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Women in Textiles Summit Boosted Industry Relationships and Leadership Skills


The second annual Women in Textiles Summit, held February 19–21, almost doubled in attendance and gave attendees ample opportunities to build new business alliances while learning about emerging trends in the industry. The event, sponsored by Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), was held in Nashville, Tenn.

 “This event was born through the remarkable stories of women in industry, who seemingly did not have that seat at the table like their male counterparts—sometimes hindering the opportunity for building complex industry relationships,” said Linden Wicklund, IFAI director of events and member programs. “Through this conference, we are learning more and more about these women’s remarkable stories, while providing a forum for growth and leadership. After only two years, we are so thrilled to see the impact on attendees and the shared inspiration among multiple generations of women in textiles.”

 “The Women in Textiles Summit was informative and invigorating,” said Kathy Schaefer, chair of IFAI’s board and operating officer at Glawe Awning and Tent Co., Fairborn, Ohio. “By networking with many in the group, I was able to learn important trends in the industry as well as receive creative input on how to increase my staff. IFAI developed this conference to support and encourage professional industry women. The interaction and education were unlike any conference I have attended. It was very worthwhile, and I am looking forward to next year.”

 Jane Johnson, government relations manager at Unifi, Inc., Greensboro, N.C., emceed the event with an infectious smile and the utmost professionalism—sprinkled with humor and Southern charm. One of the themes that emerged was the importance of mentorship, particularly among women, a topic thoroughly covered during a panel session and stressed by four speakers during the business sessions.

In the rousing Day 1 closing session, “Power, Presence and Impact for Women,” Karen Hinds, author, founder and CEO of Workplace Success Group, encouraged the group to build strategic alliances, position themselves for opportunities and claim their voice. This can be achieved by “finding your tribe.” “All of you need more than one mentor in your life,” she said. “Figure out your Achilles heel, then find mentors who will ‘get into your stuff’ and help guide you to improving yourself.”

 Hinds noted that women also need advocates, but they can’t be chosen. “They pick you out, based on what they’re seeing from you,” she said. “Think of all the excellent work you’re doing as honey, spreading it all around. And people will see that and start buzzing along and advocating for you.

 In the keynote address on Day 2, Carly Patterson, the 2004 Olympic gymnast, said that after winning the gold medal at age 16, she wondered what was next for her. She shared her inspiring story of resilience, heartbreak and more after stepping on the highest podium at such a young age.

 Showing a photo of herself at age 4 at a cousin’s gymnastics birthday party, Patterson said that event was the spark that would change her life and lead her to the pinnacle of success. “We need to embrace the spark and let it ignite creativity in our lives,” she said. “Be on the lookout for the spark.” Patterson said she applied the same drive and determination that took her to a gold medal to becoming a recording artist, entrepreneur and mother.

 Among industry representatives sharing their insights and wisdom from the stage were:

Courtney Cruzan, vice president of sourcing and product development at Atlanta-based fabric innovator brrr°, who discussed “Lab Coats and Lipstick: Staying Close to R&D, Harnessing Your Network and Mentoring Future Leaders.”

Rachal McCarthy, president of NTI Global, a family-owned and operated industrial plastics and textile manufacturer, Dallas, Texas, who presented, “Stop Saying Please.” She urged attendees to show confidence by communicating in a firm yet approachable manner. “Try to internalize that saying ‘please’ to yourself gives you less standing,” she said. “In a business session, it is not necessary. I’m not saying don’t be polite. But you don’t have to ask yourself permission to own your own success.”

Stephanie Rodgers, director of advanced product development at Apex Mills, In wood, N.Y., covered, “The ‘T’ in S.T.E.M,” defining the “T” as “textiles” instead of “technology.” She said that many emerging functional fabrics are being developed by women empowered by cross-disciplinary approaches to manufacturing, noting that several of these inventors and creators were mentored by each other.

Samantha Marion, textile development manager, and Laura Martin, purchasing manager, both from Top Value Fabrics, Carmel, Ind., gave an interactive discussion about the “Imposter Syndrome” and explored tools to combat feelings of inadequacy that can weigh down the success of talented women.

An informative panel discussion moderated by MMI Textiles owner and president Amy Bircher featured diverse industry leaders covering the topic, “The Next Generation: Attract, Mentor and Develop Future Leaders.” The panel included Katherine Annett-Hitchcock, associate professor, Department of Textile and Apparel Technology and Management, N.C. State Wilson College of Textiles, Raleigh, N.C.; Anna Gluck, vice president of human resources, Seaman Corp., Wooster, Ohio; Marcia Ayala, president of Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc., Yorkville, Ill.; and Apurba Banerjee, principal engineer at Milwaukee Tool, Brookfield, Wis. Each offered glimpses into their backgrounds and discussed the importance of mentorship and what it has meant to their careers.

 “Surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than yourself or have skills you don’t have is important as a leader,” Bircher said to kick off the discussion. Bircher is also first vice chairman/chairman-elect of IFAI’s board.

Other interactive events included roundtable discussions, a networking walk to kick of the first education day, a morning yoga session, a competitive trivia game and a pub and grub crawl through downtown Nashville.

 “I attended the IFAI Women’s Summit last year at the encouragement of my two male partners,” said Nichole Holroyd, co-owner and administrative director at Spiritus Systems Co. Inc., Aberdeen, N.C. “It was so motivational for me last year that we sent all of our female management staff this year. I hoped they could take in the stories, listen to other’s experiences and be just as inspired as I was. As a business owner, the IFAI Women’s Summit helps me realize that we are not alone in this world as women in business. The networking and friendships that are made or just renewed at the event is something I truly cherish and has helped our business in ways that are not quantifiable.”

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