NATICK, Mass. -- Collaboration is always in fashion at the RDECOM Soldier Center.

That was the idea behind the recent visit of Michelle Simpson, the executive director of the School of Fashion Design in Boston, Mass. During her visit, Simpson received an overview of work being done by the Design, Pattern & Prototype Team in the RDECOM Soldier Center's Soldier Protection and Survivability Directorate. She also received a tour of the Navy Clothing and Textile Research Facility's design shop. Both the RDECOM Soldier Center and NCTRF are located at the Natick Soldier Systems Center.

During the visit, experts from RDECOM Soldier Center and NCTRF discussed with Simpson the role of their clothing designers, as well as potential opportunities for student tours and internships.

Some of the functions of clothing developed at the RDECOM Soldier Center include cold-weather protection, flame and thermal protection, ballistic protection, and chemical-biological protection -- to name just a few. Designers need to have, or quickly learn, advanced skills in form, fit and function. The weight, fit and flexibility of these items also have to be designed so they do not hinder human performance.

"What we do is very technical," said Carole Winterhalter, an RDECOM Soldier Center textile technologist who works in the Soldier Protection and Survivability Directorate. "It's clothing systems' engineering -- so the individual components all have to work together and facilitate Soldier performance. Accurate fit, range of motion, and comfort all play an important role in the design of the items in order to provide optimum protection, mobility and agility on the battlefield, as in the case with body armor."

Winterhalter believes that Simpson's visit will help the school to provide students with information about career options that they may not be aware of, as well as create the potential opportunity for internships. Boston's School of Fashion Design provides students with hands-on training that is hard to find elsewhere and is well-suited to the work being done by RDECOM Soldier Center and the NCTRF.

"The school really emphasizes hands-on execution," said Winterhalter. "The classes are small so that students get a lot of hands-on instruction in traditional techniques, draping, sewing, and tailoring, as well as instruction in state-of-the-art, computer-aided design and pattern grading. The execution piece of design is essential for prototype development. These skills are no longer taught at a lot of schools but they are key for the work we do here. The School of Fashion Design really teaches students craftsmanship."

"We really focus on students creating a high quality garment and that is a core value of our program," said Simpson. "Technology changes, but the need to create something of high quality never changes. We focus on the execution of the garment."

"The military needs creative designers to create innovative, high quality, high-tech garments to solve complex Soldier system problems," said Winterhalter. "You need people not only skilled in conceptualizing, you need people that can transfer two-dimensional fabrics into three-dimensional products -- which is a very exacting process. It's great to have a local resource, whose principles and techniques complement ours."

"It's so important to hear from employers what they need and expect from graduates," said Simpson. "I would love to see our students get more real-world experience."

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The U.S. Army Soldier Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.