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A tartan plaid pattern in purple and gold was developed by Dr. Runying Chen in ECU's Department of Interior Design and Merchandising. (Photo by Forrest Croce)

New purple, gold tartan plaid originates from ECU

April 18, 2012

ECU News Services and
Dee Harper, ECU Office of Engagement, Innovation and Economic Development

At East Carolina University, Pirate pride is written in purple and gold.

ECU fans proclaim their love of all things Pirate with purple and gold bumper stickers, tee shirts, jewelry and baseball caps.

Now thanks to an ECU professor, fans have yet another option for displaying their Pirate pride. Dr. Runying Chen in the Department of Interior Design and Merchandising has created an original, officially licensed, tartan plaid pattern in ECU purple and gold.

Her work began in September, when she was contacted by Greensboro-based Collegiate Tartan Apparel. The company works with universities to manufacture custom tartan products.

Initially the company submitted several ECU tartan designs for consideration, but Chen said she thought the design should originate from ECU. She began drafting her own patterns in October, incorporating ECU’s signature purple and gold, along with black and ivory accents to make it unique as a registered tartan pattern. 

Chen created nine patterns, then solicited opinions of students and colleagues regarding the designs. She consulted as well with John Coffman and Todd Howell of Greenville-based retailer Coffman’s Mens Wear. The feedback she received was critical, Chen said.

“Although I had a lot of training in textiles, I’m not a design person,” she said. 

Chen credited university marketing director Clint Bailey and associate athletics director Lee Workman, who directs ECU’s licensing program, for their input in pattern approval and preparing registration documents. Bailey and Workman approved the final design in what Chen describes as a collective selection process.
Dr chen
Dr. Runying Chen
(Contributed photo)

Once a design was selected, samples were created. The tartan product must be woven from dyed yarn, Chen said, if it is to be considered a true tartan. Chen said achieving the ideal woven sample proved difficult because the ECU purple and gold were not easy to reproduce.

“Different textiles pick up the color dyes differently,” she said. “They have to be the precise mix for the dye samples to achieve an accurate color match.”

“The first round sample came back looking right,” Chen said, “but when the factory wove the fabric, the dye color was a little ‘off.’ They are trying again with a different mill and hope to have a correct sample soon.”

Collegiate Tartan Apparel is working on a woven tartan fabric production through a mill in Scotland. There will be two types of tartan fabric, one suitable for scarves and blankets and the other for ties, kilts, skirts and other apparel accessories. These products will be available for the coming fall season. 

A tartan plain pattern necktie is available as a printed pattern on polyester.

In addition to a licensing fee, Collegiate Tartan Apparel will donate a percentage of sales from the tartan plaid products to ECU for scholarships and program development.

The inaugural tie and future tartan plaid products such as scarves, blankets, kilts and other apparel will serve as a revenue source for the department. ECU merchandising students have recommended a number of tartan products including golf apparel and accessories, tote bags and office products, rain gear and tailgating items. A dog leash and collar in the new tartan pattern are also under consideration.

Marti Van Scott, director of the Office of Technology Transfer, believes the tartan products will appeal to target customers. Her office supported the project by helping to register the design with the International Tartan Registry. The office filed for and paid for copyright registration with the U.S. Copyright Office. Van Scott also worked with legal counsel in the review of an agreement with Collegiate Tartan Apparel for producing and selling the product.

 “Dr. Chen and I have also discussed other potential products that could result from her designs. Nothing has come of this yet, but the creative juices are flowing, so hopefully we’ll see more new products from the College of Human Ecology,” said Van Scott.

The ECU tartan pattern necktie is on sale now at the ECU Dowdy Student Store and online at


Chen received the 2012 ECU Innovators Award for her design. She will be inducted into the National Academy of Inventors in a ceremony April 25 at Willis Auditorium.

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