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John W. Pope Industrialist-in-Residence Shares Industry Insights with Students, Faculty and Staff

This year's John W. Pope Industrialist-In-Residence, Amy Bircher Bruyn, CEO and founder of MMI Textiles, shared her firsthand experience in the textile industry with students, faculty and staff.

Amy Bircher Bruyn speaking to audience with a presentation slide that reads "NC State John W. Pope Industrialist in Residence, Wilson College of Textiles.

The John W. Pope Industrialist-in-Residence program brings global textile industry leaders to the Wilson College of Textiles for the day to speak to students, faculty and staff about their experience and expertise.

This year’s John W. Pope Industrialist-in-Residence, Amy Bircher Bruyn, CEO and founder of MMI Textiles, visited the Wilson College on Feb. 22.

Bircher Bruyn has been engaged in the textiles industry since she was nine years old, helping at her dad’s company National Dye Works. Throughout high school, she worked cutting samples, running equipment and connecting with the people on the factory floor.

“Honestly, it was the root of my becoming an entrepreneur because I was really connected with the people on the factory floor. I wanted to support them, learn from them, encourage them, engage with them and help them succeed. That kind of collaboration was such an early mindset for me,” Bircher Bruyn says.

Bircher Bruyn founded MMI Textiles in 1997 as a manufacturer’s representative serving six Midwestern states. It has rapidly grown, and now MMI offers solutions to its customers for fabrics, webbing, binding tape, labels and more. The company’s 45,000-square-foot headquarters and distribution center is located in Brooklyn, Ohio, with a manufacturing facility in Lenoir, North Carolina.

In her keynote address, Bircher Bruyn emphasized the importance of innovation and thinking outside the box in the textile industry.

“Different is better than better, so find your voice.”  

She elaborated by discussing how a key to MMI’s success has been its ability to solve problems and challenge the norm. 

“We all saw it happen with COVID and the textile industry pivoting to PPE. It’s critical to constantly be looking at specific markets that aren’t supported.”

One key area of innovation MMI has recently been focusing on is sustainability.

“Textiles is known for being the second largest water polluter,” Bircher Bruyn said. “We have to change that statistic, and we are serious about it.”

The company has been developing fabrics with recycled fibers, waterless finishes, organic finishes, bio-based fibers to replace traditional synthetics, increased circularity and more. EcoThriv, a line of environmentally preferred performance fabrics, is just one example. The line is 100% made in the U.S. and offers small-volume purchasing to start-up brands.

In addition to serving as CEO and founder, Bircher Bruyn was recently appointed by President Joe Biden to the White House Committee on Trade and Policy Negotiations. She also mentors students at the Wilson College of Textiles, industry peers and many others wherever possible.

Bircher Bruyn highlighted the importance of mentorship and partnerships in the industry. 

“We have to band together, partner and collaborate,” she said. “We hold a partnership appreciation event every year to thank our partners and suppliers. This is what it’s all about; this is how we can create change.”

She encouraged all students to consider opportunities early in the textile supply chain to become connected with mills and weaving, knitting, dyeing and finishing processes, and emphasized what Wilson College of Textiles students can contribute to the textile industry in North Carolina.

“I didn’t have a business plan. I had a dream. I am fortunate to be able to stand up here and talk to you today and say that 26 years is a long time. It started with that dream.”