Olivia Vanistendael: From Intern to Analyst at Levi Strauss & Co.
By Mary Giuffrida
When Olivia Vanistendael walked into Levi Strauss & Co. fresh off her junior year at the Wilson College of Textiles, she never could have dreamed that five years later she would be working her dream job at the very same company.
Vanistendael started at NC State in 2014, but it wasn’t until the end of her first year that she found her way to textile engineering. Engineering students at NC State start off as Engineering First-Years, using that year to learn about various disciplines within engineering before deciding on a specific engineering degree.
For Vanistendael, the decision to focus on textile engineering came from her ability to connect the degree to the world around her.
“I was able to clearly see the relationship between the degree and my everyday life, from the composite materials used in skis and cars, to the upholstered materials on furniture,” she explains. “And that helped me to visualize opportunities for myself after college.”
She credits the Wilson College with setting her up for success upon graduating and entering the industry.
“The coursework at the Wilson College of Textiles is so unique, it really prepares you to be a great candidate,” Vanistendael says. “It makes you stand out.”
It was not only this unique coursework, but also the connections she made through the college that helped Vanistendael secure her first internship. She reached out to an alumni of the Wilson College working at Levi’s who forwarded her resume to another employee of the company and helped Vanistendael on the path to an internship.
“That’s a huge benefit of the college,” Vanistendael explains. “It’s a small network, but it’s very influential.”
Vanistendael interned with the Levi’s Tops raw materials team, focusing on materials and sustainability for women’s tops. The team eventually implemented her recommendation for replacing Rayon starting with the 2019 season. This was the first step towards phasing out the material altogether.
Vanistendael also worked on increasing Levi’s transparency in e-commerce, creating a solution that implemented pop-up boxes to display increased raw materials information, sustainable manufacturing processes and care instructions.
After completing her internship, Vanistendael found herself drawn back to the work she had been doing at Levi’s.
“I really liked the subject matter,” she says. “I could really clearly see the connection between my degree and the work I was doing, and it had the sustainability aspect I was looking for.”
A few months after her internship ended, Vanistendael received a job offer to work as a fabric development assistant on the same team she had interned with. Working closely with internal product development, merchandising and design teams, she developed fabrics and finishes across all categories and genders.
It wasn’t long, however, before Vanistendael found herself longing for a new challenge. She eventually accepted a position as a global fabric specialist at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Her role shifted to performance fabrics, developing over 100 new fabrics for collections such as Calia by Carrie Underwood.
While the position at Dick’s Sporting Goods pushed Vanistendael in new ways, she quickly realized she lacked the passion she had felt working on lifestyle brands like Levi’s.
“I was interested in exploring broader areas, like process improvement or raw materials strategy,” Vanistendael says. “And I realized I was much more passionate about the lifestyle brands than the performance brands.”
This renewed clarity led Vanistendael back to Levi’s, where she moved away from her former role and began a new position as a product operations analyst.
The team Vanistendael works on is made up of the go-to people inside Levi’s. They operate as the go-between for the information technology (IT) teams and the designers, product developers and merchants, interpreting the needs of the people within the company and creating solutions focused on process improvements and system changes.
“A lot of what I do is customer service, but the customers are all the internal users,” Vanistendael explains. “It’s a lot of analysis and logical thinking; our job is to be process experts so when requests or issues come through we can understand why it’s happening and implement a solution for the business.”
Vanistendael credits her career exploration with giving her the perspective she needs to be successful.
“Having my experiences gives me this insight that’s unique,” she says. “I can empathize with the developers more than someone who’s never done what they do.”
She encourages students at the Wilson College of Textiles to explore as much as possible and to learn about the aspects of the industry they like and dislike.
“Keep an open mind and talk to a lot of people,” Vanistendael says. “Knowing what you like and what you’re good at can really help you explore new opportunities.”