“This past summer has made me realize that I want to be a part of the smart textile world; watching it grow and helping it progress to the next level would be an amazing opportunity and I am excited to turn this realization into a reality,” said recent Textile Engineering graduate Courtney Lee ‘18, who spent the summer in New York City at the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator (BF+DA) as a research fellow with the TEK-TILES program.

The 2018 TEK-TILES program centered on the creation of functional textiles and smart garments to solve human challenges related to health, safety and comfort as well as sustainability and ethics.

“The TEK-TILES program is a unique discovery of the application space for textile electronics using a multidisciplinary approach to design,” said TEK-TILES team leader Dr. Jesse Jur, associate professor in the department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science here at the Wilson College of Textiles. “In the course of 10 weeks, the student participants linked experiential design strategies and advanced textile fabrication strategies to solve real world problems.”

According to BF+DA, the project pulled together 14 “highly creative masterminds” from different universities to design at the intersection of fashion and functionality.

“I worked with 13 other students selected from different schools on revamping old and bringing to life new ideas,” said Lee. “We were broken up into teams and each person worked on two out of six major projects for the summer. Afterwards, I took on the role of one team’s project lead after being selected by my peers. We focused on designing and prototyping with the end goal of presenting our findings and prototypes.”  

She was one of three students chosen from the Wilson College of Textiles at NC State.

This year Courtney Lee, Rachel Rainer and Caroline Kvietok all participated from NC State, collaborating with students from other universities,” said Jur. “Leveraging their undergraduate experience at the Wilson College of Textiles, they provided the program with key textile knowledge at both technical and design levels. It was great to see how our students were integral assets to the program! More importantly, they came away with a collaborative experience that will carry with them through their whole career.”

Courtney Lee stands in front of whiteboard at TEK-TILES 2018

Lee, who also graduated with a minor in Graphic Communications, said the experience changed her perspective.

“I learned things like Arduino coding and creating flexible circuits, but my biggest takeaway was how I think,” she said. “At the beginning of the summer, we were questioned with choosing design or functionality or vice versa. Studying engineering for the past few years, my mind instantly thought functionality; however, after listening to someone describe why they would choose design, I realized there isn’t truly a right answer. With that in mind — and after collaborating with designers — I acquired a new perspective on problem solving and thinking.”

BF+DA founder Debera Johnson visited Lee’s senior design class to speak about the TEK-TILES program and present swatches from the previous year; later that day, she gave an extended presentation about the importance of sustainability within the textile field. Lee was captivated by the program and decided that day to apply.

“The TEK-TILES program focused on bringing together people with a wide range of backgrounds, so if you have a unique passion, make a note of it when applying — it will make you stand out from other applicants,” she said.

Lee most enjoyed creating working prototypes and making connections with others in the evolving textiles field.

“I am a hands-on person…nothing beats the feeling of making something that works,” she said. “(I also had) the amazing opportunity to go listen and network at the WEAR Conference 2018, held in Manhattan at the Fashion Institute of Technology, with some of my teammates. Hearing and seeing the future of e-textiles and talking with others was truly inspiring.”

She rented a place just a five-minute walk away from the BF+DA, and often went in to work early.

“Once settled in for the day ahead, my time consisted of things like meeting with team leads and/or the production lab, innovating design, working on Arduino coding, cut and sewing, wiring up circuits, testing prototypes and much more,” she said. “ I really enjoyed working with my teammates because each person provided a different skill set like pattern making or unity coding that further progressed the project. It was a great atmosphere to be in, with everyone encouraging and learning from one another.”

Inspired by the TEK-TILES program, Lee is looking forward to a career improving the human experience through the integration of technology and textiles.

“At the end of the program, I was deeply saddened in having to leave because my teammates and the BF+DA had become like family to me,” she said. “I would just like to say thank you to NC State and the Wilson College of Textiles for sponsoring me as well as the BF+DA family, Deb Johnson, Mireia Lopez, Pedro Oliviera and Liza Stark. Furthermore, I especially would like to thank Dr. Jur for his help and encouragement. The program has been an experience that I will never forget.”

Courtney Lee and friend high five at Coney Island