By Miranda Bunnis, Fashion and Textile Retailing (BSc) major at the University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom

Eager to broaden her textiles knowledge and explore her creative drive, Wilson College of Textiles alumna Cynthia McMullen applied to the Santoni Pioneer Program, an eight-week intensive knitwear course based in Jinshan, a small factory town located outside of Shanghai, China.

The program exceeded McMullen’s expectations. “It was an amazing experience to learn, grow and live in China. I learned so much about knitting and machines than I ever expected,” she said.

McMullen, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in textile technology in 2010, found the Santoni program to be a benefit in terms of both her personal and professional development. While learning about the technical aspects of the knitting machines and being able to expand upon her skills and knowledge, she also was able to explore her passion for textiles and knitting.

“I was able to work with a passionate team of individuals, experiencing a once in a lifetime opportunity in China for eight weeks,” she said.

The 31 year old spoke about her apprehensions of not knowing much information about the program prior to starting, having only her entry-designs and the plane ticket to China. “It’s always nerve racking going somewhere and trying something new,” she said.

But McMullen was impressed with the program once she arrived. “The team at Santoni has some of the best technicians, marketing, and development heads I have had the pleasure of working with. It was the best opportunity to design and create anything on their machines with talented technicians,” she said.

McMullen was accepted onto the Santoni program last year after finding out about it in the industry online newspaper knittingindustry.com. She was one of only three individuals chosen for the program and the only one from the United States. Selection was based on knowledge, skill set and submitted designs.

“I wanted to increase my understanding and skills in textiles, as well have the opportunity to design and produce a collection of my own,” she said about her reasons for applying to the diverse program.

McMullen, who begins a job in February with shoe company Skechers as a knit designer in Los Angeles, had nothing but praise for the biannual program. She attended trade shows in China and visited yarn mills producing wool, nylon and metallic while studying at Santoni. She also learned on many of the same machines that Renfro, her employer at the time, used to make socks, making the opportunity very relevant to her former position. “They supported me since it was an opportunity to learn and grow my skill set,” McMullen said about her previous employer.

For more information about Santoni Pioneer Program and its application process, visit the company’s website.