Two Wilson College Alumni Participate in Textile Circularity Discussion Hosted at UN Headquarters
By Kamilah Heslop
Make. Use. Waste. Within the textile industry, this linear model is transitioning to one that’s circular, where textiles are continuously recycled and reused in new garments and products.
In honor of the third annual World Circular Textiles Day on Oct. 8, an exclusive group of industry leaders, including two Wilson College of Textiles graduates, were invited to participate in a circularity roundtable discussion at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.
What are circular textiles?
As defined by Circle Economy, a circular textiles system addresses the wasteful use of resources and adverse impacts by innovating textile design, adopting new technologies and renewable materials, increasing the reuse and recycling of old garments, and by eliminating waste and pollution.
Image credit: The United Nations Environment Programme
Caitlyn Holt ’12, ’13 and Chad Bolick ’94 were honored to convene with 25 other global stakeholders at the roundtable, hosted by the Fashion Impact Fund and Lenzing Fibers, in collaboration with the United Nations Conscious Fashion and Lifestyle Network.
“This is the first time I’ve been asked to participate in an event like this, and it was a cool experience to have a seat at the table and share my opinions,” Holt says. “From waste collectors to designers, almost every stage in the textile process was represented. It really is a team effort, and it was nice to see other passionate leaders so invested in this mission.”
Creating a waste-free textiles future
Founded in 2020, World Circular Textiles Day aims to report, reflect and celebrate the progress being made in textile circularity and to create a roadmap to reach 100 percent circularity by 2050. This effort, co-founded by Circle Economy, the Centre for Circular Design and Worn Again Technologies, would create a future where textile products and raw materials are kept in continual circulation leading to near-zero waste.
During the roundtable discussion, participants discussed World Circular Textiles Day’s roadmap and actionable steps, such as identifying a data-driven approach for scaling up activities and developing federal policies that industry leaders can take to reach full circularity in 28 years.
Holt currently serves as Elevate Textiles’ director of product and business innovation for Cone Denim. In this role, the Wilson College graduate, who earned a B.S. in fashion and textile management in 2012 and a Master of Textiles degree the following year, is responsible for the organization’s global product development team and forecasting how Cone Denim can be successful in the future.
Her position at Elevate Textiles made Holt the perfect representative for the World Circular Textiles Day discussion, and she was excited to be joined by Bolick, another Wilson College graduate.
Since earning his bachelor’s degree in textile technology in 1994, Bolick has served in various leadership roles at Unifi.
He shared how the Wilson College of Textiles helped lay the groundwork for his entire career.
“Whether it was fiber, yarn, fabric formation or dyeing and finishing, the experience I had during my years at NC State and the Wilson College of Textiles is unmatched,” Bolick says. “I also learned that teamwork was key regardless of what you are trying to achieve.”
Today, Bolick is the vice president of brand sales for Unifi, an organization that aims to provide the best fibers for its customers sustainably.
Forecasting circularity’s impact on the industry and students
After the textile circularity roundtable discussion ended, Bolick and Holt left with several key takeaways.
“To achieve this goal, you cannot do it alone. Everyone has to work together,” Bolick explains. “You may see someone as a competitor today but to achieve this goal, they may become a partner, supplier or even a customer. Also, the industry will have to change. What we are doing today will not be what we are doing five, 10 or 20 years from now.”
Bolick can also clearly see how textile circularity will impact the Wilson College of Textiles, its students and future generations of textile leaders, innovators and researchers.
“I see more focus on sustainability as a whole, and I also see more education around designing for circularity,” Bolick says. “This is a new area of work that graduates could explore. This could be outside the current ‘normal’ textile jobs and into collection, sortation and the deconstruction of garments. I could also see companies like WM, formally Waste Management, looking for textile graduates because they are now focusing on textile recycling.”
Holt shares Bolick’s foresight about the textile industry and its commitment to sustainability.
“It is a full mindset shift from the way textiles is run today,” she shares. “Learning to develop into circularity and thinking about the end of life for a product is something we all have to re-train our brains to set as a new default. Students today and in the future can start with a circular mindset, and that will help us reach the 2050 goal so much faster. Everyone has a role.”
Both graduates look forward to being directly involved in furthering their companies and the industry’s commitment to making strides in and positively impacting textile circularity.
“Sometimes, with goals this significant, it feels impossible to achieve,” Holt says. “But this one is worth fighting for. We are working to build logical stage gate processes and benchmarks, so it feels like we will be celebrating in 2050.”