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From calling up mill owners to explain sustainability, to piloting global strategy for the Textile Exchange, Karla Magruder has spent over 30 years shaping the textile industry into a force for good.

Textiles and apparel make up $3 trillion in global business. Some see the industry as a huge source of global greenhouse gas emissions, chemical pollution and waste. Karla Magruder sees it as an opportunity.

“Raw material choices have significant environmental impacts,” Karla explains.

That’s why convincing companies to choose the right ones can make a big difference. According to one study, for example, simply swapping virgin polyester for recycled polyester in manufacturing uses nearly two-thirds less energy and emits a third less carbon dioxide.

With that in mind, Karla is doing her best to pilot the textile industry juggernaut toward sustainability. But maintaining her heading hasn’t always been easy.

In the late 1990s, Karla was almost a decade into a promising career as a textiles sales manager when she grew seriously ill. Worried she might never get another chance, she left her U.S. job to move to Italy, something she’d always wanted to do. She was quickly blown away by how progressive the Italians were.

“They were already charging for bags at the grocery store, and you had to recycle everything or you were fined,” Karla recalls.

In 2003, Karla founded the renewable textile consulting company Fabrikology International— finding herself a little fish in a big, skeptical sea.

During early conversations with brands, retailers, and mills, Karla recalls needing to define sustainability with them.

“It wasn’t even on people’s radar,” she says.

Fact-based consultancy

Fabrikology’s early days involved a lot of educating. Karla found the most effective strategy was simply to present the science and to have enough facts and data to back up every claim she made. Even now, she says sharing articles or highlighting what others in the industry are doing is the best way to change someone’s mind about the importance of sustainability.

“You can’t unlearn something once you learn it. Knowledge has an effect on people, even if it takes time.”

Her patient approach worked. The word of Fabrikology’s services began to spread, and clients started to trickle in. The only thing she wishes she’d done differently?

“When you’re just starting out, you tend to soften things. I wish we’d stuck to our beliefs and been more bold, taking a firmer stance on what needed to be done,” she says.

“I’ve also learned that one of the best things you can do is to create your own projects.”

Today, Karla runs Fabrikology, consults regularly, speaks at trade shows and event panels, and guides global textile industry strategy as a board member of the Textile Exchange. She’s pushing sustainability from the top down and the bottom up, but she’s always the first to say that it’s not enough. Right now, Karla believes that companies are interested in the ROI of sustainability, but don’t look much further. They fail to expand their view to the long-term health of their partners, communities and the planet.

“I don’t think we have a business model today that will allow the changes we need,” she says, and continues:

“But it is coming. We just don’t know what it looks like yet.”

Corey Buhay
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