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The Women In Denim: Cindy McNaull

The Women In Denim is Rivet’s check-in with women working in the global denim sector. The column, in partnership with The Women In Denim industry group, shines a spotlight on today’s and tomorrow’s leaders. In this Q&A, Cindy McNaull, Cordura brand business development director, shares how her family’s pedigree in textiles instilled an unwavering love for the industry and for education.

When and where did you begin your career in denim?

I majored in chemical engineering with a minor in biomedical engineering at North Carolina State University. One of my favorite summer internships was with the Lycra fiber manufacturing facility in Waynesboro, Va. Following graduation, my first job was with ICI Colors and Fine Chemical, which gave me a solid grounding in traditional textiles.

I was also fortunate to work with a leading non-wovens company, which expanded my knowledge of textiles and its many and varied fabric formation technologies and end-use applications. I joined Invista, the owner of the Cordura brand, a little over 13 years ago and have been living the durable journey ever since.

An exciting highlight during my tenure at Inivista has been the development and launch of Cordura Denim. In fact, the end of 2020 marks the 10-year anniversary of this launch.

What is the most rewarding part of your current job?

Understanding our industry’s trends and unmet needs and applying this knowledge to craft and develop innovative durable solutions. I work with a great global team that’s passionate about Cordura and taking our advanced fabric platform to the next level, which is near and dear to my durable heart.

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I’m a firm believer in innovation through collaboration, and it’s been an honor and a privilege to work with some of the most creative, talented individuals in the denim industry for the past decade. One of the absolute best feelings in the world is to see a product launched at retail and follow its success. It’s great to see consumers valuing products that our Cordura team and supply chain partners have helped bring to life.

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

There are no boundaries other than those you choose to put on yourself. Chemical engineering was certainly a male-dominated curriculum when I was at college; and the textile industry was male dominated early in my career. But things are progressing. I can remember during the early days when the guys would say, “let’s meet on the golf course,” and I would say—”great, I play golf too. I’ll book the outing.”

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

Early in my career I was fortunate to participate in a Women in Leadership curriculum; looking back, I realize this was probably pretty cutting edge for the 1990s. When we graduated, they gave us a wonderful keepsake for our office that had an engraving of the quote: “Remember…Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards…and in high heels”.

I look at this slogan every day and remember a lot of the discussions we had during that time. Women in denim are increasingly aware of the strength that lies within and are taking the proactive steps to unlock their very best work. By tapping into our natural resilience and self-actualization we can improve decision making and communication; strengthen relationships and deliver results.

Have you had a mentor in your career?

My first mentor was definitely my dad. He worked for DuPont in a variety of performance fiber applications that took us through Virginia, Delaware and North Carolina. My grandfather worked for Burlington Industries/Klopman Division and my mother and grandmother were both excellent seamstresses. It was a very tactile childhood involving lots of fiber and fabric heritage—not to mention bolts of cloth!

It was a very useful family mentoring experience because now in my current role we are seeing a trend for ‘back-to-basics’ with a technical spin as consumers are demanding more and more integrated performance solutions.

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

Some of us have been lucky enough to have had exceptional mentors, both male and female. Mentorship is so important in our careers. It’s important to find one that can help you grow, and it’s vital that we pay it forward.

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

Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege to work with talented women and men across several different segments of the textile industry. Together these experiences have taught me about the importance of knowing what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, and how you can make a difference.

In terms of career advice, I’d say don’t be afraid to step outside the box. Be an agile thinker and know when to pivot to achieve both your personal and professional goals. And always be a lifetime learner. Personal growth is often at the edge of your comfort zone.

Who is your denim style icon, and why?

From an industry perspective, I’d have to say Amy Leverton, the author of “Denim Dudes.” I first met Amy when she provided valuable insight and consumers trends that formed the foundation for our Cordura Denim ‘Authentic Alchemie,’ collection, our platform rooted in authenticity, heritage and innovation. Amy’s global perspective and industry knowledge, not to mention her creative ethos and passion for denim continues to resonate. I find her insights invaluable and inspirational for both my personal denim style and for the journey our Cordura brand is on.

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

There is a lot of personal uncertainty during Covid-19 and we are all facing the challenge of personal connectivity in a digital world. Technology and the role it’s now playing in the world of sustainability, circular design and transparency should be our industry’s key focus.

What makes you most optimistic?

This is a challenging time for our industry, and it is how we deal with this as a collective global textiles community that will help define and set the foundation for the future. As consumers, we are all being more selective with the products we purchase, and for the ones that we do buy we want them to go the distance. Our industry’s focus on designing with purpose provides strong optimism for the future.