Apparel Design Partners with Cancer Care Foundation MN

January 6, 2023

In the fight against cancer, even the smallest things can make a world of difference. Cancer Care Foundation MN and Professor Lucy Dunne’s technical design studio class collaborated to create a comfortable garment for infants undergoing cancer treatment at Children’s Minnesota. The outcome? A onesie with pre-designed pockets for easy access to treatment ports.

Founded three years ago by Mike Tulkki (DDS ‘01, MS ‘06), Cancer Care Foundation MN’s mission is to bring comfort to cancer care. The foundation started after Tulkki saw a story about University of Minnesota football player Casey O’Brien (BSB ‘20) and his ongoing battle with osteosarcoma. “His story really struck me, particularly how he would go straight from practice to chemo treatments. That’s what inspired our group to start making T-shirts with predesigned port openings for people undergoing chemo treatment.”

Through this initial project, Tulkki began to work with others in the healthcare space, including Children’s Minnesota. It was this connection that served as the spark for the foundation’s most recent project, a onesie for infant cancer patients, and led to a partnership with the College of Design’s Apparel Design Program.

Four sets of folded baby onesies.

Working closely with healthcare providers at Children’s Minnesota, apparel students designed two different onesies, one with long sleeves and one with short sleeves, as part of the functional clothing class during the 2022 spring semester. The next fall, students in the technical design class (a class focused on how clothing products are developed and manufactured) picked up the project, taking the designs and producing a small run of both designs.

“We designed the pockets in the onesies to help prevent the children from tugging on their port or the cords, which hurt when pulled,” explained apparel design student Jaden Evenson. “I hope this project will help reduce parents’ frustration and pain by eliminating some of the difficulties they encounter.”

Evenson has worked on a wide range of projects throughout her academic career at the College of Design, but this one stands out. “This project is different because it will provide an instant positive impact on the lives of the people who will use the onesies,” she said.

Three baby onesies

Cancer Care Foundation MN volunteers Ethan Tulkki and Isaac Hess (both Orono High School students) agreed, “The most rewarding part of our volunteer work is seeing the faces of kids when they receive our shirts and the difference we can see in the community with our help.”

The functional clothing class completed its first production run of 30 pieces for each onesie this fall, which were delivered to Cancer Care Foundation MN for distribution in December.

The fields of medical device and apparel design may not seem to have a lot in common, but alumni from the College of Design are changing that.

Driven by the acute need for N95 masks in hospitals, faculty from the University of Minnesota’s College of Design, College of Science of Engineering, and medical school worked together to create two face mask designs that could be assembled using available materials.

What started as a class project for Ian HarrisWarda Moosa, and Mary Xiong (all Apparel Design) turned into the prize-winning entry at the Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) Advanced Textiles Student Design Competition. Together the three seniors (then juniors) created an emergency avalanche transceiver garment that took first place in this national competition.