Ergonomic design for every body: A fashion professional’s journey into occupational healthAug 20, 2020
You may recognize Kayna Hobbs from the TEDxCSU talk she gave in March 2020. Kayna discussed a project she worked on that used 3D body scanning for apparel design. But allow us to rewind; the road in which this TEDx talk marks the midway point takes a few interesting twists and turns.
Before graduating with her Bachelor of Science in Apparel Design from the University of Minnesota, Kayna began working in New York City as a pattern maker, which she refers to as a “clothing engineer.” Head designers in Kayna’s office would give her an illustration that she would turn into a garment by developing flat pattern pieces. This role required an understanding of both clothing construction as well as the body shape and size of the person who would be wearing the clothing.
But, if you’ve ever heard stereotypes about the fashion industry (The Devil Wears Prada, anyone?), Kayna says they are true. “It can be a very unforgiving and unhealthy working environment,” she says. “After four years as a pattern maker, I realized that I missed the academic environment and began searching for graduate degree programs in apparel design. I also realized that I could use my design and pattern making skills in a different way than to just sell clothes—I could use them to help people.”
Kayna decided to study Design and Merchandising at Colorado State University and in her first semester, took Intro to Ergonomics with Dr. John Rosecrance, head of the Occupational Ergonomics and Safety program for the Mountain & Plains Education and Research Center (MAP ERC). Kayna’s interest in public health piqued as she discovered the diverse range of topics covered by ergonomics.
“I felt it was important to diversify my areas of learning,” Kayna says, “and ergonomics seemed like a very interesting and manageable way to expand my knowledge on how clothing, and more broadly, an understanding of peoples’ body shapes and sizes, can aid in occupational health and safety.”
During her graduate studies, Kayna became involved in a project called Size North America project—a multi-continent, multi-state project aimed at understanding the anthropometrics (the science of measuring the size and proportions of the human body) of the worlds’ population using 3D body scanning technology. Many companies including Boeing, John Deere, and Under Armour, use the data gathered from this project to make their products more suitable for the modern-day human. Kayna was inspired to incorporate 3D body scanning into her research through her work on Size North America.
Her master’s thesis broadly involved developing sportswear for a single-case study Paralympic athlete. Her research utilized 3D body scanning, pattern making, Computer Aided Design, and virtual garment simulation, among other methods. Through qualitative data analysis, Kayna was able to build on clothing-based theories and help future researchers understand some of the specific clothing needs of disabled athletes, such as the different approach needed to fit clothing to the standing body of a non-disabled person versus fitting clothing to the seated body of a person who uses a wheelchair.
Kayna was awarded 1st Place for Distinction in Creativity at CSU’s 2019 Graduate Student Showcase for this research and was subsequently asked to participate in the 2020 TEDxCSU event as a speaker. Her talk, “Making the Clothing Industry More Inclusive,” can be found on Kayna’s website.
Through her master’s program, Kayna discovered her love for research and decided to continue her research and education and is now enrolled in the doctorate program in Occupational Ergonomics and Safety through the MAP ERC.
“I found CSU and the MAP ERC very interesting in that it is a network focused on occupational health and safety,” says Kayna. “I have always found collaboration to be the cornerstone of creativity, and I am excited about the opportunity to learn from others within the MAP ERC.”
Kayna’s dissertation will take the concepts of using 3D body scanning and understanding anthropometrics and expand these ideas on a larger scale. She will be conducting research to develop face masks that fit the wearer’s face (with no air leaks) and have the least amount of particulate transmission possible.
“It’s really interesting to see how my background in pattern making and 3D body scanning can be utilized in many different ways,” Kayna says. “I’m excited to help make progress in occupational health and safety for all workers. This upcoming project feels like the best possible way I could use my skills to help with worker safety and health.”
Written by Laura Veith, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at the Center for Health, Work & Environment based at the Colorado School of Public Health.