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Adjunct professor oversees design of new wardrobe for Southwest Airlines

September 11, 2015

Adjunct Professor Caroline Bartek recently launched a wear test with new designs for the official work wardrobe of Southwest Airlines.

Bartek is Creative Director at Cintas, which designs and provides uniforms for companies such as Marriott Hotels, Sprint and the United States Postal Service.

The Southwest Airlines project was unique. Rather than the company commissioning a third party to design the new looks, the airline gave its employees the opportunity to be part of the redesign process. Bartek oversaw the project.

“We trained them to be designers and had design sessions for the entire first quarter of 2015,” Bartek said. “They learned about fabrics, functionality, fit, aesthetics and color.”

Rather than a standard uniform for each individual work group, Southwest has a cohesive wardrobe for workers above the wing and below the wing, that any employee can select from.

The design team came up with about 25 pieces for each group that employees will be able to choose from to mix and match.

The new looks have been revealed this month in a wear test, so travelers may begin seeing the new pieces.

“Employees, overwhelmingly, are excited about the new look and the new day at Southwest,” Bartek said.

A group of 120 Southwest Airlines employees are now testing the garments before the large scale roll out in 2017.

The project has given Bartek new industry experience that she can use in the classroom.

“I teach a product development class, and I just taught 120 people about product development in the real world,” she said. “We had to be conscious of everyone no matter age, size, or personal style preferences. Whether in the classroom or professionally in the industry, it’s about teamwork and understanding how to be a team player. I can talk to my students about that from experience.”

Bartek started at Cintas as an Assistant Designer in 2003 and worked her way up to Creative Director.

She said she hopes her unique role shows students that fashion is a wide and varied industry.

“There are so many opportunities within this industry of apparel,” she said. “People tend to think about fashion being runway shows and big name brands, but everybody wears clothing. People use clothes for different reasons. This is a very functional way to design. I want students to be open-minded to all aspects of the industry.”

She noted that other faculty members in the fashion program have real-world experience to share, as well.

“At Stephens, our faculty has industry experience, and that’s quite different from other schools,” she said. “We bring varying perspectives and in the end that benefits our students.”

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