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Polartec’s Steve Layton on Leading the Performance Textile Innovator

When Milliken & Company named Steve Layton president of its newly acquired Polartec business in June, he brought a strong textile market knowledge and strategic business background to the position.

When he joined Polartec, Layton said the former Malden Mills already had a “strong reputation.” Layton had been with Milliken & Company since 2012, serving as vice president of sales and marketing for the Westex by Milliken flame-resistant textiles business prior to being named at Polartec.

When Milliken acquired Polartec from Versa Capital Management, the Andover, Mass.-based company said it rounded out its comprehensive portfolio, allowing it to deliver unprecedented access to a range of performance textiles for consumers, industrial workers and military personnel around the world.

He’s taken the first several months to meet with customers and other collaborators to make investments in operations and innovation, with the backing of Milliken as a strategic owner known for operational excellence and investments in innovation.

Here, he discusses his vision for the company:

Sourcing Journal: How do you see Polartec fitting into Milliken’s textile portfolio?

Steve Layton: Polartec’s product portfolio and manufacturing capabilities are complementary to Milliken’s diverse woven capabilities, making it a perfect fit. Milliken will benefit from Polartec’s high brand awareness and ability to invent high-performance knit products, while Polartec will greatly benefit from Milliken’s vertical manufacturing and central research group.

SJ: How do you see Polartec’s place in the active and innovative textile market?

Layton: We’ve been leaders in innovative and sustainable textiles for a long time, and we will continue to lead. That will accelerate with Milliken’s support. We are combining our development efforts with Milliken’s central research group to push the limits on textile science.

SJ: What is your biggest challenge as Polartec president?

Layton: Deciding on what the future of the business should look like. Polartec has made some fairly drastic strategic pivots over the years. Now that we have a stable owner with complementary capabilities, I expect we will make another transformative change in the coming years. The hardest part at this stage is getting conviction on all the options in front of us. We are taking our time to truly understand the best opportunities, but once we do, we will go after them in a big way.

SJ: What is your biggest opportunity at Polartec?

Layton: We need to invest in our operations and become world class suppliers to the brands we work with. Polartec has one of the strongest foundations I’ve ever been a part of. We have a wide stable of innovative products that perform very well, and brand notoriety. Having said that, we haven’t been able to service our customers in the way we should be. Milliken can and will help us become world class.

SJ: How has the trade situation with China impacted the company’s business?

Layton: There’s a lot of uncertainty and it changes every day. One thing that’s an advantage for us is that we have manufacturing set up in different trade regions. We can service out of the U.S., China, Italy or Guatemala. We bring flexibility to our customers, which should provide a lot of value in times of uncertainty.

SJ: Is it more important than ever to build supply chain and brand collaborations?

Layton: Definitely. That’s always been how I do business anyway, working with all the influencers on a particular product. We look to drive value for all the partners who touch our product–the customers, the cutters, helping them be more efficient in their operations. I’ve done it previously in prior businesses and that’s worked out really well.

SJ: What are some of the newest innovations at Polartec?

Layton: Polartec Power Air is a completely new fabric technology and experience, and it’s now circular. We continue to invest in it as a foundational platform. I’d also highlight that I’m really excited about some of the lines that have come out that just need a story resurgence, like Polartec Alpha, which introduced active insulation, or Polartec Delta, which is a cooling product, something people don’t necessarily associate with Polartec. I’m also a big proponent of Polartec NeoShell, the most breathable waterproof fabric technology. I’m very excited about the base of products we have.

SJ: What are your goals for Polartec?

Layton: We’re still defining what we think the very best version of Polartec is. In the short term, we have to reestablish ourselves in areas where we drifted away. There’s a core market we took our eyes off of. Operationally and with marketing, we’ll rebuild the core. There’s a huge opportunity to rebuild and continue to scale in select markets. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit.

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