“Enriching.” “Empowering.” “Energising.” These are just some of the attendee descriptions of the Industrial Fabric Association International’s (IFAI’s) Women in Textiles Summit, which took place February 16-19, 2022, in Georgia.
After being held virtually last year during the pandemic, nearly 100 business leaders and professionals of multiple generations converged on the Château Élan Winery and Resort in Braselton, Ga., to reconnect, learn and gain inspiration at the fourth-annual event. These women were able to share their experiences through several networking events and activities, gain insights into paths to success and hear compelling speakers with timely, relevant messages.
The summit featured engaging sessions, openhearted interaction and connection-building opportunities during business sessions and activities that included receptions, a wine tasting, yoga, a morning walk, a mindfulness break and a trivia contest. Indeed, the unique event provided a forum for growth and leadership.
Under the theme, “Continuing to Believe What is Possible,” the event was co-emceed by Apurba Banerjee, principal textiles engineer-Hand Tools at Milwaukee Tools, and Rachal McCarthy, president of NTI Global. A number of returning attendees were on hand, along with many first-timers, including Tanya Wade, intake administrator at the Manufacturing Solutions Center (MSC), Conover, N.C.
“This was my first time attending the Women in Textiles Summit and it did not disappoint!” Wade said. “There is nothing that can compare to the energy and comradery of a group of women who are on a mission to support and build up each other. And that’s exactly what this conference is all about. I met a lot of new friends and industry contacts and look forward to meeting more at the next Women in Textiles Summit.”
In a poignant Opening Day keynote, “Pivots & Pirouettes for the Post-Pandemic World,” Mary-Cathryn Kolb, founder & CEO of Atlanta-based brrr°, explained the challenges and opportunities she has experienced since launching the company in 2014, the pandemic notwithstanding. She said the highs are high and the lows are low—but the experience of entrepreneurship, especially now that the company is reaching the “tipping point of it being a fun ride,” is deeply fulfilling. Kolb discussed the devastating impacts of the pandemic and subsequent supply chain disruptions to her business, which pushed her team to look inward, strengthen as a team and emerge poised for growth.
In the Closing Day keynote—back by popular demand from the last in-person summit in 2020—Karen Hinds brought numerous inspiring messages in her presentation, “It’s Not Too Late: How to Boldly Step into Your Greatness.” Hinds, author of several books and founder and CEO of Workplace Success Group, motivated attendees—in animated and entertaining fashion—through anecdotes and stories aimed at getting them out of their comfort zones, to find a network of people to “support and irritate” them, to establish financial security and to be sure to take time to for themselves to “relax, exercise and enjoy the ride.” By “irritate,” she said we all need people around us who “nitpick and test us” in order to think differently and reach our full potential.
Among other speakers sharing their insights and wisdom from the dais were:
- Jennifer Fennell, CPM, director of Supply Chain at Polo Custom Products, Topeka, Kan., who discussed “How Supply Chain Can Capitalize on the Challenges of 2021” in the first of two Market Segments. She discussed the keys to managing her global team and keeping them engaged and forward-thinking—remotely—during the pandemic and “every supply chain nightmare imaginable. When faced with the unthinkable, we all rolled up our sleeves and went to work, together. COVID, this common enemy among us, brought us together in a unique and unbreakable way.”
- Rachal McCarthy, president of NTI Global, a family-owned and operated industrial plastics and textile manufacturer, Dallas, Texas, who offered a personal testimony in, “Unbalanced: The Story of My Life, My Work, and My 4th Grade Nemesis.” She debunked the common work-life balance myth, saying, “Balance comes from you and what you need, despite what society wants us to think.” She told attendees they should “be real” with themselves and make behavioral changes for a more balanced life by identifying what contributes to their balance; setting goals that support that quest for balance; and stop “shoulding” and start doing.
- Jasmine Cox, director of Textile Technology Programs and Business Innovation, Textile Technology Center at Gaston College, Belmont, N.C., who presented an interactive session on attracting and retaining new talent and some of the struggles women face in the industry. Mentorship and development are crucial factors in retention, she said, explaining methods for and the importance of each.
- Melissa Henkle, director of Brand Sales at Unifi Manufacturing, Inc., covered the importance of sustainability in the second Market Segment, dubbed “A Wardrobe to Die For.” She discussed how the Greensboro, N.C.-based company is sourcing recycled materials, reducing energy, water and greenhouse gas emissions and helping plan for a future in circularity. She reported that as plastics and textiles make up high percentages of the contents of landfills, Unifi is working tirelessly to help reduce these numbers. The company recently reached the 30 billion milestone for converting recycled plastic bottles into polyester chips that are used in its REPREVE® yarn performance fibers, she said and explained Unifi’s REPREVE® Our Ocean program with brands collects ocean-bound plastics for recycling.
- In a fascinating panel discussion through generations of textile and IFAI leadership, past and current chairs of the IFAI discussed how they navigated their responsibilities while also running their own companies and personal lives. Panelists included Amy Bircher, CEO & founder of MMI Textiles, Inc., current IFAI chair; Katie Bradford, MFC, IFM, owner of Custom Marine Canvas and the first female chair of IFAI; and Kathy Schaefer, IFM, owner and COO of Glawe Awnings and Tent Company, IFAI immediate past chair.
The summit also included engaging roundtable discussions, where participants learned more about each other and the challenges they face. Topics included mentorships, professional advancement, supply chain disruption and “get to know” IFAI and other attendee companies.
“I felt energised after attending the virtual conference last year and was excited to attend my first IFAI Women in Textiles Summit in person this year,” said Meg R. Patel, marketing manager, Décor-Textile Division at Milliken & Company, Spartanburg, S.C. “Between the lineup of inspiring speakers on various relevant topics women are facing today and plenty of networking time, coupled with fun activities in a beautiful venue, it all enabled me to create deeper connections within the textile industry. I left feeling empowered and motivated to tackle the next challenge at work.”
Save the date
Next year’s summit will take place March 1–3, 2023 at the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina (USA).