Research Projects



The Right Fit

In this ongoing project I am working with an interdisciplinary team from Ryerson University and York University to investigate the wardrobe needs of women size 20+. Participatory, co-design activities in a one-day workshop were used to elicit women’s experiences and tacit fashion knowledge. Participants illustrated designs on personalized templates created from their own body scans and compiled charts to identify wardrobe needs/design solutions. Body scans showed a significant variation in body silhouette despite similar measurements and retail clothing size worn. Findings include wardrobe challenges related to winter coats, jeans, brassieres, tights, footwear, and jewelry. Participants identified garment areas in relation to body parts they were self-conscious about. Features were categorized according to participants’ aspirations related to fabric, fit, and clothing ideas. Findings are relevant to apparel designers, product developers, and retailers.


Keywords: body scanning, co-design, fashion, fat studies, plus-size  

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Law Enforcement Cycling Uniform

In this project, I am part of an 8-person team of functional design experts to assess the needs and develop new cycling uniform designs for a law enforcement bicycle patrol unit in a major Canadian city. Community policing is a well-established law-enforcement initiative. Officers are deployed on foot and bicycle rather than squad cars. The current police uniform is perceived to be an impediment to forming a more open trusting relationship with the community. The rebranding of the uniform is critical in order to build positive public perceptions and reduce authoritative and punitive barriers. The new uniform will promote an image of a police officer that is approachable, credible and signifies a respectful leadership within the community. 


Downtown officers ride throughout the year, and are in need of a uniform that supports their job activities through the seasons. This research analyzes the fit, functional, and style needs for these officers to improve their health and safety in their line of work.

Keywords: cycling, functional design, law enforcement, uniform, user needs

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Zero Waste Bridal Design - Fashion MA (MRP)

My Masters work focused on reducing waste and extending use options for one of the most wasteful garments available: the white wedding gown. Despite the celebrity-endorsed, environmentally aware social climate in North America, the trend to purchase single-use garments continues to dominate the bridal fashion industry.


I used McDonough and Braungart’s (2002) “cradle-to-cradle” theoretical approach as a framework to explore creative pattern-making techniques and develop conceptual bridal gowns that maximize sustainability. The project blended modular and Zero Waste Pattern Cutting (ZWPC) approaches to create innovative bridal fashion that eliminates fabric waste, uses modular components to extend the use of the garment beyond the wedding day, while adhering to an iconic and culturally acceptable bridal silhouette of fitted waist, open neckline, and full skirt. I also developed a Sustainability Scale to foster objective decision-making practices and facilitate selection of the most sustainable options, which has the potential for general fashion industry-wide application.


Keywords: bridal, modular, sustainability, zero-waste


Sweet Dreams: Post Mastectomy Sleepwear

For this project, I worked with Dr. Tullio-Pow (Ryerson) and Dr. Nyhof-Young (University of Toronto; Princess Margaret Hospital) to develop sleepwear for women who have undergone mastectomy due to breast cancer. We assessed participants' needs and designed prototypes of functional, attractive sleepwear, scarce commodities for this cohort.  Through focus groups, we discovered that participants sought sleepwear that considered seam placement (especially in the vicinity of surgery scars), silhouette, and neckline shape to ensure comfort and camouflage of torso asymmetry, and fabrics that compensate for chemotherapy-related hot flashes.  We gained insights about women’s satisfaction with ready-to-wear nightgowns/ pyjamas, post-mastectomy apparel preferences, and links between clothing appearance/fit, femininity, and self-esteem. With this information, we developed sleepwear prototypes that incorporated both functional and inclusive apparel design principles.  Our short nightgown and jacket design won the ITAA Creative Design Target Market award in 2011.


Keywords: breast cancer, mastectomy, sleepwear

Lymphedema Sleepwear

In 2011 I was awarded an Undergraduate Research Opportunity (URO) scholarship to investigate a project I proposed. Stemming from my work with Dr. Tullio-Pow on post-mastectomy sleepwear, I identified a need to develop sleepwear that addressed needs of women with lymphedema, a condition caused by lymph node damage, often a side effect of breast cancer related surgery. Lymphedema in breast cancer survivors often occurs in the arms, but lymph damage can also occur in the neck, torso, and legs. We aimed to address the functional, aesthetic and emotional clothing needs of women (Lamb & Kallal, 1992) with lymphedema by conducting primary research in order to design specialized sleepwear following Universal Design principles. Through interviews and focus groups, participants shared that they wanted to see garments that considered neckline shape, armhole depth, sleeve and leg width. We developed a preliminary collection of sleepwear prototypes for presentation at focus group sessions, and modified the samples based on feedback. This study provided a better understanding of the sleepwear design preferences and clothing-related challenges faced by cancer survivors with lymphedema.  Future directions include prototype refinement and field testing.  

Keywords: cancer, lymphedema, sleepwear


I worked as a Research Assistant on this project to help develop this garment prototype, the "BabyVibe". This specialized garment was developed to support communication in infants with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a neuro-developmental disorder that is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by a propensity for restricted and repetitive behaviour. Technological components in this garment were assembled in a manner that enabled synchronized auditory and vibrotactile stimulation so as to mediate parent-infant communication.

Keywords:  autism, functional design, mediated communication, wearable technology

Kirsten Schaefer / T 647.678.5528 / / © 2019 by Kirsten Schaefer