New Sports Product Innovation Lab Opens

New Sports Product Innovation Lab Opens

Hands-on experience creating footwear and apparel is an essential part of the learning experience for students enrolled in the University of Oregon's Portland-based sports product management master's degree program. With the September opening of the program's Innovation Lab, students now have a sparkling new state-of-the-art space in which to absorb this key knowledge.

Located on the floor just above the program's classroom space at 109 NW Naito Parkway, the Innovation Lab is nearly 4,000 square feet—large enough to accommodate the program's approximately 50-person cohorts. Tall windows overlooking the Willamette River and Portland's Tom McCall Waterfront Park provide plenty of natural light as well as an inspiring view. At one end of the space, sturdy butcher-block tables provide a surface for students to work on their product-making skills. In the other half of the room, students learn and practice making skills on the various specialized, industry-standard sewing machines. It will also serve as the location for many of the program's popular workshops geared to the needs of professionals currently working in the sports product industry.

“Our new Innovation Lab is a world-class maker space for our first-of-its-kind master of science in sports product management degree program," said UO Sports Product Management Cofounder and Director Ellen Schmidt-Devlin. “From the very earliest days, we knew that we wanted to blend top-notch academics, industry expertise, and the direct involvement with the creation process, which the Innovation Lab makes possible. We are educating the next global business leaders, and they need to understand how to make product. We are thrilled with this new space."

During their time in the 18-month program, students use the Innovation Lab in different ways. For first-year students in their very first term, the lab is the setting for a crash course in shoe- and apparel-making basics—the first time many of them have tried their hands at the creation process.

“For someone with a background outside the footwear and apparel industry, getting hands-on experience with products and how they are made is invaluable," said first-year student Will Schuh. “Beyond basic technical making skills, we have a great opportunity to get in-depth on advanced techniques, which really helps us find ways to come up with innovative new methods to create products."

As students move into their second term in the program, they use the lab tools to work in teams on products they develop throughout their time in the program. Later, the teams use the lab's versatile display space to practice their planning and merchandising skills by presenting their finished products as they would be in a retail environment.

To maximize the opportunities for creative invention, students have 24/7 access to the lab even during school breaks. They can continue work on class projects or pursue individual projects, learning more about the available technology as they go.

“I am in the lab almost every night just letting out all of the ideas in my head, like ‘can I make a better shirt than the one I saw on the street today?" or ‘how can I make a shirt that I feel would be beneficial for other people like me?"" said Allan Eckart, another first-year student.

The lab's state-of-the-art equipment impresses even those students who come to the program with prior experience constructing shoes and garments.

“It is wonderful and inspiring to have access to these types of sewing machines and resources," said first-year student Margot Geller, who has used the lab's overlock machine to refine some garments she made prior to the program and has also created seven new garments in her first six weeks in the program. 

Jeffery Upton, another student with previous apparel experience, agreed, “The lab I had in undergrad was basically the child's version of this Innovation Lab. It served the purpose of introduction, but I was still vastly unprepared for when I went to work with industry grade machines," he said.

The lab has important lessons as well for students whose focus is more exclusively on the business side of the industry.

“We are educating students to understand the business side of creation through direct access to the making process," said Greg Leedy, the instructor who teaches footwear creation and also manages the lab. “The lab provides the kind of nuts-and-bolts understanding of construction that would take someone ten years or more working in the sports product industry to gain."

No matter which career path students end up taking, the Innovation Lab experience will leave an indelible impression on their futures.

“In the end, launching a successful sports product is all about good decision making. You've got to be able to choose the right materials and construction methods to hit the price point that works for your target market. You have to set your priorities. Our students study the many fibers and technical characteristics of fabrics, as well as various garment construction methods, and apply their hands-on experience to make informed, smart, and innovative  choices," said Krista Martenson, who leads the program's apparel-making course.

UO Sports Product Management will celebrate the Innovation Lab's grand opening at its holiday social and networking event on Thursday, December 7, at 5:30 p.m.

Find out more and RSVP view innovation lab photos