Emily Oertling

Professional Title: 

Graduate Student Teaching Assistant

University, Department, Lab, Etc:

Kansas State University, College of Human Ecology, Department of Apparel, Textiles, and Interior Design
Design Work Masters

Brief Bio: 

The first time I told anyone I wanted to be a fashion designer I was eight years old. I had a terrible dream about a veterinarian and changed my career path. I have never changed my mind, and can't imagine my life without clothing. I’m sure that you also can’t picture your life without clothing. Getting dressed has always made me feel good. My earliest dreams of being a designer weren’t occupied by ideas of fame, but rather that I wanted others to feel as good as I did when I got dressed.

Quickly after I started my undergrad at the University of Rhode Island, I learned that my dream job is one of the largest polluters of the natural environment, and responsible for decades of social abuses. I had a new terrible dream, but this time I studied the causes and systems that kept it in place.  My journey to understand how and why the fashion industry is unsustainable has led me back to my first source of inspiration. The relationship people have with their clothes is so important to me that I am pursuing a doctoral degree in it. If only I could tell my eight-year-old self that I would become fashion doctor. 

Current Research Question:

Is the desire to be unique a need? Is this need present in large and small populations? Are decisions to purchase clothing influenced more by individual drivers or group-relationships? 

Background on Research:

Each garment in your closet has an environmental impact. A single cotton T-shirt requires 109MJ of energy and 700 gallons of water to make. It has likely traveled between three countries before reaching you and has passed through the hands of farmers, cutters, sewers, dyers, finishers, freight captains, truck drivers, factory workers, and retail employees. The complexity of the supply chain contributes to the environmental impact of the fashion industry. However, clothing is essential.  In all societies, clothing takes form as protection, decoration, and modesty. It also helps to fill other needs. The need to create, to belong, or to stand out is achievable by choosing the right T-shirt.  My research focuses on the decision-making process when constructing outward appearance.

Students Post Eco-Fashion Show
Drop Spinning Cotton in San Juan La Laguna

Methods used:

I will be studying and observing a small indigenous community in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala.  The research will begin with observations and will come to include interviews and surveys. The study population was selected because the women in these societies wear the same articles of clothing. Appearance distinguishes village membership, and each group has a unique design, pattern, and color. This region is also the second largest tourist destination in Guatemala. Because of this, the population has grown to include ex-patriots and western style clothing. The cultural context of this society makes it an ideal location to observe clothing behaviors.

Connecting with Public Audiences:

I am willing to engage in the following: In person visit, collaborate on developing a lesson/unit, and virtual discussions via skype or zoom. I am willing to talk about my research, expectations and realities of undergraduate and graduate school, sustainable actions related to apparel and textiles that can be accomplished at home or in the community. You can also visit her website to learn more by clicking here.

Let Sunset Zoo’s Behind the Science staff help you connect with Emily Oertling by emailing behindthescience@cityofmhk.com