Students in Garment Engineering course design and sew sweatpants for foster care youth

Hands-on initiative supports children in need through Wisconsin Foster Closet in Menomonie
Wisconsin Foster Closet President Celia Bergraff shows some of the sweatpants designed and produced by UW-Stout fashion and retail students in the Garment and Engineering Production class. / UW-Stout photo
June 21, 2021

A University of Wisconsin-Stout class designed and sewed sweatpants to help children entering the foster care system.

The Garment Engineering and Production class taught by B.S. fashion and retail lecturer Sarah Eileen Smith created 18 pairs of sweatpants this spring for the Wisconsin Foster Closet in Menomonie.

Smith, a 2012 UW-Stout alumna, took the class herself in 2011 while a student in the former apparel design and development program. “The general objective of the course is to simulate a production line to help students gain insight into production methods in the apparel manufacturing world,” Smith said.

A spring 2020 class had planned to make the sweatpants for the Foster Closet but was unable to meet in person because of COVID-19 concerns.

Students created extra-large garments because the Foster Closet gets  many donations for small children but “donations of plus-size garments are few and far between,” Smith said.

Wisconsin Foster Closet logo
Wisconsin Foster Closet logo / UW-Stout photo

Wisconsin Foster Closet, 3375 Kothlow Ave., Menomonie, gives children a week’s worth of clothing and a welcome bag to help them with the transition. The organization has received many donations since its inception in 2018 as a nonprofit organization but needs some special items like sweatpants that can be used for both daywear and sleepwear. Some children coming into the system with nothing but the clothes they are wearing.

“Sweatpants are such a comfort item for kids, especially teenagers,” said Wisconsin Foster Closet President Celia Bergraff, noting all items are free for those entering the foster care system.

“A lot of clothing requests we get are for nonjean items, so our softer pants tend to go pretty quick. We specifically asked for plus-size pants because that was a need we had. We want plus-sized teens to have the same experience ‘shopping’ our racks as every other kid or teen who comes to the closet.

“We loved the pants,” Bergraff added. “We felt they were excellently made.”

UW-Stout students went above and beyond expectations in creating the sweatpants, Bergraff said. They did not put a cuff at the bottom of the legs so they would not fit too tight and put the size label in the pocket instead of the waistband to prevent irritation to the wearers.

Smith said course fees help cover the cost of materials for the garments. The program is also downsizing some storage. The class used some shoelaces in the sweatpants to help repurpose existing items.

“This course teaches students how to simulate a production line and utilize production tools,” Smith said. “By partnering with groups in need to provide goods with the end goal of helping someone, students get to not only produce items but feel good about what happens to the items when they are done with them. They were very motivated by the idea these sweatpants would go to a teen who may not have much that they can call their own, which helped them focus on creating quality goods to meet those needs.


Bergraff sorts through sweatpants UW-Stout students produced for the Wisconsin Foster Closet.
Bergraff sorts through sweatpants UW-Stout students produced for the Wisconsin Foster Closet. / UW-Stout photo

“It was so exciting to see the students taking leadership roles in the classroom,” Smith said.

As the instructor, Smith leads the students through the project and the textbook and learning objectives. The students, however, choose the production system to use, how to create tools for efficiencies and design the entire garment.

“This group of students nailed it,” Smith said. “I am still so impressed with everything they did and how much they completed in one semester.”

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