Esthella Gonzalez wanted to think outside the box.
For her apparel merchandising and management senior project, she had to tackle a sports apparel item that had a problem and fabricate a solution.
Not wanting to do a traditional sport, Gonzalez looked at ballet, specifically: pointe shoes.
The shoes that ballerinas wear, which assist them in dancing on the tips of their toes, wear out after about 20 hours of use and sometimes in as little as one performance. The satin covering the shoe is often darned by ballerinas because it tears so easily.
Professional ballet companies spend thousands of dollars every year replacing the custom-made dancers’ shoes.
Gonzalez ran 14 materials through three textile tests: tear strength, seam strength and abrasion resistance. She felt that these tests would most accurately represent the use and damage to pointe shoes.
Gabardine, which is composed of polyester, performed the best overall – testing the best in tear strength, third in abrasion and fourth in seam strength.
Testing was time consuming ─ each fabric required multiple tests on three machines ─ but was worth it, according to Gonzalez.
“It was surprising to see some things I thought would perform better but didn’t,” she says.
Gonzalez worked with Jiangning Che, an assistant professor in the apparel merchandising and management department, who oversaw her work in the testing lab.
“Esthella is a capable student who has creative thinking on the research project,” Che says. “She worked diligently and attentively on the textile mechanical testing to verify her hypothesis.”
After Gonzalez finished her two-quarter project, Professor Cynthia Regan saw the potential for something more. Gonzalez and Che re-tested fabrics, and Regan helped to condense the most important findings from a 40-page paper to 12 pages.
This summer, the three-person team submitted the article to the academic journal Fibers and Polymers.
Regan was impressed with the amount of effort Gonzalez put into her project.
“Esthella put in more hours than the other students collecting her data and writing up the results,” Regan says. “The results of Esthella’s study are important because it shows that pointe shoe manufacturers should consider alternate fabrics that could potentially be more durable than the traditional polyester or silk satin.”
Though the project was more extensive than she originally planned, Gonzalez says she’s happy with the outcome. When she first received the assignment, she dreaded it because most sports apparel doesn’t have things that she considers fun, such as sequins, tulle and shiny fabric. With her unique spin on the project, she was able to complete the assignment, learn a lot and enjoy the process.
“I think if people get the opportunity to do research, they should go for it,” she says. “It changed my whole view on how people get results and how it could help other companies improve their product.”