Episode 10: Emily Walzer | Textile Insights

Emily Walzer on her publishing career, views on latest trade shows and Textile Insights

Those of you who follow performance textiles are most likely familiar with Emily Walzer, a savvy journalist who’s had direct access to leading active sports and lifestyle brands heads since the 80’s. Today, Emily is the editor and co-publisher of Textile Insight, a trade publication that focuses on the world of textile design, innovation and its exciting product applications. I’ve known Emily as long as she’s been covering the sports/textile markets. It was wonderful to sit down and have a conversation in her home office about her career path in publishing, her key take aways from the latest trade shows, current textile trends and growing industry concern over sustainability and social responsibility. Emily reveals how she fuels her creativity, which always seems to find its way to inspire us with her informative stories you can find at textileinsight.com. I hope you enjoy!

Emily Walzer, editor and co-publisher of Textile Insights

Emily’s Interview Transcript

Nancy: Hello, I’m Nancy Fendler and you’re listening to Material Wise, your podcast on material matters. It’s my chance to talk to designers, product developers and other guests about what inspires them to create, why and how they select the materials they choose, and the relationships they built with their customers and industry.

The best part of being involved in the outdoor active lifestyle industry is meeting with so many great people and developing long-lasting relationships. One of those special people for me is my guest today, Emily Walzer, editor and co-publisher of Textile Insight Magazine. For those unfamiliar, Textile Insight is a trade publication that focuses on the world of textile design, innovation and its exciting product applications. I met with Emily in her home office in the beautiful seaside town of Guilford, Connecticut. We chatted about how she got her start in journalism and the changes she’s observed in the textile market since she began covering it in the late ’80s. Emily also shares some of her key takeaways from her coverage of the recent winter trade shows and markets and the overall concern with sustainability initiatives. She also lets us know what she does to escape, recharge and find her inspiration. Emily, thanks so much for joining me on Material Wise. As you know, or maybe you don’t know, I’ve been a huge fan of yours for a long time.

Emily: Thank you.

Nancy: And just admire your work so much.

Emily: Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy: You’re welcome. Did you always want to be a journalist and write about textiles or how did you get into this?

Emily: No, textiles were never on the radar for me. Publishing, I would say has been on the radar. My family has a publishing background, my family associated for years were very creative. They were writers, artists from that field. Publishing was sort of out there. I actually was an art history major, I first was looking for jobs either in an art gallery or as dealers, things like that for art and then kept going back to publishing, trying to get my foot in the door, and then I’d get a job at Conde Nast. I started there and I worked for House & Garden Magazine, which I loved in the kitchens department. And from there I went to Self Magazine, which was also another interest of mine, more in the field of sport and fitness.

And from there just went from there to take a break and I left my job and traveled and came back and was called by Fairchild Publications. They had started a new magazine called Sportstyle and we’re talking many, many years ago. And I got a job working there at Sportstyle Magazine and my first day was assigned to textiles because no one else in the staff wanted to do it. And since I was low woman on the totem pole, I said okay. And I thought it was very creative and artsy and people who are very interested in color and pattern. We drew on my art history background and I was off and running. I had publishing and I had Textiles. I was zigzagged into that. But from day one, I very much enjoyed it.

Nancy: I remember Sportstyle. Oh gosh, I know it was great and I know that with Textile Insight Jeff (Publisher) is bringing it back.

Emily: Yes. We’re trying to get that back and it was a fabulous time. I’m sure folks who are in the industry back in the ’80s would remember Sportstyle and we had a wonderful staff and it was right when everything was booming and this all the companies, it was exciting and fun and they were all small companies. You could call Nike, you could call Reebok and the founders would pick up the phone and it was a wonderful, wonderful time to be in the industry and Sportstyle was really, really the one to get that whole sort of market moving in terms of sport and style.

Nancy: It was/is a great name. I know you cover all the markets – between the markets in New York and Denver and more – and you just came back from the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show. How was it?

Emily: It was good. It says the second go round for the combination of ski and snow and Outdoor Retailer in Denver and last year’s was very, very high energy. I think anytime something is first time was really great show. This show was good and good for textiles we have a lot of innovation going on there and it was good energy in the room and I hope that will continue. It’s a very good show. I was impressed by the creativity in their textile department. They’re doing so much in terms of sustainability, which I guess we’ll talk about more in depth, but I think also just the textile community is really open now to new materials, to new types of materials, to new processes.

It’s a good time and really wanting to sort of push innovation in the marketplace right from the raw materials on through the entire supply chain. I think most textile folks had a really good show and I think what we saw in other areas, I don’t cover footwear as well, but I think there’s textile innovation going on in the footwear arena that’s really important to watch right now.

Nancy: Yeah. The 3D printing and a lot of knits are being used.

Emily: Yes. I think knit technology is something that people are really talking about and how it may have started in footwear, but now really segwaying into new developments. Smartwool did a big presentation at the show about their new intra-knit program, which is just elevating how great will can be in a knit for active outdoor and every day. Knit technology is definitely something that we’re watching in all segments of the industry.

Nancy: Interesting. Outdoor Retailer always has such great seminars. Did you catch any good ones?

Emily: I did. There were three actually that very thoughtful. I am a big fan of Haysun Hahn of Fast Forward Trending and I thought she did a superior presentation about fashion and function and the relationship going on there in our market and where we are in outdoor and just the complicated relationship we have between fashion and function and how to push that forward. She did a superb job on that. Kevin Maya, excuse me if I’m mispronouncing that, who’s with bluesign did a presentation just on sustainability and I thought he was really good just talking about how a sustainable supply chain is a robust supply chain or maybe he said a robust supply chain is a sustainable supply chain, but the point was how it is just has to be in business today.

This sustainability and innovation and how you make product has to all go hand in hand. He did a very good job talking about bluesign and the relationship between bluesign and partners in the industry. And then the posted NPD research, Matt Powell and Julia Clark Day do a great job of just really giving a big picture on growth categories and what’s hot and what’s not and social factors at play that are influencing what’s going on. Those are three good and there were great things going on at venture out also on small-batch sustainability and just a lot of good things there too that the show was really terrific for that.

Nancy: Yeah. Did Matt and Julia share anything that was surprising to you?

Emily: Not so much. Matt did say some things. Travel has been a really interesting category to watch. A lot more people are traveling and doing and I thought he was talking about the baby boomers and I think a statistic he gave is something like 50,000 baby boomers are retiring every day and that market is something, it’s really pushing the travel industry and I hadn’t really thought about that in a while. I keep thinking is younger people who are traveling and that’s big part of their culture right now, but that was interesting to hear about that market and what’s happening in the retiree market. And Haysun had said something interesting too about design that fanny packs or cross body, however you want to talk about that accessory is something that the youth have adopted now.

But she saw that as a way that designers were not giving people what they wanted in their clothing and we had to go back to finding a fanny pack to put our phone, our wallet, our keys in and that perhaps design needs to elevate in a new way to, to carry what we want to carry today. And I thought that was an interesting point.

Nancy: That is interesting. For those listening – a designer opportunity.

Emily: Yeah, definitely. She said, ‘who leaves without your phone and keys?’ And we shouldn’t have to put on an accessory perhaps to in order to have that – our clothing should be built with pocketing or adhesives or however you want to do that. And that that’s a design area to rethink perhaps.

Nancy: Yeah, I’ve been hearing that we’re in an experience economy, people are looking for more for experiences rather than buying more stuff or making multipurpose products.

Emily: Well, versatility is the big buzz word in the textile. You go talk to any of the suppliers and you ask them and they said, we really have to develop product that is versatile, and from that I think you’re seeing a lot of adaptive types of technologies. Clothing can be, you can be sitting on a subway or in an airplane and still be comfortable and get off that and wear the same coat. Then you are going to go outside and get your car or something like that. That versatility and exactly, people don’t want six different coats to do what they’re doing. They want one coat that will basically take them through their day.

Nancy: Yes, sustainability is a hot topic.

Emily: It is for sure.

Nancy: Can you share some of your insights as to how the textile industry’s doing to become more transparent and more sustainable?

Emily: Yes. Certainly, there’s a lot of talk these days on microplastics and the industry has really looked at that issue and it’s developing every day, new ways to combat the plastics pollution. We’re seeing things in biodegradability in terms of all different materials now are being investigated to do that. That’s been pushing things forward. Recycled is still of course important. I’m also looking at natural fibers that would decompose naturally. Cotton and hemp and all things are now opening up in maybe a bit of a reversal to look at wool and other natural fibers that don’t have a plastic association. The textile industry is really embracing this in many different ways and all the way through the supply chain, not looking at green chemistry, different processes, water conservation in terms of manufacturing, energy conservation, all kinds of things. And then other social ways, better social responsibility in the factory, in their workforce. In every which way, sustainability is a number one priority now.

Nancy: Yeah. I think just going back to what Matt Powell was saying in a previous seminar that I had taken is that the millennials are demanding it. They’re really purchasing things with not only sustainability in mind, but also the social responsibility of the company.

Emily: What’s this company values and what their ethics are. Was interesting at the trade show and we’ve been seeing this more and more. If you look at who is innovating with labeling now, there were jackets and different things at the show that would very much call out how much water had been saved making this jacket, was it animal friendly? The animal cruelty issue was also, and that was all called out in the lining of a coat very much right front and center and the company’s mission and whatever. Yeah, I think where things are made, how they’re made, who is making them, why they’re making them, it’s all things that consumers are more interested in and want transparency and traceability. Almost what sheep did my wool sweater come from and what that sheep ate and how she slept and her relationships with the farmer.

Nancy: Oh, I think you’re right.

Emily: And the community is responding to it. They’re not saying we don’t want to do it. They are really trying to be very responsive to what the consumer wants, which is a huge trend in itself.

Nancy: Speaking of Textile Insight, I really love reading print magazines. I have a millennial daughter who loves them too, I’m hoping that print stays in business for a long time and I think it will. But what do you think about your customers, would they, should I say customers or readers?

Emily: My readers.

Nancy: Are they a print audience?

Emily: Yes. I would say they are a print audience but now you have to be print and online. To address print first I think it’s interesting and again among the textile people, if you’ve ever noticed it as you are in textiles. Usually, someone comes up and starts feeling your shirt or asking if they can feel pants or something. It’s a very touchy tactile experience and that’s who we are. And I think print people tell me they still like to hold a magazine. They still like to have that physical experience with print. And the textile people also tell me that they travel often to Asia, and they gather all their magazines as their eight-hour reading. And for both those reasons we are unique, I think, in wanting that. I’d like to think that our magazine present nicely enough that people visually want to see it. We try really hard to have color and good layouts.

And we have a wonderful art director and a great team of people that put together something visually. Again, the textile people are very visually oriented that would appeal to them. We have that. We are obviously available online in that area, but online is important too. And we have Textile Insight Extra now that is a monthly online report. You have to, no matter what business you’re in you have to be I guess multi-platform, multichannel, but long live print.

Nancy: Yes, I agree. And as a creative person, where do you turn to for your inspiration?

Emily: I was thinking about that and I look many different areas and some somewhat unexpected areas. I have to say since I mentioned before, I don’t come from a textile background. I also don’t really come from a hardcore outdoor background. I look at things differently I think there’s some other folks in the industry. I look everywhere. I read a lot, I read multi newspapers and I look at other industries and what they’re doing. I was recently listened to a podcast, Corner Office podcast by Marketplace. And was interviewing the CEO of Boeing and that led to a story idea about manufacturing and just something he said. And looking at the style section of the New York Times and what was on the runway and I’m thinking, oh well, okay, how does that relate?

I’m seeing recycled on this or upcycled, how do I find a story from there? Or I’ll be watching out my quote unquote office window. And it’s on a beautiful road that a lot of cyclists bike on, and I’ll think, okay, well what do they have on? Or someone mentioned the climbing gym. Anything that kind of passes by me, I don’t really go looking for it. But it’s always trying to find something relevant from everything happening in the world that might be relevant for my readers.

Nancy: You do a really good job at it because you’re always coming up with great questions and stories. It’s like, wow, where’d she come up with that? And then you go into the city. To New York City.

Emily: I am in New York city a lot, and certainly you can’t help but be flooded with inspiration and retail stores or how they’re merchandising something in that. I do travel for work usually once a month for a trade show and often those are a little bit different. The Denim Show for example, and the Kingpins Show, am I coming away from the idea in that world. Or if I’m going to a textile machine show or something down at NC state and going into a lab there, I can draw from that world. Again, those things are different – while I am in in a factory the story might not even be about the factory. It might be someone who’s working in the factory. Getting out is certainly important and all those places can lend to ideas.

Nancy: Absolutely. I remember you gave me the tip – I’d never been to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the costume exhibit and you suggested I go.

Emily: Yes. Wow. That was something else.

Nancy: That was something, and I’ve said this story before on this podcast, but I ran into a woman who was talking about couture and she said that I had all my clothes made as a kid. I was wearing couture.

Emily: Well that’s so interesting. Yeah, I know. And I think when you’re out like that, you hear these snippets of people that view things. We get so myopic on how we think about things. But you’re right. So pure. Her idea of couture was, yeah her mom’s, tailoring to her, but you were not going to hear that if you’re just sitting in your office.

Nancy: No. Getting out and meeting people. How do you escape, because you’re super busy and you have many deadlines and pacing yourself.

Emily: I recently started ice skating, that’s a new escape. My daughter, a millennial age, had wanted to sharpen her skating skills. And we have been going to a rink this winter and it’s been fantastic. I grew up on this very small lake and used to skate as a young person and I hadn’t done that, laced up my skates and probably 20 plus years and it’s been fantastic. That has been a new, really enjoyable experience. I will say I do look what people are wearing on the rink and is there a story there for this. That has been a good escape. I also do some work at a local bookstore. I host author events sometimes once a week. And that’s a great escape to be around. Wonderful bookstore and just and different writer and different creative personality and to learn about their creative process. That’s a great escape for me.

Nancy: Oh yeah. Everything’s fabulous. And ice skating – is it figure or hockey?

Emily: Well I was wearing hockey skates to rink in the beginning and now I have upgraded to figure skate so, I cannot do any flips or that. But I was inspired the other day by a woman at the rink who was 64 years old, had not started skating until she turned 40 and she was doing twirls and jumps and whatever. Yeah, I’m not there yet.

Nancy: Watch out though.

Emily:That’s right. I almost tried something the other day!

Nancy: You mentioned working in the bookstore. I just finished a book called The Bookstore and I can’t remember the author, but it was fictitious, but it was about a bookstore in New York City nestled in between the Staples and a Gap, something like that. But it was very old and but so great. And the characters in this story were great. Yeah.

Emily: Now reading has been a long time pleasure of mine and grew up in a house where reading was highly valued. My daughter is a voracious reader and she’s home temporarily. And we have a large stack of books around the house and from the bookstore and now get privy to what’s coming down the pike and do a quite a bit of reading, which is great. And we also read the New Yorker and the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal-

Nancy: Oh my God.

Emily: And we’ve got a few others.

Nancy: You’ll never be bored.

Emily: No, never.

Nancy: My mother said, if you have a book, you’ll never be bored. What’s coming up for you next?

Emily: Well, one thing I wanted to mention that was very cool that I did recently. I was in Providence last week meeting, some work friends and then I went to an event at Slater Mill, which was the birthplace of American Textiles. They had a very cool event, a multimedia presentation on huge, huge screens that were actually made out of textiles showing any given day in a local factory. And it was really great presentation of this backdrop of this very, very old mill with a very, very forward thinking approach to manufacturing in the music with the video was jazz and it was just really well done. That was a great event and I’m writing something on manufacturing now and it was a very unique perspective and a good thing.

That’s on my brain at the moment. But I am going next week to Techtexil North America, which is down in Raleigh. The trade show is held every other year on the even years. It’s a very big show in Atlanta and on the off years it’s a little bit of a more condense shown. It will be down to Raleigh and there’ll be a lot of domestic manufacturers from different industries. Then I will actually be going to Performance Days in Munich in early May and maybe one trip in between. I’m hoping to perhaps go to California before that. We’ll see. Then the show schedule gets busy for the summertime. We have OR again and then Functional Fabric Fairs on the agenda, and then the Kingpin Show’s always going on. The calendar usually fills up pretty quickly.

Nancy: And then you have to write in between.

Emily: Yes. Then every six, eight weeks. Yes. We produce and now the Textile Insight will be every month.

Nancy: Yeah. Well safe travels to all your shows and I’m sure I’ll see you.

Emily: I’d like to give a shout out for Nancy since we’ve been longtime friends and longtime industry people. This is such a pleasure. It’s really fun.

Nancy: Well thanks Emily and it’s so fun to be in your home office in Guilford, Connecticut and now we can go have some lunch.

Emily: That’s right. We’ll drive down, thriving downtown in Guilford.

Nancy: Thanks again.

Emily: You’re welcome. Was wonderful. Bye.

Nancy: Bye bye.

Emily: Bye bye.

Nancy: Thanks so much for listening to Material Wise. I’d like to thank the incredibly talented Woods Creative for their help in producing this podcast. Jake Nevrla mixes our episodes and our theme music is by Activity Club. For more information on Material Wise, please visit materialwise.com and please subscribe, rate and review wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you again and until next time, take care.