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Hannah Orlowski ‘19 Engineering for the Big Leagues

The B.S. Textile Engineering alumna, leverages her specialized education from the Wilson College of Textiles to develop materials for Major League Baseball, Nike and J.Crew.

Hannah Orlowski sitting at her desk holding a swatch of fabric under a microscope.

Deciding on a college major can be a daunting task, but for textile engineering (TE) alumna Hannah Orlowski, the choice was clear. From a young age, Orlowski knew that she had an interest in engineering after attending STEM camps in elementary school.

However, when she attended the Summer Textile Exploration Program and saw Pyroman in action, she found her passion for textile engineering.  

Student and faculty watch Pyroman manikin on fire, testing garment flammability and thermal protection.
Roger Barker, director of the Textile Protection and Comfort Center at the Wilson College, oversees a Pyroman test. The manikin is used to test garment flammability and thermal protection.

“It was really just a matter of finding what area within textile engineering I was most passionate about,” she says.

Orlowski is now a product development engineer at Contempora Fabrics, one of the premier knit fabric manufacturers in the U.S. In this role, she uses her technical knowledge of fabrics that she gained at the Wilson College of Textiles to reverse engineer fabrics for clients such as Nike, Fanatics and J. Crew, in addition to being the official supplier of uniforms for Major League Baseball.

Gaining specialized skills from the Wilson College of Textiles

Orlowski emphasizes the value of her education at the Wilson College, highlighting the specialized skills she acquired that are unparalleled to an education one might receive anywhere else.

“On top of the ability to problem solve, the specific knowledge of textiles is so helpful when you come into the textile industry, especially compared to someone who is entering the field without a textile background.”

Hannah Orlowski wearing a Wilson College of Textiles polo, holding a sign for a textile engineering, chemistry, and science tour and standing in an Instagram post sign.
Orlowski giving a textile engineering, chemistry and science tour during her time as a student.

She elaborates on how crucial it is to know textile-specific concepts, such as the difference between polyester and nylon or cotton and rayon. Even the more generic courses, such as thermodynamics and Lean Six Sigma, have a textile focus as well. 

“When I took thermodynamics, even though that’s applicable to lots of different industries, I learned about it in terms of a cooling fabric or an insulating fabric,” she explains. 

Thinking about these broad topics with a textiles lens is proving valuable in her career, she says.

Applying textiles skills as a product development engineer

At Contempora, Orlowski completes the first steps of developing a new fabric for a customer before it’s mass manufactured for new products. She specializes in reverse engineering fabrics based on specific customer needs. 

For example, when a customer like Nike provides a swatch of fabric that they found at a trade show, Orlowski meticulously dissects it. By deconstructing the fabric, she can determine precisely how the fabric was made, what the specifications of the machine were, what yarn size and type was used, the construction of the fabric, along with many other details – all from a piece of fabric the size of the palm of your hand.

Hannah Orlowski standing in front of Contempora fabric swatches.
“It’s really exciting to get to see styles that I’ve created adopted by brands when they send us an inspiration fabric and I can recreate what they’re looking for.”

Once she completes her fabric analysis, she then applies her expertise to replicate the material. Using this knowledge, she writes the setup for the machine to knit an entire sample roll. The material is then sent to a dye house to be colored and sent back to the customer for approval before transitioning into a full production order.

“To know that I’m going to be able to go buy a Nike sweatshirt out of a fabric that I developed is just so fun. I mean, little 16-year-old me would be shaking in her boots if she knew that this is what I’m doing now.”

Exploring interests and maximizing experiences

During her time at NC State, Orlowski was involved in the Textile Technology and Engineering Society and the University Honors Program. She credits both organizations for allowing her the opportunity to explore her interests freely. She advises current and future students to make the most of their college experiences by doing the same.

Hannah Orlowski wearing a graduation cap and gown at the Wilson College of Textiles.
Orlowski after the Wilson College of Textiles commencement.

She elaborates by saying that we work to live, not live to work, but highlights the importance of finding joy in your job. College is the perfect time to figure out what you do and don’t enjoy in a low-risk environment. 

“If you’re mildly interested in it, give it a try because the more that you’re able to know yourself, the more you’re able to find a career that’s going to be fulfilling for you.”