Christel
opportunity for students to experience that there is not
one single correct answer and no one way to obtain that
answer. Although textbooks are helpful in sharing con-
tent and preparing new courses, if professors want students
to become critical thinkers and problem solvers, conven-
tional practices in academia may need to change. These
lessons will hopefully be applied to other design courses
and impact student’s future careers in the fashion industry.
The author would like to acknowledge the students involved in
the special topics class referred to above who gave us access
to their perception and thoughts of the semester-long class. The
author is also grateful to the executive board of the swimwear
company who provided guidance to pursue the research success-
fully and guide an industry relevant project.
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
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... For fashion professionals, knowledge of the market and, most importantly, an understanding of the contemporary diversity in consumer behaviour are essential. Consumers seek a good experience with clothing products (Christel, 2016). An example of this is presented by Christel (2016) in the context of the plus-size clothing segment. ...
... Consumers seek a good experience with clothing products (Christel, 2016). An example of this is presented by Christel (2016) in the context of the plus-size clothing segment. In this segment, individuals' body measurements have particularities that lend themselves to customization of garment patterns. ...
... In this context, data collection activities and practical project execution can be conducted in fashion programs, training students to have a keen eye for consumer diversity, as well as research trends and a global understanding of the fashion supply chain (Christel, 2016;Muzenda & Duku, 2014). ...
... The industry side gleans insight into how educators work, and people from the aca-demic side learn more about existing needs from industry figures (LaBat & Sokolowski, 1999). The partnership provides a foundation with which students can apply fashion knowledge and new technology, helping them discover and solve the fashion industry's current problems (Christel, 2016). ...
... The benefits of this kind of teaching and learning system are still actual and recognized: it is noted in a recent investigation conducted by Christel (2016) that active learning in real problem-based situations develops skills such as critical thinking, creativity, understanding of concepts and problemsolving, but more than everything it gives students the ability to apply knowledge to a current problem and then to transfer knowledge to new situations. Instead of having a textbook which provides facts and then tests the student's ability to recall such facts, it provides students the opportunity to directly apply that knowledge to a problem at hand (ivi, p. 2). ...
Link to open access download: Traditionally associated with craftmanship and manual work, knitwear seems a quite unusual subject of investigation for scientific research. This book places it as an integrative part of the industrial design culture where the dialogue between a productive system of excellence and the design discipline taught in universities becomes a topic of central concern. From an industrial standpoint, knitwear is a fertile ground of technological experimentation while being at the same time one of the most traditional sectors of Made in Italy. The complexity of a long and fragmented production chain is an interesting challenge for designers but affects the training and the knowledge transfer inside companies. On the academic side, the presence of such an industry creates the urgency for higher education to understand how to train knit designers as new professionals, and thus the opportunity for knitwear to be recognized as a discipline deserving specific teaching strategies and a focused scientific research. The present book reports an experimentation conducted in the unique conditions of the Italian industrial design culture, that defined tools and methods to train knit designers not as artists, but with the technical and cultural knowledge and the project-oriented mindset that is typical of industrial design disciplines. These contents are of interest for the academy, as they constitute a tool to design teaching experiences oriented to such a specific industrial sector; for those approaching knitwear design, as it is a pool of information on the complexity of knitwear, a map of the background knowledge, collected and rearranged, and a compass to be guided in building one's own skills; for professionals, who will find here their history, the opinions of colleagues, the opportunity to integrate their knowledge and to learn more about the in-depth experimental, technical and design work that takes place at Politecnico di Milano.
... The weight stigma experience discouraged them from engaging in physical activities by internalizing their weight-biased attitudes (Pearl et al., 2015), which also contributed to negative health outcomes, such as depression and anxiety (Pearl et al., 2014). The weight bias is considered an underlying mechanism in decision-making, where fashion designers and merchandisers hold negative stereotypes toward larger bodies, including those that are considered unattractive and inferior compared to thinner bodies (Christel, 2016). ...
Full-text available
The purpose of this study was to investigate the interactive effect of pandemic fear and weight gain on overweight and obese consumers’ decisions to purchase exercise apparel online based on the theory of planned behavior and body-related self-discrepancy theory. A sample of 515 male and female adults with BMIs of 25 and higher participated in this study. The effect of pandemic fear on the attitudes toward purchasing exercise apparel online was only positive for overweight and obese consumers who did not gain weight during pandemic. However, for those who gained weight during the pandemic, there was no significant effect of pandemic fear on the attitudes toward purchasing exercise apparel online. Attitudes, subjective norm, and perceived behavioral control were all significant predictors of intent to purchase exercise apparel online. This study extends the theory of planned behavior by adding the pandemic-related factors and provides practical implications for online retailers.
... This research contributes to the scholarship of teaching and learning, specifically the study of interdisciplinary teaching approaches to project-based learning that bridges the humanities and design fields (Christel, 2016;Cross, 1982;Gam & Banning, 2011;Hernández-Ramos & De La Paz, 2009;Krajcik & Blumenfeld, 2006;Krauss & Boss, 2013; MacLeod & Van der Veen 2019; Martin et al., 2013). The discussion centers on a wearable technology class project that brought together students in two upper-division undergraduate and graduate level courses: Textiles, Technology & Culture and Experimental Apparel Design. ...
Everyone has the right to exercise their body, but does everyone have the same opportunity when it comes to exercise apparel? Are women of all shapes and sizes allotted the same shopping and purchasing experiences when it comes to exercise apparel? Are all yoga pants, bras, and tank tops created equal? This chapter aims to explore size inclusiveness in the exercise apparel industry and illuminates a viewpoint that all pants are not in fact created equal.
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Western fashion is constantly evolving and in order to obtain notoriety, brands need to positively connect with consumers. Individuals who wear plus-sizes are acutely aware of their reduced clothing choices and rely on language cues to find clothing. Unfortunately, the categorisation of plus-size consumers is fraught with discord and frustration. Fashion communication should consider consumer needs and preferences. However, the language used to classify plus-size consumers has yet to be examined. Plus-size women were recruited online to rate twelve terms associated with plus-size women’s clothing. The survey collected a total of 324 responses of age, height, weight and ratings of terms used to classify plus-size apparel, such as Women’s, Curvy. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and analysis of variance to compare differences considering age and body mass. This study revealed 96% of the sample ranked the classification Women’s higher than Plus-Size. The study offers insights into how plus-size consumers view sizing communications. It also offers a useful ranking of terms that fashion companies can adopt to ensure they are communicating in language that the intended consumer prefers. This study contributes to research on social identity of clothing size, plus-size consumer experiences, and further validates the multidimensional challenges faced by plus-size consumers.
Full-text available
Presentation of preliminary findings on how three aspects of the apparel industry's use the term Plus-Size.
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As consumers' social and environmental concerns have grown in the last decade, so has interest in eco-fashion. Behind fast-changing fashion trends, the apparel industry generates substantial environmental and resource depletion problems throughout the textile lifecycle. To respond to these trends, fashion designers and merchandisers have been motivated to practice sustainability in design and production. Some sustainable options are available, such as organic fibers and environmentally safe dyes. Still, there are challenges for apparel designers and merchandisers when trying to realize sustainability. To help undergraduate apparel students learn problem-solving approaches to sustainable garment design, a problem-based learning project was created and implemented in an undergraduate design course. In the course, students designed and produced an original sustainable garment. Student feedback following the project was largely positive, with most students indicating they would continue using sustainable practices in future work.
Learn technical design processes and industry standards, such as ASTM and ISO, for apparel production and manufacturing practices. With more than 1,100 images and technical packages for 12 apparel products, the book explains topics like fabric selection, finding seasonal fashion trends, garment construction, and fit evaluation, all so you can cost-effectively meet consumer needs. You’ll learn about product categories including women's wear, menswear, and knitwear, as well as how to create a cost sheet and manage product data, to help you develop specification sheets and technical packages for specific markets.
This chapter looks into the creation of fantasy through the images used in retail marketing campaigns. A reluctance and resistance to accept the plus-size niche plagues the retail clothing market. Designers with “skinny vision” fear an association with plus size and, accordingly, limit their size offerings; however, an increasing crop of retail clothing brands recognize the purchasing power of this underserved population. How do these designers contend with a growing segment of consumers who do not fit the standard mold, whose bodies come in a variety of shapes? Beyond matters of size, consumers demand proper fit and on-trend styles that flatter the curves of a larger body instead of hide them. The frustration over the paucity of clothing options is moving more fat women to enter the field as designers. This provides the unique case where the plus-size design niche is a market molded for and by its own. These designers aim to challenge hegemonic beauty standards and expose the fat body.
There are many reasons to assign group projects but determining the grade for each individual working in a group can be problematic. Self and peer assessments of contributions to a group project can be used to adjust individual grades. Most studies of such assessments have considered teams with three to seven members. This study documents the degree of congruence between self and peer assessments of contributions to a project assigned to teams of two people. The majority of students (88.6%) assigned equal credit to themselves and to their partner. Only 16.2% of students had their grades adjusted by the assessment process and most of those adjustments were small. These findings may alleviate concerns of instructors and students about the fairness of assigning individual grades to students working on a project in teams of two.
Clothing and textile design is a discipline of practice, scholarship, and research, sharing many characteristics and issues with the broader discipline of design. This manuscript briefly introduces some of the history and main concepts of the design discipline and design research; presents a framework for Design Scholarship to initiate a discussion about research, and suggests ways to contribute to the larger academic dialogue on forming a design discipline. The main thrust is to argue that a different context is needed for creative scholarship; one of design research that can add to the knowledge base and help build theory in the field. The tacit knowledge of hands-on experience is distinct, but cannot remain solely with the practitioner or the artifact. Clothing and textile design has a long tradition in creative practice, but due to the increasing complexity of our world, there is a need to formally capture the knowledge of the field.
In today's rapidly changing environment, universities are increasingly being held more accountable for delivering quality and value to their external stakeholders (i.e., students and industry partners). As retail merchandising educators, we face the challenge of delivering state-of-the-art knowledge and capstone experiences to students in order to prepare them for the obstacles they will face upon entering the workforce. While traditional methods of instruction limit our ability to meet this challenge, the problem-based learning method offers educators an opportunity to improve students' skills in many critical areas identified by the industry (i.e., problem solving, critical thinking, research, teamwork, verbal/written communication skills). This paper examines one university's experience designing and conducting a senior-level retail merchandising course using the problem-based learning method. Student and industry partner perceptions and comments are used to advocate implementing the problem-based learning method in retail merchandising courses.
This paper reports on 3-year case studies of 2 schools with alternative mathematical teaching approaches. One school used a traditional, textbook approach; the other used open-ended activities at all times. Using various forms of case study data, including observations, questionnaires, interviews, and quantitative assessments, I will show the ways in which the 2 approaches encouraged different forms of knowledge. Students who followed a traditional approach developed a procedural knowledge that was of limited use to them in unfamiliar situations. Students who learned mathematics in an open, project-based environment developed a conceptual understanding that provided them with advantages in a range of assessments and situations. The project students had been "apprenticed" into a system of thinking and using mathematics that helped them in both school and nonschool settings.