Designers hope fans will be clad in plaid

Plaid, the perennial fashion staple, has a new look in the Bluegrass with the launch this week of "UK Plaid" merchandise, a collection of student-developed clothing accessories, table linens and bags bearing the school's first official tartan.

Pomegranate Inc., the Lexington-based fine-linens maker, is producing the merchandise, which is scheduled to be available for sale online at on Wednesday.

UK Plaid is trickling into area stores and is set to be fully available by Monday, said Cassie Bernardi, creative director at Pomegranate.

The initial line features 11 products, including handmade silk ties and scarves, duffles and cosmetic bags. From the Wildcat Tailgating Collection, citizens of the Big Blue Nation can dress up game-day meals with cotton tablecloths and napkins. Prices will range from $9.99 for a student ID case to $60 for the silk tie.

A portion of the proceeds will go to UK's merchandising, apparel and textiles department, where the project started.

The UK Plaid Project was born during the spring 2008 semester as a lesson in product development.

In creating a tartan, student designers were told to keep in mind traditions at UK, said Rita Smart, coordinator of the UK Plaid Project and chairman of its advisory committee.

"Basically, the only criteria that they had was to stick with certain colors: blue," she said. "And we said they could use a gray and a black and a white as well. But beyond that, we told them to be as creative as they could possibly be."

Students created 35 patterns, from which four finalists were picked. Then, about 12,000 votes were cast online to choose the winning design, created by students Christina Criollo and Jena Everhard. Their tartan features a blue background overlaid with seven stripes to represent the seven NCAA championships won by the UK men's basketball teams.

"Students have loved this project," said Scarlett Wesley, an assistant professor who helped with coordination of the project. "They usually only get to do things that are pretend, and this is real and that's what makes it so fun."

The plaid design was only a part of the process; students in the School of Human Environmental Sciences worked on product development, logo designs and testing to produce high-quality merchandise.

Among the project's advisory committee was Pomegranate's Bernardi, a UK alumna.

The committee looked at several options, but they decided that the Lexington company and the UK Plaid Project were a perfect fit.

"They needed someone to make it all happen," Bernardi said.

Pomegranate, in business for more than 15 years, is known for its table linens and bags sold in stores across the country. It also already had a relationship with a factory in India, which simplified manufacturing. After an official UK merchandise license was obtained and samples were created, the project was a go.

The next step, to see products in stores and fans clad in the new plaid, will be the designer's ultimate dream.

"I told my students that it's like a rock star would feel when they hear their song on the radio," Wesley said.

The project has been such a success that shoppers can expect more merchandise as students tweak the collection and create new pieces.

Retailers that will carry UK Plaid merchandise are: the UK Bookstore, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Fan Outfitters, Kennedy Bookstore, The Keeneland Shop, Kentucky Korner, Logan's of Lexington, Howard Miller, Peggy's Gifts & Accessories, Two Chicks & Co., and For Friends.