For young alumna Rysa Ruth, her path to a fulfilling career was not exactly a straight line. After graduation from the Wilson College of Textiles in 2017 with a B.S. in Fashion and Textile Design (FTD), she held two diverging positions before moving to New York City to work as an assistant designer and CAD designer at PPI Apparel Group.
“Though each job was in the textile industry, [they were] very different,” she said. “I was able to realize that I am extremely passionate about designing women’s intimate apparel because it is a staple of everyone’s wardrobe. Over the course of history we have seen how women’s underwear is reflective of society norms and changes, from the restraining corset to the liberating No Bra movement to plus size women of color in advertising. It is fascinating to be a part of a category that is so pivotal in defining femininity while being functional.”
While still in high school in Tallahassee, Florida, Ruth created custom dresses and bow ties for her Etsy shop, sewing up to 100 dresses per month. She brought that same energy to college, becoming active in Pi Beta Phi, working as campus manager for screen-printed t-shirt company University Tees, serving as Makerspace student advisor, studying abroad in Florence, Italy and interning with SPANX in creative bra design. She accepted a position as technical design assistant with the shapewear company after graduation, then worked as designer and craftswoman with leather accessories company White Oak Pastures. She joined PPI in June 2019.
We spoke with her about her workday, growing up surrounded by fashion and why she chose to attend the Wilson College of Textiles.
Tell us about your current position.
I design discount women’s intimates, bras, panties and shapewear. We work on private label accounts and licenses for off-price retailers. My job consists of the design work from the inception of a garment until we hand it off to the factory to make a first prototype.
During a day at work, I am constantly switching between Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. I create repeat prints for bras and panties that are factory ready. I also create flat sketches in Illustrator that show the details of the pieces, then bring them into Photoshop to color them up and make the garments look more realistic. Once we have confirmed the colors and silhouettes, I create tech packs in PLM (product lifecycle management) to send to the factories. The tech packs include every detail needed to make the garments from the sketch to the color of the elastic to images of reference garments for construction details. My job requires me to pay high attention to detail because we move quickly but must have everything correct for the buyers and factories. I also have to be able to use my creative eye to know when something looks off and provide alternatives to be sure we provide the most on brand and aesthetically pleasing product.
What drew you to textiles?
I think textiles are so important, because we interact with them every day of our lives but take them for granted. Most people don’t think about where their clothes come from, so I wanted to be a part of the industry that creates items in our everyday environment.
Why did you choose to attend Wilson College of Textiles?
I wanted to attend a large state university and study fashion design, which limited my options. I knew I wanted the college experience that comes with attending a state university, such as a large diverse campus, attending football games, and joining Greek life. In addition, I knew NC State would provide me with access to incredible resources to broaden my knowledge of fashion and the textile industry. In addition, I wanted to go to school out of state to expose myself to experiences and get out of my comfort zone.
How did Wilson College of Textiles prepare you for your career?
I got an internship at SPANX during the summer between my junior and senior year — an internship [I discovered on] the bulletin board at Wilson College of Textiles. I ended up getting a full time job offer from SPANX after I graduated because of my internship, which I likely would not have found out about were it not for Wilson. Many of the Textile Technology (TT) and Polymer and Color Chemistry (PCC) classes were extremely helpful in my career in ways I didn’t expect. Having knowledge about fibers and fabrics has helped me understand why and how our design decisions matter, rather than mindlessly following directions. I am very grateful that the FTD program is a Bachelor of Science degree that required me to take science and math classes, even if at the time I was not thrilled to be in them.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was young. My mom taught fashion design at Florida State University, so I grew up surrounded by fashion. When she was sewing I would play designer, draping scraps on her dress form. When I was in high school, she started giving me formal sewing lessons and assignments similar to those she gave her college students.
Tell us more about your time at Wilson College of Textiles.
I remember spending long, late nights in the studio with my classmates the night before critiques. We would all stay up cramming in as much sewing as we could while watching Netflix on the projector and giving each other feedback. It could be extremely stressful, but sharing those experiences led me to make some of my closest friendships. I had an incredible time at NC State and Wilson College. I am a very proud State alumna and one of the first things people learn about me is that I went to NC State. I talk all the time about how much I loved my time there and how grateful I am for the education I received. I was involved with Greek life at NC State in Pi Beta Phi and Order of Omega. I also tried to enter as many fashion shows as I could to give myself exposure and the opportunity to challenge myself. And I never missed a home football game — Go Pack!
What is the future of textiles with regard to your corner of the industry?
There is a trend in intimates now towards being more body positive and inclusive in terms of colors and silhouettes. I think we are going to see more and more underwear catered to a broader range of people, from having a full range of skin tones and sizes readily available to silhouettes designed for gender non-binary and trans people. We are also seeing a rise in use of technology to create better fitting undergarments. Women’s bras are so personal and most women have strong opinions about why they love or hate their bra. This is leading to new technologies that can provide more accurate sizing information and techniques for producing fit flexible and comfortable garments.
What do you do for fun?
I like to knit and watch Netflix in my down time. I spent a lot of time in high school and college sewing, but now that I am in NYC I do not have room for a sewing machine, so I decided to teach myself knitting. I also like to go to fashion exhibits in NYC and generally explore the city.