Under Armor Professor and coordinator of apparel design
College of Human Sciences
Lenda Jo Connell is the Under Armour Professor and coordinator of apparel design in the Department of Consumer and Design Sciences in the College of Human Sciences. After a 41-year career on the Plains, she is retiring at the end of June. Connell grew up in the small farming town of Oak Grove, La., and earned two degrees - a bachelor's in home economics education at Louisiana Tech and a master's in clothing and textiles at Louisiana State - before coming to Auburn in 1971. She earned a doctorate in adult education at Auburn in 1990.
1. Why did you go into apparel design in the first place?
I knew that I wanted a career that was dynamic and involved people, and teaching and conducting research in apparel design and production proved to be the right choice. Most people think of apparel design only from the creative perspective, but successful design is so much more than that. Each design must also be successful technically; there is science everywhere in apparel design - from understanding and selecting appropriate fabrics for an end use, to using anthropometric data to inform issues of sizing and fit, to constructing research to understand what features consumers' value in an apparel product, to understanding environmental issues associated with discarding apparel. Combining the science of design with the challenge of creativity provided the basis for a stimulating career.
2. How did you get to Auburn and why did you stay so long?
My major professor at LSU, Eleanor Kelley, was an Auburn graduate and thought it would be the best place to begin my career. I stayed because Auburn offered me a career track that allowed me to grow and be rewarded professionally. My career has been enriched by exposure to all three missions of the university - teaching, research and extension. I started in the School of Home Economics before I was offered a position as an Extension Resource Specialist focusing on apparel with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. I traveled the state presenting educational programming in clothing and textiles to Alabama consumers, and visited textile and apparel plants throughout the state. In the late 1980s, with the passing of NAFTA and CAFTA, I utilized my industry experience to work with my colleagues in the College of Human Sciences and develop sourcing opportunities for Alabama's apparel producers. After I completed my doctorate in 1990 at Auburn, my colleagues in the college encouraged me to return to teaching and pursue my research in apparel product development. For the last 21 years, I have enjoyed preparing undergraduate and graduate students to work with the apparel industry while pursing my research.
3. Could you talk about your research in apparel product development, and specifically the use of a 3D body scanner?
Early on, I worked with companies like Walmart, Vanity Fair and Russell Corporation to understand what consumers' valued in apparel products. Later, with National Textile Center funding, I worked with researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to develop an interactive sourcing database for apparel production. Today, I am still fascinated with applying technology to solve the problems faced by industry and consumers. As new technology has emerged, I've been fortunate to pursue funding that allowed Auburn University to be one of the first academic institutions to use 3D whole body scanning to address issues of sizing and fit. The scanner is a powerful tool able to accurately capture more than 300 body measurements in seconds. Being able to obtain body measurements quickly and accurately allows us to understand how body shapes and sizes influence apparel sizing and pattern development for better fit. Through funding from the Coke Foundation, our latest research involves using body scanning to produce avatars for use in motivating children to maintain a healthy weight.
4. Students love you and your classes, and your co-workers look up to you. Was mentor a role you were comfortable with taking?
For me, people are the best part of the job. Nurturing my colleagues and Auburn students was really the most rewarding part of my career.
5. What advice would you give the future Auburn students who won't get the chance to experience you as a teacher?
Auburn design students are so talented. Whomever they have as a teacher, if they will follow their passion and instincts, remember that every experience plays a part in the greater plan for their lives and work like they owned the company, they will be successful.