When people think about lava and volcanoes, they might not consider what the people studying them wear for protection. But Abby Romine, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, has designed a functional and aesthetically pleasing suit for volcanologists to wear in the field.
“In the Army, I worked as an intelligence analyst so attention to detail and research were important to me,” Romine said. “My background in architectural design and costume construction made it all very natural to me. For instance, I knew what types of seams were best for certain areas in the garment and it allowed me to create the best outcome.”
After growing up on a farm in Centralia, Missouri, Romine decided after high school she wanted to see the world by enlisting in the U.S. Army. After serving four years with the 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed in Italy, Iraq and Afghanistan, she received multiple accolades such as her Italian Jump Wings and a German Armed Forces Badge. Romine was one of a select few soldiers from her unit to be chosen to jump from an Italian aircraft in Pisa and earn her Italian Jump Wings. Following her service she came to Mizzou and earned her bachelor’s degree in architectural studies with an emphasis in interior design. Romine later moved to Colorado where she focused on working and spending time with her daughter.
“My very last semester in undergrad I took beginning costume construction with the theater department,” Romine said. “Making and altering the garments and just sewing in general made me realize fashion was my true passion.”
Romine’s time in the U.S. Army and passion for fashion design sparked her interest in designing rugged outdoor apparel. When she entered graduate school, she wanted to focus on creating military attire and equipment. This dream became closer to reality when her advisor presented her with the opportunity to design functional clothing for volcanologists. Here she could put her firsthand experience to use.
Romine’s first prototype won the Golden Shell Award in Qingdao, China.
After the exhibition, she made adjustments to ensure her design offered the best protection for volcanologists. She worked with Alan Whittington, chair of MU’s Department of Geological Sciences, and some of his students to test them in Colorado.
Kerri McBee-Black, a faculty member in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, helped Romine get in contact with tactical industry professional and Mizzou alumna Kathryn Knight. Knight donated a variety of different fabrics. Romine chose to work with Kevlar as the primary material because it is flame resistant, lightweight, durable, and water repellant. Other materials such as neoprene were used in the first prototype because they are lightweight and breathable.
See related story: Breathable lava suits: volcanologist field-tested and approved
At MU, Romine has worked with the MU Department of Theatre as an undergraduate and graduate student. Recently, she made costumes for the production of Corduroy and is currently a shop manager for Ragtime the Musical. Both performances were a part of the 50 year anniversary of the Larry D. Clark Summer Repertory Theatre.
Romine is graduating this summer with a master’s degree in textile and apparel management. She hopes to begin selling her designs and eventually create a rugged outdoor apparel collection.
Romine is one of nearly 900 MU students who are either veterans, active duty personnel, members of the National Guard, reservists, ROTC cadets or family member receiving GI benefits. MU is considered a Purple Heart University because of its support of military personnel and their families and recently expanded its Veterans Center.