The Technical Center

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   June 14, 2024  Facebook Twitter
Functional Fabric Fair - Portland

FabricLink Network Panels Kickoff The Textile Gateway

By Kathlyn Swantko

Gateway Logo
FabricLink Network's The Textile Gateway, connects textile students to the Textile Industry
and provides outreach by educating younger students about textiles and career paths.

The FabricLink Network held two panel discussions at the recent Functional Fabric Fair in Portland to kickoff it’s Textile Gateway program. The Textile Gateway will serve as a catalyst to promote and nurture a collaborative relationship between the industry and textile schools and to also develop an industry outreach program for students at all levels.  

“The textile industry is moving toward an exciting future, driven by advancements in new technologies and the demand for sustainability.” explains Tom Swantko, director of the Textile Gateway program.  “However, in order to meet the needs of the future, the industry’s challenge is to find and inspire the next generation of leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.”

The purpose of the panels was to start a conversation about the future of the textile industry; the industry’s relationship with schools and students; and, the need to outreach to educate younger students about textiles and the many career opportunities available within the textile industry.  These topics are also central to the mission of The Textile Gateway.

Panelists - The panelists were from major suppliers, mills, and universities. Tom and Kathy Swantko moderated both panels.  The first panel included:

  • Cheryl Smyre, Director of Advanced Materials, Parkdale Mills;
  • Chad Bolic, VP of Unifi Brand Sales, Unifi; and
  • Kristin Draper, president, Draper Knitting Company. 

The second panel included: 

  • Steven Kerns, President, Schoeller Textil USA;
  • Alexa Dehmel, designer, Active Sports & Design Consulting;
  • Joe Walkuski, CEO, Texbase;
  • Carly Mick, program director for art & design, University of Oregon;
  • Chase Anderson, outdoor product design & development coordinator, Utah State University.
Jason Mills Impace Screen
Panel 1 included: (l to r) Kristen Draper - Draper Knitting Company, Cheryl Smyre - Parkdale Mills, and Chad Bolic, Unifi.

A Changing Industry - The panels discussed the changes happening in the textile industry. Smart fabrics, bio-based fabrics, spyder silk, leather from mushrooms, fabric from algae are already happening.  Going forward, technology and sustainability will continue to change the industry, change the needs and nature of the workforce, and impact how textiles are taught in schools.

The textile industry is much broader than fashion design.  Research and product development programs are needed to improve and expand the performance and functionality of textiles, and are important for creating future designs for a wide range of end-use applications and markets. 

Swantko added, “The textile industry has a growing need for science & engineering disciplines to be involved with the research & development of the next gemeration of textile innovations.

Industry and Schools -The textile industry also needs to strengthen its relationship with university textile programs.  While textile programs at some schools remain strong, programs at other schools are under-funded or are being combined with other departments, such as engineering, art, or business.

The panels agreed that the industry’s relationship with university textile programs is key, but needs to be strengthened through collaboration, mentoring, and internships. The industry also needs to do to more to convey it’s changing needs and provide a real world perspective to students and schools.

Jason Mills Impace Screen
Panel 2 included: (l to r) Carly Mick, University of Oregon, Steven Kerns, Schoeller Textil USA, Alexa Dehmel,
Active Sports & Design, Joe Walkuski, Texbase, and Chase Anderson, Utah State University.

Many positions in the industry don’t require a 4 year degree.  Some only require a 2-year certificate program or a short-term training course. Gaston College in North Carolina offers custom programs to train a company’s personnel to perform specific tasks, and even includes certifications for these jobs. Other schools trade should consider these overlooked needs.

Outreach - A significant challenge is that many younger students aren’t considering a career in textiles, because they are not being taught about textiles and are unaware of the broad range of opportunities that exist. 

Most US states have Career and Technical Education (CTE) cluster programs and Family & Consumer Science (FACS) programs for middle & high schools, but often lack resources for textiles.  Therefore, little is being done to educate young students about textiles and its many career paths. 

Outreach is a primary mission of The Textile Gateway. “A major goal is an outreach program for elementary & high schools, community colleges, trade schools, teachers, and students, as well as communities at large, Swantko explained, “We’ve already contacted and met with leaders involved with CTE programs, who were excited to hear about what we are doing and are asking how they can help. We see a real opportunity to have a significant impact.”

Panel Take-Aways

Key takeaways from the panels include:

  • Agreement there is a critical need within the textile industry for The Textile Gateway program.
  • There are passionate people within the industry, who support The Textile Gateway mission; and,
  • There is still much work that needs to be done. 

For More Information
To obtain information on The Textile Gateway and find out how you can help, please contact Tom Swantko at Additional information can also be found on The Textile Gateway, on the FabricLink Network.

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