CWU Apparel, Textiles, and Merchandising professor Andrea Eklund wants to provide her students with as much industry experience as she can before they begin their careers.

What better way to prepare aspiring young professionals than by taking them where clothing and accessories are made?

Earlier this month, Eklund accompanied 15 of her Northwest Field Experience in Apparel and Textiles students on a three-day, two-night field trip to Western Washington, where they toured eight company headquarters and interacted with CEOs, buyers, merchandisers, designers, textile developers, and product developers.

The group also met with a number of CWU alums who went through the program and now work in the industry.

“My goal with these field trips is to show the students that there are a lot of companies out there that they aren’t even aware of,” said Eklund, who started doing the westside field experiences when she became a CWU professor in 2007. “The industry is much more than just REI and Nordstrom. But until they see it first hand, they don’t know what opportunities are available to them.”

The group toured companies in North Bend, Lynnwood, Tukwila, and Kent, plus a couple of Seattle stops at Brooks Running and Filson. They also visited Evrnu, Zumiez, Finest Accessories, the Nordstrom Quality Center, Greensource, and International News.

The class stayed at a hotel in Tukwila and participated in a panel discussion with four CWU alumni. Hearing from their contemporaries really brought the whole experience home for the students, Eklund said.

“It was great for them to have that ‘a-ha’ moment and see all of the options they have in the global apparel industry,” she said. “Washington state has one of the largest apparel industries in the U.S. and is a leader in fashion and design. These students got to go behind the scenes and see the whole process.”

Washington’s fashion and design industry accounts for $8.3 billion in annual revenue and is home to more than 2,500 apparel manufacturers and retailers.

Eklund’s industry connections — both from her early career and her time at CWU — are what have made these field experiences happen over the past 12 years. She said providing her students with that kind of exposure is very rewarding.

“Industry experience is helpful, but connecting with real-world professionals is absolutely vital to learning this business,” said Eklund, who spent five years as a quality engineer for Nordstrom’s private label division, Nordstrom Product Group, before coming to CWU.

She said that when she was a student, a similar tour helped her decide on a career direction.

“That’s how I figured out exactly what I wanted to do,” she said.

An added bonus for Eklund is that she gets to reconnect with her former students and industry colleagues.

Finest Accessories, a high-end clothing and accessories company based in North Bend, has two CWU alums on staff in Madeline Kush and Kalle Peltola-Frye. Zumiez, a trendy, youthful clothing and apparel company based in Lynnwood, has hired two 2018 CWU graduates, Kyra Burns and Brianna Wood.

Another CWU alumna, Kate Cottone, works for Evrnu, a Seattle-based textile innovations company that has invented a fiber made from discarded clothing called NuCycl.

New opportunities are always being presented to CWU Apparel, Textiles, and Merchandising students, and Eklund believes that’s because their education is so well-rounded.

“Our graduates have become highly sought-after in the industry,” she said.

The annual westside tours only enhance their knowledge and marketability.

“This trip is great because not only do the students get exposed to lots of new opportunities, but they also get a chance to network with CWU alumni,” Eklund said. “That’s an experience not everyone gets.”

Dave Leder works for the Central Washington University Public Affairs department.

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