For the second time in three years, Glen Raven Custom Fabrics and Sunbury Textile Mills have joined forces in the search for the next generation of talent in textile design. Hosting a competition with the Textile Design program at Philadelphia University, the two companies asked students to imagine the future of Sunbrella® fabrics, answering the question, ‘What’s next?’
“What’s great about this partnership with Sunbury and the university is that we are exposed to a group of students that have completely different perspectives,” said Tracy Greene, style/design manager at Glen Raven Custom Fabrics. “It’s interesting to see a new take on our materials, where students are allowed to weave and finish textiles creating art rather than designing for a specific commercial market. We are here to help educate the students, but really they are educating and inspiring us.”
The competition, which launched in 2014, quickly proved to be a way for Glen Raven to interact with prospective employees. Emily Weiss, whose design featured a blue/green color palette ideal for a beach home, took second place in the inaugural textile design and went on to intern with Glen Raven Custom Fabrics. She has since been hired on to the design team.
“It’s such a cool experience being on the other side of the table this time around,” Weiss said. “I know from my experience how much work goes into this project, and it has most certainly paid off for me. I’m so glad to be part of the Sunbrella design team, and couldn’t have imagined back then where I’d be now. My best advice to students would be to step out of your comfort zone and put yourself out there.”
In this year’s competition, graduate student Samantha Fletcher was awarded first place in a unanimous decision for her innovative, limit-pushing approach which featured melted PVC yarn.
“My process is to play with the materials, push the limits of the yarn and change it in a really unique way,” said Fletcher, whose design reminiscent of lace was based on the concept of collective memories. “It’s gratifying to win first place in this competition because this is the type of work I love doing.”
Judges from the industry included Andy Kahnke, director of trade and retail sales for DEDON, Inc.; Liora Manne, designer and owner of Lamontage/Liora Manne; Tracy Greene, style/design manager at Glen Raven; Kathy Remsa, senior designer at Sunbury; and Patricia Hoffman, manager for corporate and ecommerce web initiatives for Thibaut.
“Samantha’s design was an inventive response to the inherent properties of Sunbrella yarn,” Hoffman said. “Visually it is rich and interesting, and her story about collective memories made me relook at the fabric and see it in a whole new light. Her design inspires me to ask ‘How can I push beyond what has already been done?’ as I create fabric for real world applications.”
Second place was awarded to graduate student Valerie Gibbins for her design influenced by street art. Third-place winner Jessica Newman, a junior, was noted for her design based on bone cell patterns. Honorable mentions were presented to Becky Flax, Nyasha Chivaura and Yi-Chun Liu, all using materials in new ways, predicting the future of Sunbrella fabrics.
“It’s really joyous to be recognized, especially by judges from within the industry,” said Gibbins, who is studying industrial design but has delayed her master’s thesis to study textile design. “I have been sewing my whole life, but I’ve really immersed myself in textile design this past year. I hope to combine my interest in industrial design with my passion for textiles, and winning second place in this competition validates my efforts.”
Jessica Newman hopes her third-place win keeps her on track to one day pursue her dream of product development for sportswear.
“I’m really surprised and honored to have won third place,” Newman said. “I did a lot of experimenting with PVC yarns to get to my final product. I’m fascinated by how technology can change the products we use every day, so this was a really fun project to work on.”
The students’ designs were judged on a number of criteria: color, pattern, appropriate scale, creative materials, appropriate hand, technical execution, appropriate end use, originality and innovation.
“I like designs that push people; designs that you’re not sure if they are ugly or pretty,” Kahnke said. “When I have a strong reaction to something, it often means it spoke to me, and I appreciate the unexpected. What I enjoyed most about judging this competition was seeing the level of detail and precision, and how the students interpreted the challenge in vastly different ways.”
The winners were announced at Philadelphia University on May 10 and their entries placed on display.
“I loved how the students explored the material,” Manne said. “The creativity displayed is inspiring. I was especially attracted to the various treatments of the yarns that created new textures, translucency and complex details. Their imaginations ran wild with this project and I really enjoyed speaking with the students about their designs.”
Kathy Remsa, who served as a judge on behalf of partner Sunbury, holds the university close to her heart, as she was a master’s student there 15 years ago.
“My time at Philadelphia University was so valuable,” Remsa said. “As an alumnus, I want to give back and help educate the next generation of textile designers. It’s a great opportunity for us and Glen Raven to connect with the students and provide valuable advice for their careers.”
Continuing in its tradition of recruiting competition entrants, Glen Raven will bring on honorable mention winner Nyasha Chivaura as a design intern this summer.
“Emily and Nyasha are fantastic success stories exemplifying how we connect our students with industry leaders,” said Marcia Weiss, director of the Fashion and Textiles Futures Center at Philadelphia University, no relation to Emily Weiss. “By bringing in judges from within the industry, we further widen the circle of connections our students can make. We couldn’t be more pleased with this partnership and are so proud of the talent we are producing.”