By Jan Todd
BOONE, N.C. — Andee (Hendel) Burton ’12 walked in shoes on the other side of the world, leading to her position in product development for shoes that are kind to the planet.
Since graduating from Appalachian State University with a B.S. in industrial design–product design, her career has taken her from Boston to Vietnam, then back to the U.S., where she stepped in as a product development manager for American footwear company Caleres, headquartered near St. Louis.
In her role, Burton manages the product creation process for Dr. Scholl’s shoes — one of Caleres’ 18 brands — from concept through production.
“I take what the designer has put on paper and make the shoe come to life,” she said. “I deal with the materials; how the shoe is constructed; how it fits. Anything on the shoe I build and source.”
Some of Burton’s designs for Dr. Scholl’s use materials made from recycled water bottles, rice husks or algae-EVA foam — an innovative material made from algae biomass harvested from freshwater sources around the world, which cleans the water in the process.
“I’m proud of what we’re doing — changing the way things are designed and manufactured for the betterment of the planet,” she said.
After graduating from Appalachian, Burton was hired as an intern for Reebok’s Boston headquarters. The internship led to a permanent position as a 3D computer-aided designer, a role in which she transformed initial sketches and designs into working blueprints for Reebok shoes using computer-aided design (CAD). When presented with an opportunity in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, where the shoes are manufactured, Burton said she was excited to accept.
Spending almost two years in Vietnam, Burton took ownership of the entire development process for assigned products. “Getting firsthand manufacturing experience in a factory is so valuable, especially in the position I’m in. I knew it would be helpful for my career,” she said.
Vietnam was where she heightened her interest in environmental sustainability, Burton said, explaining that the apparel manufacturing process has historically generated a great deal of waste.
“When you understand the damage that is being done to the planet, all the plastics being used and the amount of materials being thrown away, I couldn’t imagine coming back to the United States and making shoes the same way anymore,” she said.
“Thankfully there is a huge wave of new designers, new developers and manufacturers that are on board,” Burton said. “We’re rejuvenating the supply chain and how we think about designs.
“We’re asking questions like, ‘Do we have to use virgin polyester, or can we use recycled polyester? Do we really need to use plastic in our packaging? Do we have to use virgin paper in our boxes?’ We’re rethinking what the status quo is.”
Preparation for her career
The ability to be creative in her job is something Burton sought as early as high school. “I knew I wanted to do something creative. I looked at different programs, and when I read about industrial design, I thought it was perfect,” she said. “It is kind of technical — a mix between engineering and creative design.”
Burton, who is from Charlotte, said she applied to just one university — Appalachian — because of the excellent reputation of its industrial design program. “I put all of my eggs in one basket,” she said.
The studio resources and experiential learning approach of Appalachian’s Department of Applied Design appealed to Burton, she said. “We had the coolest machines I could imagine. We weren’t sitting in a classroom — we were building things, all day every day, and it was a blast.”
Beyond the technical skills, Burton said her Appalachian education prepared her most in the areas of critical thinking and overall confidence in herself.
“I was one of two girls in my major at the time,” she recalled. “I didn’t even know how to use a screwdriver. We learned woodworking and forging iron, things that were physically taxing.
“Now, not only can I build almost anything you want me to, I can travel to the far reaches of China by myself at the drop of a hat. My time at Appalachian prepared me to take whatever comes at me and go with it,” she said.
About the Department of Applied Design
One of seven departments housed in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, the Department Applied Design at Appalachian State University fosters excellence in design education, design research and professional placement. The department balances theoretical and pragmatic approaches while exploring an awareness of impact through design decisions on the global community. Faculty focus on a holistic approach to creative problem-solving by integrating sustainability and ethical responsibility in teaching and practice. The department offers bachelor’s degrees in apparel design and merchandising, industrial design and interior design. Learn more at https://design.appstate.edu.
About the College of Fine and Applied Arts
Appalachian State University’s College of Fine and Applied Arts is a dynamic and innovative group of seven academic departments, bringing together a variety of perspectives, experiences and real-world education to provide unique opportunities for student success. The college has more than 3,000 undergraduate and graduate majors. Its departments are Applied Design, Art, Communication, Military Science and Leadership, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment, and Theatre and Dance. Learn more at https://faa.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier, public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.