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Faculty-created Seminar Highlights “Real-World” Sustainability in Textiles Industry

Three students sit at a desk, all looking at Barry Brady, who stands in front of a monitor, partially in view, that reads “Identification, Impact”. The classroom walls are blue and the students sit on yellow chairs.
Barry Brady, the southeast regional manager for Organic Sales and Manufacturing Responsibilities, discusses organic dyes and pigments.

By Elyse Boldizar

From innovative design to environmentally-conscious business practices, sustainability in the textiles industry takes many shapes and forms. This past semester, Professor Karen Leonas hosted a seminar with five leaders from across the industry to share their insight on sustainability.

Some of the highlights of the seminar included Philip Henson, the director of energy and sustainability at Hanesbrands Inc. providing an overview of sustainability in the industry and Constanza Gomes, the co-founder of Sortile, a company using AI technology to reduce textile waste, talking about the importance of utilizing new technologies. 

  • Barry Brady: Southeast Regional Manager for Organic and Sales and Manufacturing Responsibilities, Organic Dyes and Pigments 
  • Tessa Callaghan: Co-founder and CEO, Keel Labs 
  • Constanza Gomez: Co-founder, Sortile 
  • Melissa Henkle: Director of Brand Sales, Unifi Manufacturing 
  • Philip Henson: Director of Energy and Sustainability, HanesBrands Inc.

The seminar was a part of an undergraduate course taught by Leonas called Sustainability in Fashion, Textiles and Retail. However, Leonas also invited all Wilson College students, faculty and staff. 

“For the classes that I teach, I try to bring in people from the industry,” Leonas says. “As I looked at this fall, I thought this really is something that could benefit people in the college, not just in the class.” 

Leonas says she purposely chose speakers that were interesting across textiles disciplines.

“Sustainability is so prevalent in our industry and the things we’re trying to do around the college,” Leonas says. “This just seemed like a good way to reinforce that and bring new technology and real information from industry.”

Students and faculty across the college say they gained valuable insight from the seminar. 

Tova Williams, a research assistant professor and the principal investigator of The Sustainable Dye Chemistry Laboratory, says the seminars were eye-opening and applicable to her own research in dye and color chemistry. 

“It made me think about my lab and where we’re trying to go,” Williams says. “There’s a lot of pressure when you say we’re a sustainable dye chemistry lab. Although we are currently using some petroleum-based dyes in our research studies, it is our long-term goal to utilize/develop dyes that are not. Designing and developing a sustainable product takes time, and right now we’re trying to focus on designing and developing ones that are nontoxic to humans and the environment regardless of their origin as natural or synthetic.”

Veronica Humphrey, a senior studying fashion and textile design, says she has always had an interest in sustainability in fashion. The seminar allowed her to learn more about new technologies as well as network with professionals. 

“I thought a lot of the seminars were interesting, considering the speakers came from quite a wide range of companies,” Humphrey says. “Especially with the newer businesses that were brought up, such as Sortile or  AlgiKnit. It was fascinating to hear about some of the newer things that are happening.” 

Leonas’ favorite part of the seminar was the discussions between students and industry professionals.

“This sounds corny, but that interaction between our students, who I perceive to be future leaders in the industry, and our current industry leaders bridges that legacy in a way.” 

Leonas plans to continue offering the seminar in tandem with her courses as a way to connect the Wilson community with industry professionals — magnifying sustainable textile innovation at the Wilson College and beyond.