Texas Tech University

Apparel Design Program Director Creates Uniforms for Women in the Oil Industry

Glenys Young

July 26, 2018


Su-Jeong Hwang Shin partnered with RPS Solutions to design coveralls for Halliburton.

Creating specialized clothing for groups with specialized needs is nothing new for Su-Jeong Hwang Shin, associate professor and director of Apparel Design and Manufacturing in the Texas Tech University College of Human Sciences.

In 2015, she led a research team, including Department of Design associate professor Kristi Gaines and undergraduate research assistants, that developed clothing for children with autism spectrum disorder. These normal-looking hoodies, skirts, pants and T-shirts come complete with pressure controls, fidget devices and sound-proofing material to help them cope with their surroundings.

In 2016, Shin led another successful research team project with Julie Chang, an assistant professor of Hospitality and Retail Management, undergraduate student Leisha Womble and David Hancock, an instructor in the Department of Psychological Sciences that designed a garment for individuals with Alzheimer's disease. It's fashionable to make both the wearer and their family more comfortable while being simultaneously easy for the caregiver – and difficult for the wearer – to remove.

In her most recent project, Shin worked to help women in a very male-dominated field: the oil-drilling industry.

How it began

In 2017, apparel manufacturer RPS Solutions was trying to create a new uniform design for Halliburton, one of the world's largest providers of products and services to the energy industry. The company reached out to Shin to develop a set of patterns.

“When RPS expressed concerns with its existing uniform patterns and design that did not fit for everyone, it was interesting to me because this is one of my research areas that I have spent many years in – researching sizing systems and fit solutions for the apparel industry,” Shin said. “I knew what I could do with my expertise in apparel industry sizing systems and apparel technology that would enable mass production and customization.”

Shin previously used 3D apparel technology – including 3D Body Scan and a 3D Pattern Design System – to develop products and assess fit for retailers including Academy Sports + Outdoors and Under Armour, so she was a perfect match for RPS.

“The fit issue is common,” she explained. “Developing a good clothing fit for individual customers is a challenge for the whole clothing industry.”

For oil-field uniforms in particular, which typically have been designed for men only, it was challenging to find uniforms that women could work well in.

“Women's body shapes are very different than men's,” Shin said. “For the age of women workers, women's bust and hip shapes are different – even though some women might have a flat bust shape, still their bust/chest shapes are different than men's. And not only the body shapes, but also women's top and bottom proportions are very different than men's. So for the women's coveralls, with a connected top and bottom, it is necessary to have correct female body measurements for both top and bottom.”

The right fit

Shin began by analyzing the company's size charts. After scanning the body of a female Halliburton employee, she tested how the company's previous patterns fit that individual, then simulated a virtual clothing fit using advanced 3D software called 3D OptiTex PDS.

“The size chart was way off from the actual female model,” Shin said. “The company's previous pattern set was not close to women's body shapes. Again, these are very common issues in the apparel industry – it's not only one company's issue.”

Shin compares it to clothes shopping for anyone.

“Currently, sizes are inconsistent: Company by company, brand by brand, they are all different,” Shin said. “As you probably have experienced, finding the right size of clothing is a challenge for consumers. And the truth is, defining compressive sizes is a challenge to any apparel manufacturer because individuals have different body dimensions and body shapes. The size and fit issues are no different in the uniform category.

“Sizes for stretch knit T-shirts are fairly simple: small, medium, large, extra large, etc. Most people can find a T-shirt that fits fairly easily because of the simplicity of the design and the flexible stretch material. However, a uniform requires more comprehensive sizes because of the design with a non-stretch woven, yet functional, protective coverall clothing from top to bottom. Manufacturers need more detailed body measurements and comprehensive, various body shapes in order to make a uniform that can uniformly and comfortably fit the company's individual workers.”

Sizing options also should be included according to whether individuals prefer a looser or tighter fit, Shin said.

“For Halliburton, I recommended a couple of things, including sizes, designs and patterns,” she said. “For sizes, they needed to revise their size charts, understanding the company's women workers' body dimensions. For design, they needed to consider both aesthetics and functional aspects of design for female workers. For patterns – and this is the most challenging part – they needed to revise the patterns that would fit women's body shapes, corresponding to actual body dimensions, and adding special darts for the bust area.”

Functional and fashionable

Shin emphasized that, in a potentially dangerous industry like oil drilling, how a person's uniform fits is not just a matter of how confident they feel.

“Considering safety and hazard, it is important to have functional protective clothing that is flame-retardant and anti-oil, but another very important factor to consider in the uniform is the fit,” she said. “The uniform should fit well so that workers feel comfortable and do not need to adjust clothing while working.”
Of course, the fit isn't the only consideration in uniform design.          

“Fashion is also necessary for the protective clothing,” Shin said. “It doesn't have to be a ‘fashionable feature' like some people might think of, but we appreciate a certain aesthetic feature – we would not like to wear a 1940s or 1950s sports collar, like they had on the past protective uniform. Because, actually, the sports collar had nothing to do with protection. That particular olden-day fashion was added some point and then has been repeatedly added without questioning it, because they thought that was a typical protective uniform.”

Color also is important to consider – both for fashion and safety.

“Red is feminine, yet functionally visible,” Shin said. “It's easily noticeable in the oil-field working environment.”

Considering the purpose of uniforms is to be, well, uniform, male and female workers won't wear different colors or styles, which she understands could cause problems.

“It's a uniform: Men and women can have the same style of coverall,” she said. “But they still have to have different size charts for men and women because men and women's body shapes and measurements are different.”