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The Women In Denim: Candiani’s MaryKate Kelley

The Women In Denim is Rivet’s check-in with women working in the global denim sector. The weekly column, in partnership with The Women In Denim industry group, shines a spotlight on today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. In this Q&A, MaryKate Kelley, marketing manager for Candiani Denim, discusses how working for a company that prioritizes the environment keeps her optimistic about the future of denim and textiles.

When and where did you begin your career in denim?

My denim career began when I was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology studying textile development and marketing. I was able to parlay my passion for textiles into my first job working as a sales associate at Levi’s flagship store in New York City. It changed my life. Working with denim everyday ignited my passion even further, eventually leading me to my position now at Candiani. I am a firm believer in ‘you don’t choose your job; your job chooses you.’ I couldn’t be happier with my career trajectory.

What is the most rewarding part of your current job?

The most rewarding part of my job is meeting incredible people from all over the globe who share my dream of improving the denim industry through sustainable innovation. Additionally, it is so gratifying to be part of a company that is committed to investing in new technologies, smart materials and has the long-term goal of a positive impact and full circularity.

Some people describe denim as a boys’ club. Do you agree or disagree?

At times, it can certainly feel like a boys’ club. Even though fashion is a female-oriented industry, it is still run by men. The overall number of women in top business roles is excruciatingly low; women lead only 12.5 percent of apparel and retail apparel companies in the Fortune 1000. As this is common knowledge, the question now is, how can we get to a point where we are seeing just as many women in leadership positions as men?

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In denim, what qualities do you think women bring to the table?

The women I’ve met bring a passion and unwavering enthusiasm to the table. Women make great leaders as we are natural multitaskers and can respond to various tasks and problems concurrently. We are creative problem solvers and often motivated by the desire to overcome a challenge.

Have you had a mentor in your career?

I am very fortunate to have been working with Simon Giuliani, Candiani’s global marketing director, for the last four years. He has been instrumental in guiding me, sharing his infinite knowledge of the denim industry, and always pushing me to be the strongest version of my professional self.

What can women do to help other women in the denim industry?

We need to support each other. Historically, women have been taught or programmed to be competitive with one another, but this only hinders our chance to succeed collectively. If we work together, encourage each other and share our experiences, we have an opportunity to make a positive impact. Ultimately, we all want to be recognized and appreciated for our hard work, dedication, and love of the denim industry.

What advice would you give to a woman starting a career in the denim industry?

Listen and absorb as much as you can from those who have more experience. Never be afraid to ask questions and speak up.

Who is your denim style icon, and why?

I look at my friends and peers for inspiration. They motivate me each day with their creative and unique style. I am fortunate to be surrounded by individuals who share my passion for denim and the world of fashion. To me, they are all modern-day style icons.

What should be the denim industry’s top priority now?

Produce less, but better. One of the most prominent issues facing the fashion industry is waste. There are billions of unworn garments being incinerated or dumped in landfills every year. This issue is only going to continue to worsen unless we, the manufacturers, do something. We need to reduce the number of garments produced and aim for a ‘less is more’ mentality, where less also means better; better quality, durability, longevity and circularity.

What makes you most optimistic?

My optimism lies in people and companies, like Candiani Denim, that are pioneering a positive change in the denim industry through sustainable innovation.